MIAMI (CBSMiami/SportsDirect) – It’s funny how some things can change so much in a year while others stay exactly the same.
The New England Patriots went into Miami in the regular-season finale a year ago needing a win to wrap up the top overall seed in the AFC, and were promptly upset by the Dolphins 20-10, forcing them to play on the road in the conference title game.
The Patriots face an identical situation on Sunday when they face a much-improved Miami squad that is also in the playoffs.
New England holds a one-game lead over Oakland and can still secure the top seed if the Raiders lose in Denver, but there also is the matter of dropping three straight in South Beach that the Patriots would like to halt.
“Going in there and getting a win, I think would be big for us and overall, it’d be a great accomplishment,” safety Devin McCourty said. “But I think, for us, this is a really tough test. We haven’t won down there in three years.”
The Dolphins are already assured of the sixth seed, but can move up to No. 5 with a win over the Patriots and a loss by Kansas City.
Miami has won three straight overall and five in a row at home, but dropped a 31-24 decision at New England in Week 2.
TV: 1 p.m. ET, CBS. LINE: Patriots -9.5. O/U: 44.5
ABOUT THE PATRIOTS (13-2): Tom Brady missed the earlier matchup against the Dolphins while serving a four-game suspension, but he is putting up some of the most impressive numbers of his career with 25 touchdowns against two interceptions.
Backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo led New England to three touchdowns drives before he was injured in the first meeting and running back LeGarrette Blount (NFL-leading 17 rushing touchdowns) finished Miami off with 29 carries for 123 yards and a score.
Tight end Martellus Bennett also came up big in Week 2 with five receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown.
The Patriots are allowing a league-low 15.7 points after yielding a field goal in each of the last two games.
ABOUT THE DOLPHINS (10-5): Miami will be forced to go with a backup quarterback with Matt Moore set to make his third consecutive start in place of Ryan Tannehill (knee).
Moore has six touchdown passes against two interceptions in road wins at the New York Jets and Buffalo to clinch a playoff spot, leading the offense to 34 points in each of the victories.
Running back Jay Ajayi emerged from a four-game funk with his third 200-yard game of the season, earning AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors by rushing for 206 yards and a touchdown on 32 carries last week.
The Dolphins surrendered 589 total yards to the Bills last week and will be without two starters in cornerback Byron Maxwell and linebacker Jelani Jenkins.
- Brady owns the No. 2 touchdown-to-interception ratio in history, behind only Nick Foles (27-2, 2013).
- Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry had 10 receptions for a season-high 135 yards in the first meeting.
- New England can become the seventh team to finish a season 8-0 on the road.
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