The 2022 season ended on the mid-pack treadmill for both the New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots faced a win and in scenario in Week 18 and unfortunately had to accomplish that in Buffalo. They led at the half and kept it competitive throughout, but fell short in the end and finished the season 8-9. That now adds up to a 25-25 record in the post-Tom Brady era.

The Patriots’ loss opened the door for the Dolphins to make the playoffs, and they crawled in with an 11-6 win over the Jets that looked as ugly as it sounded. Their 9-8 season ended in Buffalo, too, in a surprisingly competitive game just a week later. The Fish at least can hang a “we made the playoffs” banner, but it came after almost somehow missing out on the playoffs despite starting the season 8-3.

Betting markets will not open up for the 2023 season until just after Super Bowl LVII concludes, but expect to see both the Dolphins and Patriots back in that mid-market mush. Both should stay competitive and challenge for playoff spots, and both will remain heavy odds longshots to pass the Bills for AFC East superiority. They may project even lower than the 2023 Jets, who may add a massive QB upgrade to a good young roster. Then again, that exact playbook did not exactly pan out for the 2022 Denver Broncos.

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Let us take a look at the expectations for both teams in 2023


New England Patriots

In order to jump up and compete with the AFC elite, the Patriots clearly need to upgrade on offense. Football Outsiders calculated Defense-adjusted Value over Average (DVOA) for every team overall, plus broken down on offense, defense and further broken down on running and passing plays and even down and distance situations. As per Football Outsiders “it takes every single play during the NFL season and compares each one to a league-average baseline based on situation”. Like every stat, it is not perfect, but it is as good a way to compare teams as any.

The 2022 Patriots ranked 24th on the season in offensive DVOA. They seemed like a better running team than passing team to the naked eye, but that is not borne out much here as they ranked 23rd in passing DVOA and 21st in running. Rhamondre Stevenson emerged as a top-tier running back, amassing 1040 yards on the ground with 5.0 yards per carry while adding 69 catches for 421 more yards. No other Pats skill position player did much of anything, most especially QB Mac Jones. His 5.36 adjusted net yards per pass attempt (ANY/A) ranked 24th in the league and his 36.1 Total ABR placed an ugly 28th. Jones’ most memorable moments involved cursing out offensive coordinator Matt Patricia on Monday Night Football, chop-blocking a Cincinnati Bengal blocker on an interception return, and getting stiff-armed by Chandler Jones in the crazy ending to the Patriots-Raiders game. Jones will need to play better in 2023 or risk losing his job to back up Bailey Zappe or someone not on the roster yet.

The Pats did field a superior defense in 2022. They ranked third in total Defensive DVOA and first in defensive DVOA weighted for opponent strength.

The Pats have many avenues to improve in 2023. They pick 14th in the draft, their highest slot in 15 years, and have as many as 11 picks in total. The Pats also will have an estimate of somewhere between $37 million and $40 million of cap room to spend. They could really use an impact wide receiver, though half the league can say the same thing. The Pats best 2022 wide receiver, Jakobi Myers, is a free agent and bringing him back would help too. Finally, the Pats will certainly address their offensive coordinator and play caller issues of 2022.

Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins’ 2023 season prognosis rests almost entirely on the condition of QB Tua Tagovailoa. He played at a Pro Bowl level when he got on the field in 2022. Unfortunately, thanks to a series of concussions, he missed all or parts of six games, plus the playoff game. Publicly the Dolphins expect Tua to be a full go in 2023 with no added risk of concussion compared to the typical player, but that sounds overly optimistic.

Tua led all QBs in ANY/A at 8.37 and he ranked third in Total QBR at 68.8. The Dolphins’ offensive DVOA in weeks Tua played full or virtually full games was 16.8%. If they had done that for the whole season, they would have ranked as the third-best offense in the league. On non-Tua weeks, Miami recorded a -11.2% Offensive DVOA that would have placed them 28th,

They will really need a healthy Tua in 2023 as they do not have many avenues to improve otherwise. The Dolphins project to have -$9 million in cap space, meaning they will need to redo contracts and/or make some cap-related cuts. Plus, they lost their first-round draft pick thanks to tampering with Tom Brady and Sean Payton. Even if Miami remains confident Tua will play, addressing backup QB is vital. Teddy Bridgewater got hurt every time Tua went down. They need either Skylar Thompson to develop or get a backup that can keep the ship afloat should Tua miss time again. This is from a franchise with a crazy good history of excellent backup QB play, from Earl Morrall keeping the ‘72 perfect season afloat to Don Strock exploding vs. the Chargers in the ‘81 playoffs to Ryan Fitzpatrick bringing the Fitz-Magic in 2020.

The Dolphins look like a high volatility projection in 2023. A healthy Tua throwing to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle could lead them to Super Bowl contention, but a fall to last in the AFC East beyond the improving Jets and a Pats team adding some good free agents is a potential outcome as well.