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Saturday, 14 December 2013 01:07

New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins: Will History Repeat Itself?

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INJURY UPDATE:

WRs Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) are out for the Miami game. Volmer & Cannon ready to go.

New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins: Will History Repeat Itself?

Let me start by pointing out that Miami is ranked #1 as the nation's Healthiest City by Natural Health Magazine. I don't know about you...I've never read that magazine, but it sounds pretty impressive. We also know that South Beach is one of the world's leading hot spots for sun and fun.

Therefore, it is safe to say the Patriots will be relatively healthy, well, not really with Dobson & Thompkins out, have fun, get a tan and thoroughly enjoy their visit to this tropical heaven on Sunday. They may even play a football game for 60 minutes, something they have had trouble doing for most of the season.

As they leave the cold, blustery north and head to the warm, sunny south the 2013 New England Patriots control their own football destiny. San Diego's victory over Denver Thursday night made that possible. It moved New Engand into the possibility to be the  #1 seed in the AFC play-offs.

It won't be easy to keep that advantage, with 2 tough back-to-back road games. After playing the Miami Dolphins this weekend they travel to Baltimore to play the Ravens. Both those teams are fighting to make the play-offs and are itching to knock off the Pats. If NE does win their final 3 games they will host all their play-off games at Foxboro right up to the Super Bowl.

AND NEW ENGLAND SPORTS FANS WERE WORRIED...

Think about that. Despite all the injuries...a nightmare season on defense...3 losses by a total of 14 points...3 consecutive miraculous victories...they now are the #1 team in the AFC. The way this year has gone, did anyone really think they would be in this position with 3 games left in the regular season.

Don't say it too loudly, but this NFL year is starting to feel more and more, dare I say, like the 2013 MLB season...which, we all remember, ended in a World Series for Bosox fans. Is it really possible the "magic" could happen again? As I write this all three currently active professional teams from Boston/New England are in 1st place...The New England Patriots...The Boston Bruins...and, the biggest surprise, The Boston Celtics. Boston sports fans are the luckiest in the world right now.

PATRIOTS-DOLPHINS HISTORY

The Dolphins and Patriots first played each other in 1966. The two teams have met 96 times (including play-offs) and Miami holds a slim 50-46 edge.

New England has controlled the rivalry in recent years.

Since Bill Belichick became the Patriots head coach in 2000, New England is 18-9 (.667). While he is 11-1 against Miami in home games, including wins in the last seven games, Tom Brady is just 6-5 in games played in Miami. The Patriots have won three straight at Miami. New England has won the last seven match-ups, including a 27-17 win in Foxboro earlier this season. The Pats swept the series in the last three seasons (2010-2012) Nine of the last 10 games have been won by New England

Despite the recent history, many "knowledgeable" sports experts are picking Miami to win Sunday. The loss of Rob Gronkowski for the season has caused skepticism among those that don't look thru the "Rose-Colored Glasses" of true Patriots fans.

GAME #1 IN FOXBORO

When these two teams met in Foxboro, the Dolphins had lost 3 straight after starting the season 3-0...while the Patriots were in a mini-slump, having lost 2 of their previous 3. The game went the way many have this season. Miami controlled the tempo early, leading 17-3 at the half...only to have New England come back to score 24 unanswered points on the way to a 27-17 victory.

After a passive first half, the Pats pinned their ears back and went after QB Ryan Tannehill...completely changing the tone of the game with 6 sacks. The Patriots ran for 152 yards, but Brady was held to 116 passing yards.

WHAT'S CHANGED...PATRIOTS

The defense has gone south (hopefully to Miami) since that October game. A unit that had saved early season games has started to buckle under the pressure of key injuries and begun allowing points in bunches. In the 5 games since they last met they have given up 143 points...an average of almost 29 PPG. In the 6 games prior they had given up only 127...just over 21 PPG. For those who are mathematically challenged, that's more than a TD per game!

Meanwhile, the offense has gone in the opposite direction. Following the Dolphin win they bowled over the "Steel Curtain" while defeating the Steelers 55-31. After averaging 21.7 PPG prior to the late October game, the offense has stepped up and averaged 32 PPG. Brady has thrown for over 200 yards in the second half in the last three games.

