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How Wilfork's injury impacts Dolphins

NEW ORLEANS -- The undefeated Miami Dolphins (3-0) will play the New Orleans Saints later tonight on “Monday Night Football.” However, it’s never too early to keep an eye on the team Miami is always chasing within the division: the New England Patriots (4-0).

The reigning AFC East champions pulled off an impressive road win by beating the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The Dolphins did the same at home in Sun Life Stadium the week prior. But New England didn’t leave the game unscathed. The Patriots lost their most experienced defensive player -- Vince Wilfork -- to a season-ending Achilles injury, according to reports.

This is a major blow for the Patriots, who are the preseason favorites to win the AFC East. Nearly every move the Dolphins made this offseason was mindful of closing the gap with New England. The Patriots swept Miami in 2012.

Wilfork is a team leader and New England’s top defensive player when healthy. The Pro Bowl defensive tackle also has been a handful for the Dolphins to handle over the years.

Miami’s biggest weakness on offense through three weeks has been its running game. The Dolphins entered last weekend ranked 28th in rushing, and neither the offense line nor the running backs have been effective. New England’s defense has been playing better this season. But the Patriots will be hard-pressed to maintain that same standard for 16 games without Wilfork clogging up the middle.

The Dolphins will play the Patriots on Oct. 27 in Foxborough and on Dec. 15 in Miami.