The Patriots kick off their season against the Miami Dolphins for the second year in a row this Sunday. What’s also repeating for the Pats is that they’re introducing a new quarterback to the world. After just one season, Cam Newton was kicked to the curb following a disheartening training camp and pre-season. Thus, rookie quarterback, Mac Jones was handed the reins to the offense. An offense in which has been remodeled to an extreme measure. The tight end stable is now Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, two of the best in the league. Then with the wide receivers, some recognizable names have been added with Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne.

In McCorkle’s Patriots debut, he’s not only facing a Bill Belichick protege in Brian Flores, but also his predecessor from his days at Alabama in Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. These divisional rivals are all too familiar with one another, and it usually makes for a fun matchup. So without further delay, let’s kick off this season! Set it up, Bailey. Let’s get 2021 underway for real.

Three Keys to The Game

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Key #1: Mac Jones needs to start strong

Mac Jones has some pretty hefty shoes to fill in Foxboro. After a painful season in 2020, Patriots fans are desperate and impatient to return to their winning ways. Being a first-round pick brings great attention to you in the NFL. I doubt that McCorkle gets as much crap from fans as Newton did last season, but the clock is ticking for results. It will be huge for Jones to come out and at least flash his capabilities in this league. I’m not saying he has to be the 2001 Tom Brady miracle kid, but this team is being slept on for the first time in years. It’s time to wake up the rest of the league from a brief moment of peace without Belichickian dominance. A big win against a good divisional rival will go a long way in doing just that.

Key #2: Stuffing the run

The last time these two teams met, the Dolphins had their way on the ground. Rushing the ball for 250 yards and having a 14-minute advantage in the time of possession, winning the game 22-12, and eliminating the Patriots from playoff contention. With the return of Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy, this shouldn’t be a major issue. This defense has been revamped for this type of matchup. The pairing of Lawrence Guy and newcomer Davon Godchaux will go a long way in stuffing the team of Myles Gaskin, Malcolm Brown, and Salvon Ahmed.

Key #3: Surviving without Stephon Gilmore

So the good news is, DeVante Parker won’t be turning Stephon Gilmore into his son for the third season in a row. The bad news is, the Pats don’t have Gilmore until week seven against the Jets at the earliest.

So who pairs up with J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones in the secondary? It looks like it won’t be swiss army knife Jalen Mills, who was a non-participant in practice this week. Could we see JoeJuan Williams in an extended role? Or maybe Shaun Wade gets some real reps after playing a relatively solid game in his Patriots debut two weeks ago in the final pre-season game. If Will Fuller weren’t suspended, the Dolphins air attack would be scary and possibly too much to handle for the Pats thin secondary. It will be interesting to see how Bill and Steve Belichick along with Jerod Mayo compensate for not having much depth in a position where they seemed to often have too much.

X-Factor: Kyle Dugger

LOCAL PRO ROUNDUP: New England's Dugger 'hyped' for 2021 NFL season |  Sports News | hickoryrecord.com

I could very easily just stuff your faces with just how important this game is for Mac Jones and make him the X-Factor, but let’s change it up, shall we? Safety Kyle Dugger has been given the difficult task of replacing Patrick Chung, who retired this past off-season. He will more than likely be given the role to take care of up-and-coming tight end Mike Gesicki. Who will likely serve as Tua’s safety blanket if he’s still not confident in hitting receivers deep downfield. This is the role Chung excelled at, and Rodney Harrison before him. With an already worrying secondary, if Dugger can step up to the challenge, it’s a massive load off of this defense’s shoulders.

I would look towards Adrian Phillips to step up in this role as well. He covered multiple big-time tight ends last season impressively. Dugger and Phillips should make for a strong rotation at the strong safety position.

Closing Thoughts

Bill Belichick's final coaching chapter tied to Mac Jones' performance for  Patriots | Matt Vautour - masslive.com

The Mac Jones era kicks off effective this Sunday in Gillette Stadium. All eyes will be on him. Well, all nine (two with only half) states that won’t have the Chiefs versus Browns matchup on their local channel. Nevertheless, first impressions are always huge. Good or bad, this is our first look at what’s in store for the New England Patriots for the next 10-15 years if all goes to plan. Belichick isn’t getting any younger, and almost every Patriot from the Super Bowl XLIX championship run has either retired or moved on to other teams. It’s saddening to see my childhood team become unrecognizable, but the veterans of NFL fanbases have seen this at least thrice over.

As far as this game goes, I’m confident in the Patriots starting out on the right foot. McCorkle seems to have the team rallied around him. They’re vastly improved on both sides of the ball. Plus for now, there haven’t been any pesky COVID-19 cases to worry about. I see this game being close, as the Dolphins are pretty close to us as far as team development goes, and it will for sure be a preview of what’s to come for both of these squads. A lot will happen between the aftermath of week one and the next time we see them in January of 2022. Let’s get the upper hand early. We’ll need all the wins we can get if retaking the AFC East is in our plans.

Final Score: 31-27, Patriots win (1-0)

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