Football. The long dark night is finally over and the 2020 NFL regular season is finally upon us. While the Patriots and Dolphins aren’t hitting the primetime stage to open up their campaigns in Week 1, these two AFC East clubs were in the limelight quite a bit over the course of the offseason.

Of course, New England captured headlines a number of times over the last few months, especially following the departure of Tom Brady in free agency after the franchise icon elected to leave for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Bill Belichick then turned around and replaced the six-time Super Bowl champion with former league MVP Cam Newton, who is slated to start under center for New England on Sunday. As for Miami, Brian Flores’ club wasn’t afraid to throw some cash around in free agency, landing a number of defensive studs like linebacker Kyle Van Noy and corner Byron Jones. At the draft, Miami also made a potential franchise-altering splash by selecting former Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with the No. 5 overall pick. 

These two division rivals always seem to have at least one major clash during their regular season series and we could see it right out of the gate in Foxborough. Before we break down this head-to-head, here’s how you can follow the action in real-time. 

How to watch

Date: Sunday, September 13 | Time: 1:00 p.m. ET
Location: Gillette Stadium (Foxborough, Massachusetts)
TV: 
CBS | Stream: CBS All Access, fuboTV (try for free)
Follow: CBS Sports App

Preview

The last time these two teams squared off against one another was back in Week 17 of last year. Miami was able to pull off the monumental 27-24 upset over New England when veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick — who’ll also get the start in Week 1 — connected with tight end Mike Gesicki on a five-yard touchdown with less than 30 seconds left to play in regulation. That spoiled the Patriots chances of earning a first-round bye to begin the playoffs and Bill Belichick’s club was subsequently bounced out of the postseason that next week against the Titans. 

In this matchup, Fitzpatrick will look to have a repeat performance of what we saw from him in Week 17 where he completed 68.2% of his passes for 320 yards and that game-winning touchdown. 

While his status will be worth monitoring as the game gets closer due to a hamstring injury that has limited him in practice, DeVante Parker could be an X-factor in this contest as well. He squared up against reigning Defensive Player of the Year winner Stephon Gilmore for that contest and torched him for 119 yards on seven receptions. With Patriots safety Patrick Chung opting out of the year, Fitzpatrick may want to try his luck passing to his tight end in Gesicki to possibly exploit a weakness in New England’s secondary. Preston Williams is another receiver that could help fuel Miami’s offense. 

One area that the Dolphins will look to massively improve upon offensively in 2020 is the run game. Believe it or not, Fitzpatrick actually led the team in rushing for the season with just 243 yards on the ground. The additions of Jordan Howard and Matt Breida should help in that regard, but they will be squaring up against a Patriots front-seven that allowed the sixth-fewest rushing yards in the league in 2019.

Defensively, Maimi added impact playmakers on all three levels bringing aboard Van Noy and Jones along with defensive end Shaq Lawson. They also drafted corner Noah Igbinoghene in the first round out of Auburn. A season ago, the Dolphins had the fewest sacks (23) in the league, while allowing the most points per game (30.9) and passing touchdowns (39).

As for the Patriots offense, they’ll begin the post-Tom Brady era with Cam Newton starting under center. While Josh McDaniels will certainly look to utilize Newton’s rushing ability (particularly in the red zone), this offense could still have a slice-and-dice attack that we saw with Brady. During his last healthy season in 2018, Newton completed 83.8% of his passes of under 10 air yards for 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He also had an 84 completion percentage to running backs in 2018 with seven touchdowns, so James White should still be heavily involved in this offense. 

Really, New England will be looking at a number of their sophomores to take a leap in 2020. Receiver N’Keal Harry certainly falls into that category after a disappointing rookie campaign for the former first-round selection. A breakout from him could be what turns the Patriots offense from a serviceable unit to a legit threat. On the other side of the ball, defensive end Chase Winovich will jump into a starting role in the departure fo both Van Noy and Jamie Collins in free agency. 

The secondary will continue to be the pillar of the Patriots defense as they’ll roll out Gilmore, J.C. Jackson, and Jason McCourty at the corner spot, while veteran Devin McCourty will be back at safety. It will be interesting to see how Bill Belichick tries to replace Patrick Chung at the other safety position. Terrance Brooks, Joejuan Williams and rookie Kyle Dugger could all get shots at covering tight ends this year and it starts with squaring up against Gesicki. 

Prediction

The Patriots have a ton of motivation coming into this game on a number of different fronts. Of course, there’ll be the revenge factor from that Week 17 upset burning within a number of players on the roster (especially Stephon Gilmore). Bill Belichick, meanwhile, will be looking to get his first season without Tom Brady off to a strong start and his replacement in Cam Newton has been working with a chip on his should all offseason. No reason to think that’ll be softened anytime soon. Belichick will have his Patriots ready to roll from the jump, despite the lack of preseason games, and I doubt Fitzmagic will strike twice. Even with the free-agent departures and opt-outs, the Patriots are the better team from top to bottom and should show it on Sunday.

Pick: New England 27, Miami 17

Check out CBSSports.com for even more predictions on this game and the rest of Week 1.

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