By Abraham Gutierrez

An AFC East showdown is in store for the Miami Dolphins in their 2014 NFL season/home opener, as the mighty New England Patriots invade Sun Life Stadium in Week 1. Opening kickoff is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at 1:05 p.m. Eastern Time and it will be broadcast live on CBS Sports.

The reigning AFC East champs are coming off a season in which they captured the franchise’s 15th divisional title overall and the fifth in succession. Nevertheless for Bill Belichick & Co., anything short of a Super Bowl is considered a losing season and therefore a disappointment.

With a record of 12-4, the Pats went into the postseason as the second seed in the American Football Conference behind only the Denver Broncos. They defeated Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC’s Divisional Round, as they enjoyed some home cooking in Foxborough.

However, the journey came to a screeching halt a mile into the sky, as Peyton Manning’s Broncos derailed Tom Brady’s pursuit for that elusive fourth Super Bowl ring in the AFC Championship Game. With a new season on the horizon, the Pats embark on another year filled with high expectations, and health is going to be a key factor in New England’s chances to get back to the Big Dance.

Obviously, anytime the Patriots step between the lines, the first thing defenses have to contend with is the play of No. 12. Coming off his ninth Pro Bowl selection, Brady is showing no signs of slowing down. The 37-year-old from San Mateo, California is coming off a season in which he threw for 4,343 yards, while completing over 60 percent of his passes (380-for-628), to go along with his 25 touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

The most remarkable thing about those numbers is that the two-time NFL Most Valuable Player did it without wide receiver Wes Welker – who departed for Denver before the start of last season – and tight end Rob Gronkowski, who battled injuries all season long. Thus, Julian Edelman became Brady’s go-to guy, as he registered 105 grabs for 1,056 yards and six scores on the season.

With “The Gronk” healthy, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will likely make him a focal point of the Patriots attack in the opener, putting the Fins’ defense in a vulnerable position in trying to cover the middle of the field.

Gronkowski is coming off a year in which his production was severely hindered due to injuries. This is evident by the fact that he only caught 39 passes for 592 yards and a career-low, four touchdowns all year long.

But one of the things that make Belichick one of the greatest head coaching minds in football is his ability to get the most out his players. Despite all the personnel issues, the Patriots offense ranked 10th in the league in points (22.8), third in total yards (367.5) and second in passing yards (255.2). Even their ground game was good enough for 15th in the league (112.2).  

Rest assured that Brady will also be counting on guys like wideouts Danny Amendola and Aaron Dobson, as well as running backs Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen to help carry the load offensively.

On the other side of the football, New England’s defense left a lot to be desired in 2013, which is something Miami should be able to exploit in the opener. A year ago, the Pats “D” ranked 18th in points (20.2), 22nd in total yards (344.5), 20th in passing yards (217.5) and a whopping 26th at defending the rush (127.0).

There’s no question that those numbers have caused defensive coordinator Matt Patricia to start feeling his seat getting a little warmer. If Miami can find a way to put pressure on the Patriots defense, this could turn into a very interesting ballgame.

The last time these teams faced each other in South Florida dates back to Week 15 a year ago. In front of a sold-out crowd, the home team was able to pull off a huge upset, stunning the Pats to the tune of 24-20. The win snapped a seven-game losing skid against the Patriots.

For the record, Miami leads the head-to-head series against New England, 51-46-0. Can Ryan Tannehill helps hand the Pats their first loss of the season and in turn make it two straight wins for the Dolphins in this longtime rivalry? 

For more Dolphins news and updates, visit Dolphins Central.

Abe Gutierrez is a criminal justice admin whose love for sports led him to become a writer and editor. His expertise make him a valued addition to Examiner.com and its partners. His work can be found on Examiner.com. .

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