MIAMI GARDENS (CBSMiami/AP) — With a win, the Miami Dolphins could squander rival New England’s hopes to finish the regular season with an undefeated road record so they can stay at home for the AFC playoffs.
The Patriots would improve to 8-0 in away games and clinch postseason home-field advantage with a victory Sunday in Miami. The Patriots say they’ll play their best players — Tom Brady included — even though they’ve already won the AFC East and earned a first-round bye next week.
The Dolphins say they’ll go all-out, too. They’re already assured of a road game next week as a wild-card team — their first playoff appearance since 2008 — but could earn a more favorable matchup with a win.
New England has lost in its past three visits to Miami. Here are things to know about the 103rd meeting of division rivals:
PATS’ MOTIVATION: New England (13-2) appeared to be protecting Brady’s health when he threw a season-low 21 passes in last year’s regular-season finale at Miami. The Patriots lost, forcing them to play on the road in the AFC title game, which they lost at Denver.
There’s unlikely to be a letup on the throttle this time.
“As a football team there is no on and off switch,” defensive back Devin McCourty said. “You can’t just decide when you want to play. From the outside, everyone talks about really how this week is not that important, and how the playoffs are right there. For us, none of that really matters. We’re going against a division team that knows us well, that has beaten us at home over the last three years. I think it’s important for us to just know our blueprint, know what we’ve done week in and week out, and stay to that.”
With a victory, the Patriots would become the ninth team since 1972 to go undefeated on the road during the regular season. Six of the previous eight teams went to the Super Bowl.
“Hopefully we can go down there and play more competitively than we have in some more recent trips,” coach Bill Belichick said.
Even if the Patriots lose, they’ll clinch home-field advantage if Oakland loses or ties against Denver.
FINS’ MOTIVATION: There was no sign of celebration when the Dolphins (10-5) clinched a playoff berth last week under first-year coach Adam Gase. He has kept the focus this week on New England, in part because he knows the game could get ugly if the Dolphins don’t play well.
Brady and company are 10-point favorites.
The Dolphins won’t say it, but they want to win because they have a shot at playing Houston and quarterback Tom Savage in the first round of the playoffs. A loss by Miami means facing Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh next week.
HOME-FIELD ADVANTAGE: The Dolphins have a chance to finish with a 7-1 home record, which would be their best since 2002. They’ve won five consecutive games in their stadium, which underwent a $500 million renovation to add a canopy and no longer looks — or sounds — the same.
“When we go to play games and those things get tight, the volume that our stadium is generating right now has been outstanding,” Gase said. “The excitement, you feel it when you walk into the stadium. You feel it through the players when they step out on the field. There’s a different juice for us when we’re on our sideline when we’re at home. Our guys do everything they can to try to maintain that when we go on the road, but it’s not the same. You feel a big-time difference.”
QUARTERBACK MATCHUP: New England beat Miami 31-24 in Week 2, but both teams will face different quarterbacks this time.
The Patriots were without Brady because of his four-game “Deflategate” suspension. Ryan Tannehill threw for 387 yards in the earlier meeting, but is sidelined by a strained knee.
Tannehill’s replacement, Matt Moore, has thrown six touchdown passes while winning both his starts.
OVERCOMING INJURIES: The Patriots have the AFC’s best record despite playing without Brady and then losing tight end Rob Gronkowski and wideout Danny Amendola to injuries.
The Dolphins have won nine of their past 10 games despite losing their best offensive lineman (Mike Pouncey) and best defensive back (Reshad Jones) to season-ending injuries, and losing Tannehill in Week 14.
“Football is the ultimate team sport,” Belichick said. “Part of having a good team is having other players who can take on some of the production and keep the train rolling.”
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