WHAT'S CHANGED...DOLPHINS

The Dolphins, despite a series of distractions and losing 2 key players from their offensive line, have surprised many by keeping in the play-off hunt. Instead of destroying the team, as many predicted (myself included) the issues seem to have solidified their focus. Since that game they have gone 4-2, beating the Bengals & Chargers while losing by 4 to the red hot Carolina Panthers.

Their protection of QB Ryan Tannehill has steadily improved. After giving up 6 sacks in their first Patriots game, bringing their total to 32 after 7 games, they have given up only 15 in the past 6.

PASSING

If Tannehill has time to pass, he has receivers that can catch the ball:

WR Brian Hartline 67 catches for 855 & 4 TDs WR Mike Wallace 58 catches for 762 & 3 TDs TE Charles Clay 60 catches for 678 yards & 6 TDs

When pressured, as in the 1st game, he is prone to making mistakes. It will be interesting to see what the Patriots do to force him into making quick decisions.

After a slow start, Tom Brady's numbers continue to climb. The loss of Rob Gronkowski was devastating and no one player can take his place.  Add Aaron Dobson & Kenbrell Thompkins, who are both out of Sunday's game and Brady's is missing 3 key options. He will be relying heavily on Shane Vereen, who had a career game against the Browns and ranks 2nd in the NFL with 8 receptions per game this season (only Julio Jones averages more at 8.2).

The Pats reception numbers are deceiving, as all but Edelman have lost time with injuries. Vereen, Edelman & Amendola were all targeted heavily after Gronkowski's injury last week and came through when needed.

WR Julian Edelman leads with 78 receptions for 775 yards & 5 TDs WR Danny Amendola 41 catches for 448 yards & 2 TDs RB  Vereen 40 receptions, 373 yards & 1 TD

Expect to see more of Austin Colly & Josh Boyce than in previous weeks.

RUSHING

All four...yes there are four...Patriots running backs average over 4 yards a carry. The offensive line may have trouble protecting QB Tom Brady, but they've been pretty good opening holes for the run.

Stevan Ridley 143 carries for 611 yards (4.3 YPA) & 7TDs LaGarrette Blount 102/460/4.5/3TD Brandon Bolden 54/265/4.9/3TD Vereen 384.9/186/1TD

The Patriots average 120 yards rushing per game and had 152 in game 1. Miami averages 95.8, but we all know the trouble the Pats keeping any team under 100 yards. That Dolphins run game came to life on a snowy field in Pittsburgh last week. Daniel Thomas returned from an injury and ran for 105 yards in the Dolphins win. He averaged an impressive 6.6 yards per attempt, so the Patriots need to keep him in check.

With all the issues with the receiving corps, this could be the game that Josh McDaniels finally lets Stevan Ridley show what he is capable of. All four of the Pats backs are capable of moving the ball.

THIS & THAT

The Dolphins have had at least one takeaway in every game this season. They are +2 in turnover differential while the Patriots are +6 Brady (146) needs one more win to tie Dan Marino (147) for the fourth-most wins in NFL history by a starting quarterback. He also needs 315 yards passing to reach 4,000 yards for the sixth time in his career Stephen Gostkowski has made 22 straight fourth quarter field goals and he has scored in a team record 104 consecutive games Bill Belichick has led the Patriots to 10 division titles and needs one more to tie Don Shula for the most division titles since the merger with 11. The Dolphins are the least-penalized team in the league with 55. New England is 2nd with 57 The Patriots can clinch their fifth straight AFC East Title and qualify for the playoffs for the 21st time in its 54 year history

TIME TO PICK A WINNER

As a refresher, here's what I wrote prior to their game on Oct. 27. All you need to know about Dolphins:

They are mammals, not fish They are not porpoises They don’t run, they swim... ....therefore, they can’t play football They eat fish, not Patriots They are well-known for their agility and playful behavior …and best of all they are not to be feared!

This game means a lot to both teams. Home field may belong to the Dolphins, but the win should go to the Patriots in a close game.... Patriots 27 Dolphins 24

For at least one more week the Patriots keep the #1 seed in the AFC. If you are ready, then let's hope the Patriots start to play from the opening kick and not wait to the 2nd half to kick into gear.

I can be followed on Twitter @SnowdonBob and welcome your comments.