Dolphins prepare for Gronk-less Patriots

DAVIE, Fla. – On the surface, the New England Patriots appear vulnerable when they travel to face the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. New England (10-3) struggled mightily over the weekend against the lowly Cleveland Browns and lost star tight end Rob Gronkowski for the season with a torn ACL and MCL.

The gap between the Patriots (10-3) and Dolphins (7-6) appears closer than it’s been in recent years. A upset could be brewing this week in Miami. But the Dolphins aren’t buying New England's vulnerability -- even with New England just losing their most dynamic receiving threat.

“Gronk is a great player, obviously, we’ve all seen that,” Dolphins defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said on Monday. “But I don’t think there’s a team in the NFL over the years that has done a better job of utilizing the personnel that they have from a week-to-week standpoint and a year-to-year standpoint than the New England Patriots. I think that’s one of coach [Bill] Belichick’s strengths.”

New England comes into this game with the NFL’s seventh-rated offense. The Patriots are also fifth in scoring at 26.8 points per game.

The Patriots have implemented a lot of new pieces in the passing game due to the losses of veteran receivers Wes Welker, Brandon Lloyd and tight end Aaron Hernandez. Future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady has still been productive this year with fresh faces. Now, Brady has to make another big adjustment without Gronkowski for the rest of the year.

Miami, which needs this win to boost its wild-card chances, will get the first shot at the Gronkowski-less Patriots on Sunday.

“Really all that matters is we have an excellent football team coming to town,” Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said Monday. “They’ve won five of their last six. That’s a full plate, as I mentioned. We’re going to have to play extremely well.

"You know you’re not going to get any gifts from this team. They are too well-coached. They got too many good players.”