The NFL trade deadline is next Tuesday, Oct. 31. How the Patriots approach it could directly hinge on what happens this Sunday in South Florida.

A fourth consecutive road loss to the Miami Dolphins would drop New England to 2-6 on the season, all but extinguishing any hope of rallying for a playoff berth.

In that scenario, it would make sense for Bill Belichick to, if not gut his roster, at least sell off some of the more valuable pieces it might lose in free agency anyway (Kendrick Bourne, Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Mike Onwenu, etc.) and begin shifting the focus to 2024.

But a win? That would put the Patriots, who already upset the Buffalo Bills a week ago, just two games back of first place in the AFC East.

Story continues below advertisement

No Matchup Found

Click here to enter a different Sportradar ID.

They’d still have a steep hill to climb at 3-5, but they wouldn’t play another no-doubt playoff team until early December. Their next five games: home versus Washington, versus Indianapolis in Germany, bye week, at the New York Giants, home against the Las Angeles Chargers and at Pittsburgh on a Thursday night before the Kansas City Chiefs come to town in Week 15.

    What do you think?  Leave a comment.

Twenty-three NFL teams since the 1970 merger went on to make the postseason after starting 3-5, according to Radar360, including nine in the last 10 years. How many 2-6 squads did so? Just three. Two of those were recent (2022 Jacksonville Jaguars and 2020 Washington Football Team), but both finished with fewer than 10 wins and qualified by winning bad divisions. That likely wouldn’t cut it for these Patriots.

So, yes, as simplistic as it might sound, this Sunday’s early-afternoon rematch at Hard Rock Stadium will shape the rest of the Patriots’ 2023 season.

Story continues below advertisement

Can they knock off a Dolphins team that entered Thursday as hefty nine-point home favorites on FanDuel Sportsbook? Recent history is against them. New England has not won in Miami since 2019 and is 2-8 down there over the last decade. It also has yet to defeat Dolphins starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who is 5-0 against the Patriots in his career. The Patriots’ late-season home win over Miami in January came against backups Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson.

The Patriots kept it close against their high-powered divisional rival earlier this season, however, losing 24-17 at Gillette Stadium after their final drive stalled in Miami territory.

New England largely limited All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill in that game, but Tagovailoa shredded them with quick throws to secondary pass-catchers and Raheem Mostert ran for 121 yards, including a 43-yard fourth-quarter touchdown that proved to be the game-winner.

Offensively, the Patriots’ patchwork offensive line struggled mightily — right tackle Calvin Anderson had an especially difficult time with backup edge rusher Andrew Van Ginkel, who had a sack and three QB hits — and they were burned by an early Demario Douglas fumble that got the rookie wideout benched for the rest of the night.

Story continues below advertisement

New England trailed by double digits a halftime — a common theme in all five of their losses this season — before staging a late rally that fell short.

Defending a Mike McDaniel-led Miami offense that leads the NFL in points, yards, passing yards, rushing yards and expected points added per play again will be a challenge for New England, especially since it will be without injured stars Matthew Judon and Christian Gonzalez. But it could catch a significant break.

A hip injury kept Hill out of practice Wednesday, and Tagovailoa’s comments suggested the elite wideout could be sidelined for some time.

“If we couldn’t have Tyreek, that would be tough, but the show goes on,” the Dolphins QB told Miami reporters. “You’ve got to continue to play. Somewhere down the line, we’re going to get Tyreek back.”

Story continues below advertisement

Despite his relatively quiet outing at Gillette Stadium, Hill leads the NFL in receiving yards and touchdowns and is third in the league in catches. Losing him would remove Tagovailoa’s go-to option and allow New England to devote more resources to stopping Miami’s talented No. 2, Jaylen Waddle.

The Patriots’ offensive line also should be in better shape this week than it was in the teams’ first meeting. That unit is coming off its best performance of the season, with Mike Ownenu serving as a stabilizing force at right tackle after the team made the long-awaited decision to move him over from right guard.

The Dolphins’ defense could be getting standout cornerback Jalen Ramsey back from injured reserve this week — he’s back practicing, but his return date remains TBD — but they’ve been vulnerable on that side of the ball this season. They enter Week 8 ranked 27th in points allowed per game and 23rd in defensive EPA/play.

It’s an opportunity for New England’s offense, which finally flourished last week against Buffalo, to maintain its momentum. There will be more of those in the weeks to come, too. The Patriots’ next four opponents also rank in the top 10 in scoring defense, with only the Colts placing higher than that in EPA/play (14th).

Story continues below advertisement

Lose to Miami, though, and those November matchups would become de facto exhibitions. Sunday is a must-win for Mac Jones and company.

Featured image via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images