The New England Patriots have been the NFL's best team during this era of football.
Considering how many AFC Conference Championships, and Super Bowls Bill Belichick's team has won and appeared in since 2001, this can not be debated.
However, our own Sun-Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde boldly makes the argument that outside of Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady (as if anyone else really matters in the NFL but the Hall of Fame coach and quarterback) the Dolphins have a better squad.
I intially gave Hyde the BLANK STARE before reading his column, which does make some valid points. However, a thorough assessment of both rosters, analyzing these division rivals position-by-position would give us a better assessment.
Let us begin breaking down these teams back to front.
Safeties - Chris Clemons and Reshad Jones are decent NFL safeties. Clemons has been the Dolphins' best safety this season (rated by Profootballfocus.com as the NFL's 13th best safety). However, New England's Devin McCourty is rated the NFL's BEST safety, and Steve Gregory is rated No. 11. You really don't want to know where Jones is rated because it will hurt your feelings. EDGE: Patriots...with a stiff arm.
Cornerback - The Dolphins have a solid trio of Brent Grimes, Nolan Carroll and Jimmy Wilson. This group owns the third lowest passer rating in the NFL (76.1). Grimes is one of the NFL's top five cornerbacks this season. Aqib Talib, who is battling a hip injury, is rated by PFF as the NFL's 47th best cornerback. While I'd prefer Grimes over Talib, I'd pick Alfonzo Dennard (ranked 63), Kyle Arrington and Logan Ryan over Carroll (ranked 42) and Wilson. Arrington is rated the NFL's 16th best cornerback, and Ryan is rated 45th, which has him tied with Wilson. EDGE: Dolphins....because of Grimes.
Linebackers - Miami's linebacker play has been the Achilles heel of this year's defense, which has a stout secondary and an aggressive defensive line. So far Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler and Koa Misi have been victimized on as many big plays as they've made. They are the main reason the Dolphins are allowing a disappointing 4.2 yards per carry this season. The Patriots lost elite linebacker Jerod Mayo to a season-ending pectoral injury, but James Collins and Dan Fletcher has stepped in admirably (44 tackles and two sacks), which is exactly what Misi has contributed this season. Brandon Spikes leads New England with 122 tackles, one interception, and one fumble recovery, and Dont'a Hightower has contributed 104 tackles and one sack. EDGE: Patriots....more upside to Hightower and Spikes.
Defensive line - Despite losing Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork for the season the Patriots have generated 36 sacks, which is four fewer than the Dolphins, who are 10 sacks from setting a franchise record. However, New England is allowing 4.5 rushing yards per game this season. Chandler Jones (10.5 sacks) is the only Patriots defensive lineman I'd covet. The Dolphins have six defensive linemen that are just as good, if not better than Jones. EDGE: Dolphins....in a landslide.
Offensive line - Why even waste our time with this discussion? The Dolphins are on pace to give up a franchise record in sacks allowed, and the running game consistently disappears on the offense. Despite a number of injuries the Patriots are averaging just 2.7 sacks per game, and are on pace to rush for 1,920 yards this season. If New England gets to 2,000 rushing yards it will be the second-straight season this pass-happy offense will have done so. The Dolphins haven't rushed for 2,000 or more yards since 2009. EDGE: Patriots....dominated.
Tailbacks - This season has proven there's nothing special about Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. Maybe with a better offensive line they will each show improvement in coming seasons. The Dolphins are averaging 4.3 rushing yards per game (which was tremendously assisted by last week's big runs against the Steelers), and has scored just eight rushing touchdowns this season. The Patriots average 4.2 rushing yards and have scored 15 rushing touchdowns. But more importantly, New England has four tailbacks - Stevan Ridley, Shane Vereen, LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden - who each bring something different to the table. Those backs serve as a riddle to opposing defenses. EDGE: Patriots....face plant.
Playmakers - Losing Rob Gronkowski to his season-ending knee injury was HUGE considering Gronkowski was clearly one of the league's top offensive weapons. Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola, who have combined for seven touchdowns, are two of the league's top slot receivers. Then rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have combined for eight touchdowns, which trumps the seven Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline have scored for the Dolphins. In fairness to the Dolphins, New England's playmakers do have a first ballot Hall of Famer throwing to them. Hartline is on the verge of his second 1,000-yard receiving season, and tight end Charles Clay is on the verge of setting franchise records for tight end productivity. EDGE: Draw....too close to call. If Wallace was contributing more than his 58 receptions for 762 yards and three touchdowns I'd give it to Miami. But the fact the Patriots have four established, proven receiving weapons without Gronkowski, and the Dolphins have just three should be troubling.
Special teams - Who really cares about this unit until they miss a field goal, or get victimized on a big play? But New England's Stephen Gostkowski has missed two of 33 kicks this season. Dolphins rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis has missed eight of 32. EDGE: Patriots....pimp slapped.
That gives the Patriots five edges - safety, linebackers, offensive line, tailbacks, special teams. The Dolphins own the cornerback, defensive line and pull out a draw in the playmaker category.
So, who still agrees with Dave Hyde, concluding the Dolphins have more talent outside of Brady and Belichick?
(Dropping the mic)