Week 17: Miami Dolphins At New England Patriots
- QuarterbackThe Dolphins should be very pleased with the season they have had under first-year head coach Joe Philbin. They are 7-8 with a chance to finish at .500 if they can upset the Patriots. While that’s not likely, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has shown he can read defenses and throw the ball accurately.The Patriots are probably kicking themselves as a result of their Week 15 loss to the Niners. If they had won that game, they would be in the driver’s seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Even with that loss, they still have a chance for it if the Texans and Broncos lose their season finales. No quarterback can deliver a much-needed win like Tom Brady and he should be sharp in this game.
- OffenseThe Dolphins simply don’t have the kind of offense to threaten the best teams in the league, but they have gotten the most mileage out of the talent they have on hand. Reggie Bush has explosive speed and talent, but he performs inconsistently. Wideout Brian Hartline plays with effort and has become a solid receiver.Running back Stevan Ridley had a tough game against the 49ers because he could not hold on to the ball in the elements and Bill Belichick went away from him for much of the game. He should be back in the mix this week. Brady should be able to do whatever he wants in throwing the ball to Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd. The Pats could get Rob Gronkowski (broken arm) back for this game.
- DefenseThe Dolphins rank 16th in yards allowed and eighth in rushing defense. Linebacker Karlos Dansby is coming off a 10-tackle effort in the Dolphins’ Week 16 victory over the Bills. He leads the Dolphins in tackles this season. Defensive end Cameron Wake has become one of the most explosive pass rushers in the league.The Pats still struggle against the pass, but they are much better than they were earlier in the year. Still, they rank 29th against the pass. That’s likely to be a bigger problem in the postseason than it will be against the Dolphins. The key to New England’s defense is the ability of Vince Wilfork to shut down the interior run and collapse the pocket.
- Special TeamsThe Patriots have done an outstanding job in both punt and kickoff return differential. Zoltan Mesko is one of the best directional punters in the league. He gets great height on his kicks. Stephen Gostkowski is a fine field goal kicker who has made 29-of-35 FG attempts this season.The Dolphins have done a solid job of covering both kickoffs and punts. Return specialist Marcus Thigpen has been a solid performer, scoring touchdowns on both punt and kickoff returns. Brandon Fields has a huge leg and is averaging better than 50 yards per punt.
The Patriots are currently the No. 3 seed in the AFC. If they beat the Dolphins and the Texans and Broncos lose, the Pats would move up to the No. 1 seed in the AFC. While it’s unlikely the Broncos will lose to the Chiefs, the Texans will have their hands filled with the Colts.