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Catching up with … the Dolphins

07.22.13 at 11:53 am ET

As we count down to the start of training camp, we’€™ll take a look at all 13 opponents on the Patriots’€™ regular-season schedule and break down each one of them. We’€™ve already featured the Bills, Jets, Buccaneers, Falcons and Bengals and Saints. Now, we’re back in the division with a look at the Dolphins.

Specifics: The Patriots host Miami in Foxboro on Oct. 27 at 1 p.m. and travel to South Florida on Dec. 15 for another 1 o’clock start.

Say goodbye to … linebacker Karlos Dansby, offensive tackle Jake Long, running back Reggie Bush, tight end Anthony Fasano, wide receiver Davone Bess, cornerback Sean Smith.

Welcome … defensive end Dion Jordan, wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Brent Grimes, tight end Dustin Keller, wide receiver Brandon Gibson, linebacker Philip Wheeler, defensive end Vaughn Martin, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, offensive lineman Tyson Clabo.

Recent history: The Patriots have won the last six meetings between the two teams, with wins of 27, 28 and 31 points in that stretch. Last year, New England won both games against Miami — of the two victories, the most interesting was the one in South Florida when the Patriots delivered what might have been the drive of the season. Tom Brady and the offense put together a 16-play, 77-yard drive that consumed 7:18 and effectively ended the game. (For  more on the drive, click here.)

The Patriots should be worried because … the youthful Dolphins were certainly trending in the right direction at the end of the 2012 season, surprising some around the league with a three-game winning streak early in the year and posting two wins in their last three games to finish 7-9 on the season. They aren’t going to win the Super Bowl this season, but this is a big year in Miami, as the Dolphins feel pretty good about themselves and where they are in the reconstruction process. (So much so that Ellerbe has already been making noise about how New England is vulnerable this year. Don’t think THAT hasn’t already found its way to a bulletin board in Foxboro yet.) With the additions on both sides of the ball and the recent struggles of the Bills and Jets, if there’s another AFC East team that’s going to mount some sort of challenge to the Patriots, it should be Miami.

The Patriots shouldn’€™t be worried because … while Miami was competitive for most of last season in many areas, they didn’t do any one thing particularly well. They were middle of the road or worse in all statistical categories on both sides of the ball, including scoring offense, where they were 27th overall at 18 points per game. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed flashes of talent as a rookie, but still had a penchant for making questionable decisions (12 touchdown passes, 13 picks).

The skinny: There’s good, young nucleus of talent on both sides of the ball, and Joe Philbin has proven to be a quality presence as a head coach in leading the Dolphins back to (almost) .500. But there are some questions here as Miami attempts to make the leap to the next level: Do the Dolphins have enough to make the transition from 7-9 to postseason contender this season? And if not, does ownership have the patience to let GM Jeff Ireland and Philbin continue with a rebuilding plan? While Miami-New England won’t be a marquee game in 2013, it could be in another season or two if the Dolphins continue to head in the right direction.

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