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NFL storylines: With or without Brown, the Patriots should punish the Dolphins

New England Patriots

(Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

On Fridays during each week of the NFL season, Tiebreaker.com will take a look at what we believe to be the five most interesting storylines for that weekend’s games.

It could be about a player, a team, maybe a trend that’s developed over time that might impact a matchup. In other words, we’ll be fluid, reacting to what has happened in the league and what might be coming next.

What’s the deal with Antonio Brown

From the moment the New England Patriots signed Antonio Brown last weekend, the flies on everyone’s wall have been buzzing with anticipation about what his marriage with Bill Belichick will be like. Observers of Brown’s career are quick to note the guy doesn’t care much for authority figures. And there is no greater authoritarian than the stoic Belichick, the man who never smiles.

Thing is, we don’t even know if he will play this week after the civil suit was filed against him by a former physical trainer who claims Brown raped her on three occasions. Brown hasn’t been placed on the commissioner’s exempt list, which means he is eligible to play if Belichick sees fit.

The Patriots play the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the team that opened its season with a 59-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. Many of their players who haven’t already been shipped out of town requested dismissal slips this week. It’s a bad scene. If Brown plays, he’s certain to succeed against a ramshackle secondary that allowed Lamar Jackson to throw five touchdown passes last week.

The Pats are favored by 18 ½ points. It’s the first time in the Super Bowl era that a road team has been more than an 18-point favorite before the end of September.

Odell Beckham

(Photo by: 2019 Nick Cammett/Diamond Images via Getty Images)

Can’t afford to go 0-2

When the Cleveland Browns drove for a TD on their first possession at home last week against the Tennessee Titans, the Dawg Pound howled with delight. After all, the sexiest team in the league during the offseason was already strutting down the runway. Of course, that momentum quickly evaporated and made way for a 43-13 smackdown that had many of those same fans heading for an early exit.

The Browns can’t afford to let the New York Jets beat them on Monday Night Football. They especially can’t allow themselves to be beaten by backup quarterback, Trevor Siemian, the battlefield promotion resulting from Sam Darnold being out for an unspecified amount to time because of mononucleosis.

The odds of an 0-2 team making the playoffs are very slim. The Browns need to straighten up, first by cutting down on the 18 penalties that killed them last week. They also need to cutback on the foolishness; Odell Beckham, Jr., insisting he will wear his $190,000 watch on the field despite league concerns. The time to concentrate is already here.

By the way, Beckham has accused Jets defensive coordinator Gregg Williams of sanctioning dirty play. This should be interesting.

Alvin Kamara

(Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images)

Karma’s going to get you

We all know what happened to the New Orleans Saints in last year’s NFC Championship, the grievous non-call on a clear pass interference penalty that paved the way for the Los Angeles Rams to defeat them and earn the right to be embarrassed by the Patriots in the Super Bowl. Not only did the league apologize, it changed the way subsequent pass interference calls will be judged by adding a replay component.

Well, the Saints play the Rams again on Sunday and all of those memories will be revisited in the flurry of segments produced for the pregame shows. The question is whether the Saints will be able to channel any of the lingering resentment into the energy they will need to beat the Rams on the road.

The Saints are coming off their heart-stopping win over the Houston Texans, a victory made possible by Drew Brees’ creativeness and Will Lutz’s strong leg. It’s quite possible that Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas will have their way with the Rams defense.

Then again, the Saints allowed 180 rushing yards to the Texans and if the Rams give Todd Gurley enough touches, that could be an equalizer.

Mike Tomlin

(Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Steelers can’t be that bad

No one expected the Steelers to look 33-3 bad at New England. In many respects, it was one of the worst defeats the franchise has ever had and it brought into focus a new reality – maybe Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown weren’t the problem, after all. Maybe its coach Mike Tomlin?

The Steelers offense converted only 25 percent of their first downs, suicidal when playing the Patriots, especially on the road. All of a sudden, it appears that JuJu Smith-Shuster might be their only solid offensive option and that’s only going to make Ben Roethlisberger’s life harder.

The Steelers know the Seattle Seahawks aren’t happy with how they played last week, either. They had to fight to beat the Cincinnati Bengals, a game you figured they’d win without much fuss. They also allowed Andy Dalton to throw for 418 yards.

We’re going to find out a lot about the Steelers this week, probably a lot more than we’ll find out about the Seahawks. Another shakedown might rock this team to its core.

Jon Gruden

(Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

Are the Raiders for real?

Maybe it’s because Jon Gruden was such a star on “Hard Knocks,” but we’re really feeling it for the Oakland Raiders this season. We know how badly Gruden wants to take a winning team to Las Vegas next season and how much many people doubt he’ll be able to do it.

Of course, any success Oakland enjoys this season will be measured by how successfully they deal with the Kansas City Chiefs, their time-tested rivals since the days of Len Dawson and Daryle Lamonica.

They get their final chance to squash the Chiefs in Oakland on Sunday and they might not be in more of an upbeat mode than the present after the way they handled the Denver Broncos last week. The Raiders have beaten the Chiefs only twice over the last seven seasons.

Even without Kyreek Hill, who will miss time with a clavicle injury, the Chiefs have the weapons to embarrass the Raiders defense. With Josh Jacobs, the Raiders have a running back who might be able to eat time off the clock and decrease the Chiefs possessions.