On Sunday the New England Patriots (11-4) will wrap up their regular season as they welcome the division rival Miami Dolphins (7-8). The Patriots currently sit in the third seed of the AFC one game behind the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans with a bye week on the line this weekend. A win guarantees the Patriots a home game in their first playoff appearance and possibly a first round bye.
The Patriots and Dolphins last met up in Week 13 in Miami. The Patriots didn’t take control quite like expected, but escaped that game with a six-point win keeping their hopes alive for a first-round bye. While the Patriots have looked good during the last half of the season, that wasn’t the case last weekend. Against the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars the Patriots played uninspired in the first half heading into the break tied. But they were able to come away with the win with a strong second half showing.
While the Patriots are looking to improve their playoff positioning, the Dolphins are simply looking to finish the season at .500. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Dolphins with big wins over the Cincinnati Bengals and Seattle Seahawks and tough losses to the New York Jets and Arizona Cardinals. Beating the Patriots Sunday, along with achieving their goal of finishing at .500, would be their biggest win of the year.
The biggest threat by the Dolphins is wide receiver Davone Bess and running back Reggie Bush. Fortunately for the Patriots, Bess has been injured which has kept him shelved the past two weeks. Bush on the other hand is still an active threat. While he hasn’t had the success this season that he was used to early in his career he still plays a prominent role in the Dolphins offense. With a lack of receiving threats, the Dolphins have recently been using Bush more in the passing game.
The key for the Dolphins offense Sunday will be the play of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill’s biggest problem has been his inconsistency, particularly as it pertains to turnovers. In weeks ten, eleven, and twelve Tannehill threw six interceptions but hasn’t thrown one since. While Tannehill is likely to struggle again through the air, his ability to keep from turning the ball over will largely play into the result.
This will be another big game for the Patriots unstable defense. In the first quarter against the Jaguars, the Patriots defense was ravaged giving up ten points in just ten minutes. The instability of the Patriots defense comes in the defensive secondary. After becoming a reliable safety, Devin McCourty last week was thrust back into his old position of cornerback with the injury to rookie Alfonzo Dennard. Although he did play well, the Patriots will be looking for a solid lineup when the playoffs come around.
The defense has been the bright spot of the Dolphins this season but their lack of turnovers has been a problem. While the Dolphins rank sixth in the league in points allowed this season, they’ve had just two takeaways in their last eight games with the second one coming last week against the Buffalo Bills. Against the best offense in the league again Sunday the goal for the Dolphins will be to bend but not break. They will give up their fair share of yards but keeping the Patriots out of the end zone can keep them in the game.
For the Patriots offense it’s been a very successful year. The Patriots have led the league in yards and points per game all season and remain atop the league in those categories. The key for the Patriots offense this week is to get a good start and stay healthy.
Things were looking bleak when the team lost tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Julien Edelman in back-to-back weeks but Gronkowski should return for the playoffs. Recently the offensive success has come behind MVP performances by Tom Brady and Brandon Lloyd has started to become the receiver the Patriots hoped they had signed during this past offseason.
With the kickoff moved back to 4:25 the Patriots will know whether or not they have a chance at earning a bye when the game begins. The Patriots have been arguably the best team in the league throughout the second half of the season. After a start that had many questioning if they would even reach the postseason, the Patriots have put themselves in a position to secure one of the top two seeds in the AFC. They will attempt to reach that goal when they take on the Dolphins Sunday afternoon.