MIAMI GARDENS, FL - SEPTEMBER 12: Receiver Wes Welker #83 of the New England Patriots catcges a pass against defensive back Bennie Sapp #27 of the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on September 12, 2011 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
Game time: Sunday, Dec. 2, 1 p.m. ET, Sun Life Stadium
Weather: low-80s, clear
Records: Patriots (8-3) at Dolphins (5-6)
1. Can Tom Brady survive without Rob Gronkowski? Short answer: Yes, duh. Brady looked quite comfortable against the Jets on Thanksgiving, although he didn't need to be on the field for the Pats to score points against an aimless New York offense. Taking a broader view, Brady has survived losses bigger than losing a tight end, even one as dynamic as Gronkowski. There's still Aaron Hernandez, considered Brady's favorite target early in the season, not to mention Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd, and possibly Julian Edelman (he suffered a concussion against the Jets). And if the passing game isn't clicking? Brady can lean on New England's new-fangled running game featuring Steven Ridley. So, yeah, nothing to see here.
2. Will the offensive line be able to slow the Dolphins' pressure defense? Fair question. According to ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss, Miami rushes five or more on 41 percent of the snaps, second-highest in the league, and the unit ranks 12th in the league according to Football Outsiders' defensive efficiency metric. But Brady knows something about reading defenses and pre-snap adjustments. And he's also very, very good. "Brady has thrown 14 touchdowns and no interceptions this season against added pressure, both numbers the best in the league," Reiss noted. Also helping: the Pats' offensive line is adept at keeping Brady upright.
3. How about the defensive line without Jermaine Cunningham? We think the possible fallout from losing Cunningham for four games has been blown out of proportion. Yes, he's come on in recent weeks, and no, there isn't a clear replacement in his absence, and yes, rookie Chandler Jones' status is unclear after he suffered an ankle injury. But there's still Vince Wilfork, Brandon Spikes, Jerod Mayo and the revitalized (and healthy!) secondary. In preparing for New England's defense, we're guessing the Dolphins didn't spend much time focusing on Cunningham. He's a nice player but he ain't Richard Seymour so let's keep some perspective. The front seven will still get after rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the defensive backs will try to bait him into making mistakes. Bill Belichick talks about it all the time but when a player goes down the next guy on the roster has to step up. This is no different.