1) Be better fundamentally
Every head coach across the NFL is preaching to his team this week about playing with discipline and being fundamentally sound. The teams that can limit the pre-snap penalties, illegal formations and common mistakes that usually occur during the preseason will have a substantial edge in winning Week 1 games. Something else to watch for is the amount of missed tackles or free pass rushers on blitz packages. Those are the kind of physical and mental mistakes that can turn these Week 1 games around in a hurry. Hopefully players like rookie left tackle Austin Jackson and rookie right guard Solomon Kindley can hold up and adjust as New England's defense makes in-game adjustments. The Dolphins played with better discipline in year one under head coach Brian Flores and that trend should continue into his second season leading the Dolphins. New England is an organization that prides itself on limiting their mistakes and not beating themselves. Bill Belichick teams usually have an edge in this category, but with all of the veteran roster turnover the Patriots have faced this offseason, it gives Miami a chance to call it even heading into Sunday.
2) Win turnover margin
Just as critical as playing with discipline, winning the turnover margin on Sunday just might outweigh everything else in determining the outcome against New England. I know that last year was last year, but being on the sidelines when safety Eric Rowe intercepted quarterback Tom Brady was completely deflating for the home team. As Rowe sprinted into the end zone for a pick-six touchdown, you could feel the confidence grow on the Miami sideline—that's what needs to happen this Sunday for the Dolphins. Flipping field position and allowing the offense to operate on a short field could and should lead to easier points for the Dolphins. Special teams returner Jakeem Grant must have a clean game fielding punt returns to give the offense manageable field position. Plus yardage in the return game without drawing a flag is a win! The team that can consistently win field position with defense and good special teams play will make the job of calling offensive plays much easier for that team's coordinator and quarterback. Remember that it's going to be very difficult to stack positive plays together this week and the team that doesn't have to go 70 or 80 yards for points should have a better chance for success.
3) Limit unscripted plays
Anytime a team is facing a dual-threat quarterback like Cam Newton, the defense must expect the unexpected. It's very difficult to bring down Newton when applying pressure in the pocket. He's a big, athletic QB with a lot to prove this season, so the Dolphins must pressure with caution. Cam will bounce off of defenders that take poor angles or come at him with reckless abandon. Also, red zone quarterback runs or run/pass options (RPOs) are something to be alert for in the plus territory. Newton has that special ability to create extreme issues to the edge of your defense. Players like Kyle Van Noy and Andrew Van Ginkel must be disciplined with their eyes and try not to guess when Cam uses his legs on the edge of the defense.