Surprising Miami Dolphins Fly North To Meet New England Patriots
Saturday, December 24, 2011
by Aengus Moorehead
Winning the AFC East for the ninth time in 11 years is quite the feat, but the New England has its eyes on the top seed in the conference. To strengthen their position, the Patriots will vie for their seventh straight victory on Saturday when the division rival Miami Dolphins come to town.
In the season opener against Miami, Tom Brady threw for a team-record 517 yards and four touchdowns – including a 99-yarder to former Dolphin Wes Welker. Last week, New England snapped the six-game winning streak of the Denver Broncos with a 41-23 triumph. For its part, Miami made a winner out of interim coach Todd Bowles in his debut with a 30-23 victory over the AFC East rival Buffalo.
A well-timed long winning streak and a few stumbles from their competitors has placed the New England Patriots back in position to earn home-field advantage throughout the upcoming AFC playoffs.
The AFC East champions bring a string of six consecutive victories back to Gillette Stadium for Saturday's clash with a Miami Dolphins team that will have a much different look than when these two division rivals last squared off.
New England's current tear, which was extended with last Sunday's 41-23 road triumph over the previously-rolling Denver Broncos, has clinched the perennial powerhouse's third straight division title and ninth in 11 seasons, and losses by Houston, Baltimore and Pittsburgh this past weekend gave the Patriots a one- game lead on that group for the conference's No. 1 overall seed with just two remaining.
All that stands in the way of New England earning that coveted spot for a second year in a row are home dates with the Dolphins and badly-slumping Buffalo, both of whom are just 5-9 at the moment. The Patriots have prevailed in 22 of their last 23 regular-season contests at Gillette Stadium.
New England has scored 31 points or more in every game of its unbeaten stretch, and its high-powered offense has operating on all cylinders in a 38-24 besting of the Dolphins in Miami in the season opener.
Miami's defense has been far more stingy as of late, however. The Dolphins have yielded a scant 14.7 points and 297.7 total yards in winning five of their seven outings following a dreadful 0-7 start that ultimately triggered the dismissal of head coach Tony Sparano.
New England, on the other hand, enters the final stretch with a few clear concerns on that side of the ball. The Patriots have surrendered the most total yards (414.4 ypg) and passing yards (296.7 ypg) in the NFL this season, and will now have to make do without top pass rusher Andre Carter the rest of the way. The veteran end, who leads the team with 10 sacks, suffered a quadriceps injury against the Broncos that will sideline him the remainder of the year.
The Patriots have also permitted 422 rushing yards over their two most recent tilts, including 252 to Denver last week. That could pose problems against a Miami offense that amassed 254 yards on the ground last week.
Miami holds a 49-40 lead in its all-time regular season series with New England, but the Patriots have won seven of the nine meetings between the longtime rivals held since 2007 following their above-mentioned Week 1 result. The Dolphins have also left with a loss in four of their last five trips to Gillette Stadium, which includes a 38-7 blowout defeat in last season's finale, and haven't won in Foxborough since a 38-13 upset in 2008. Miami last topped the Pats during the 2009 campaign, taking a 22-21 squeaker at Sun Life Stadium on a late field goal by kicker Dan Carpenter.
In addition to the regular-season set, these teams have met three times in the postseason, with New England holding a 2-1 advantage there. The Patriots' most memorable postseason victory over Miami came in the 1985 AFC Championship, when New England came through with a 31-14 road win en route to its first-ever Super Bowl appearance. The clubs also met in AFC First-Round Playoff matchups in 1982 and 1997, with Miami claiming the former (28-13) and New England taking the latter (17-3).
New England's Bill Belichick is 14-11 against Miami in his head coaching career, including a 14-9 mark while with the Patriots. Bowles will be opposing both the Patriots and Belichick for the first time as a head man.
Time & Venue:
- 1:00 PM ET, Saturday, December 24, 2011. Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
NFL Football Odds: Patriots -9, O/U 50
RB Reggie Bush rushed for a career-high 203 yards and scored his sixth rushing touchdown of the season on Sunday. He sits just 27 yards shy of his first 1,000-yard season of his career. After recording just one 100-yard game with New Orleans, Bush has accomplished the feat in three successive weeks with Miami.
WR Brandon Marshall recorded consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons – a rare feat in South Florida. The last Dolphin to do so was former Patriot Irving Fryar (1993, 1994). Marshall could have a field day against New England's 32nd-ranked pass defense.
How this game starts could have a big say in how it's finished. Miami's objective is to run the ball and control the clock on offense, which is probably the best way to prevent Brady and his cast of weapons from doing the most damage. The Patriots, on the other hand, want to jump out quickly and construct an early lead to force the Dolphins to play catch-up, something that Miami isn't really built to do. In the Dolphins' five wins this season, Matt Moore has attempted 29 passes or less. When he's thrown it 30 or more, the team is 0-3.
For Miami to keep the Patriots' multi-faceted offense in check, it's absolutely essential that it's able to consistently bring the heat upon Brady. The New England triggerman was barely touched in his record-setting display against the Dolphins back in Week 1, and he'll find the open receiver if allowed sufficient time to survey the field. Wake can be a very disruptive force coming off the edge, but he'll need help from Taylor and the linemen to avoid double teams and make a significant impact.
It isn't realistic to believe the Dolphins can win this game in a shootout, therefore it's imperative that the team's defense continues its strong recent form. Miami has limited the opposition to 20 points or fewer in seven of its last nine tests and has been very good inside the red zone, having allowed touchdowns on just 40.9 percent of such drives this season. The Dolphins have a real challenge on their hands this week, however, as the Patriots have scored over 30 points in six straight games and are second in the NFL in red-zone offensive efficiency (63.5 percent).
New England TE Rob Gronkowski needs only 34 yards to break Ben Coates' single-season franchise record of 1,174 yards. Kellen Winslow of the San Diego Chargers holds the NFL's tight end record with 1,290 yards, set in 1980.
While no one is confusing QB Matt Moore with Marino, the former has thrown for 11 touchdowns against two interceptions over the last seven games.
For all the pomp and circumstance of the victories, New England suffered a significant loss on Sunday. DE Andre Carter, who leads the team with 10 sacks, injured his left quadriceps and was placed on IR on Tuesday.
New England is 5-1 SU in its last 6 games when playing Miami
New England is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games when playing at home against Miami
New England is 4-1-1 ATS in its last 6 games
Miami is 2-4 ATS in its last 6 games when playing New England
The total has gone UNDER in 6 of Miami's last 7 games on the road
The total has gone OVER in 5 of Miami's last 7 games when playing New England
Don't expect a 600-yard outburst from New England this time around, as the Dolphins are far more sound on defense than in the early part of the season and should get more pressure on Brady than the first meeting. Bush wasn't nearly the factor he is now at that time as well, nor was Moore even the team's regular quarterback.
Still, the Dolphins have to travel to Foxborough, where the Patriots have been nearly invincible over the last three seasons, and New England's going to get its points with the way the offense has been humming lately. That's likely to cause Miami to deviate from its desired game plan and take to the air more than preferred, which could lead to one or two costly mistakes that may turn a relatively tight game into a comfortable win for the AFC East champs.
NFL Football Pick: Take Patriots.
- NFL Pick: New England Patriots Visit Mile High-Spirited Denver Broncos
- Week 15 NFL Prediction: Division Foes Meet As Miami Visit Buffalo
- NFL Pick: No Place Like Home For New England Against Shaky Baltimore
- Buffalo Bills Ends Poor Season In New England Against Patriots
- Monday Night Football Pick: Kansas City Chiefs vs New England Patriots