ESPN senior writer Mike Sando asks league insiders to pick winners in select games each week. Three evaluators joined the panel for Week 4. This week's games: Dolphins-Patriots, Ravens-Steelers, Bengals-Falcons and Chiefs-Broncos.
Sunday: 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS | Point spread: NE by 7 | Insiders pick: NE (3/3)
All the insiders see the Patriots as more vulnerable than usual. But they weren't quite ready to pick against them at home, even though Miami has a 3-0 record and beat New England last season.
It's striking to see the Dolphins leading the NFL in touchdown receptions from the slot (five) while the Patriots struggle to get much going from that spot. Miami has completed 24 of 29 passes for 303 yards when targeting slot receivers. That includes 210 yards after the catch. New England has completed 18 of 29 for 202 yards (72 YAC) and three scores when targeting slot players.
"They really desperately need that slot player," an insider said. "They miss [Julian] Edelman, and then they drafted [Braxton] Berrios, who was often-injured and got injured. The troubling thing to me was just how badly Detroit dominated New England at the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball, when that was supposedly Detroit's weakness."
The Patriots are second to San Francisco in percentage of offensive snaps from 21 personnel (two running backs, one tight end), but opponents are increasingly using sub packages to defend that traditional base offense, making it tougher for New England to exploit mismatches when backs align as receivers.
One key to this game: Miami has started nine drives in opponents' territory, the second-highest total in the league behind Cleveland.
"New England has been historically great as far as not turning over the ball," another insider said, "so can Miami go toe-to-toe against Tom Brady without those extra possessions and short fields?"