By Abraham Gutierrez

After going into Pittsburgh and stunning the Steelers, the Dolphins will need to do it all over again, as the AFC East leading New England Patriots invade Sun Life Stadium with hopes of delivering a devastating blow to Miami’s Wild Card aspirations. However, the Pats will have to do it without some key players, including two-time Pro Bowler Rob Gronkowski.

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FOXBORO, MA - DECEMBER 08:  Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots catches a pass before being hit by T.J. Ward #43 and D'Qwell Jackson #52 of the Cleveland Browns  in the third quarter during the game at Gillette Stadium on December 8, 2013 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Gronkowski would be carted off of the field following the play.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski #87 of the New England Patriots catches a pass before being hit by T.J. Ward #43 and D’Qwell Jackson #52 of the Cleveland Browns (Credit, Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Only three games remain on the 2013 NFL schedule, and if last week’s results are any indication, the sixth AFC playoff spot may be decided on the final day of the regular season.

The (7-5) Miami Dolphins come into Week 15 trying to keep pace with the defending Super Bowl champion (7-5) Baltimore Ravens, who pulled off a miraculous finish versus Minnesota last week.

Luckily, Ryan Tannehill and company have a more favorable schedule than Joe Flacco and the “Purple Pain” down the stretch. In fact, if Miami can find a way to shock Tom Brady and the Pats on Sunday, its last two games would be at the (4-9) Buffalo Bills next week, before closing out the year at home against the (6-7) New York Jets.

For John Harbaugh, clinching a postseason berth will prove to be a very tough proposition, as the Ravens final three games will all be against division-leading teams possessing winning records.

Baltimore’s brutal schedule consists of a Monday night game at the (7-6) Detroit Lions on December 16, followed by a homecoming clash against Bill Belichick’s (10-3) Patriots. Paul Brown Stadium will be its final destination for a meeting with the (9-4) Cincinnati Bengals.

If Miami can somehow find a way to capitalize on New England’s injuries, it is very possible that the Fins could put themselves in a position to control their own destiny.

Patriots on Offense

Many observers would dare to say that this has been one, if not, the most gratifying regular season of Belichick and Brady’s NFL run. However, just when the future was beginning to look bright heading into the playoffs, disaster struck once again.

On Monday, it was confirmed that All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski (39 catches, 592 yards, 4 TDs) would need season-ending surgery in his right knee. According to reports, “The Gronk” tore his ACL and damaged his MCL in last week’s dramatic come-from-behind victory over Cleveland.

Gronkowski, who missed the first six games of the 2013 NFL season, will undergo a lengthy rehabilitation process that could put his availability for the start of the 2014 campaign in jeopardy.

Patriots offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach, Josh McDaniels employs a complex offensive scheme that combines the Air Coryell system and a hybrid-form of the West Coast Offense.

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However, injuries have forced this team to adopt a more traditional form of Erhardt-Perkins “smash-mouth” running scheme, which has surprisingly worked to perfection, especially early on.

Thus, New England comes in ranked fifth in points per game (26.8), seventh in total yards (385.9), eighth in passing yards (265.9) and 13th in rushing yards per game (120).

Patriots Key Offensive Players

  • (QB) Tom Brady: 318/523, 3685 yards, 21 TDs, 9 INTs, 88.3 QBR.
  • (RB) Stevan Ridley: 143 carries, 611 yards, 7 TDs.
  • (RB) LeGarrette Blount: 102 carries, 460 yards, 3 TDs.
  • (RB) Brandon Bolden: 54 carries, 265 yards, 3 TDs.
  • (WR) Julian Edelman: 76 catches, 775 yards, 5 TDs.
  • (WR) Danny Amendola: 41 catches, 448 yards, 2 TDs.

Patriots on Defense

The first time these teams met earlier this season, New England’s defense was ranked among the best in the league in points per game and passing yards allowed.

Fast-forward seven weeks, and the Pats “D” ranks 10th in points (22.1), 16th in passing yards (236.5), 24th in total yards (372.3), and defending the run is still its biggest deficiency at 135.8 yards allowed (NFL Rank 31st).

Belichick’s defensive coordinator is Matt Patricia, who has been with the organization since 2004. Although he was promoted to DC last year, the 39-year-old is a former assistant on both sides of the football.

Patricia runs a 4-3 defense, but he’s known for switching back-and-fourth to 4-3 in order to overcompensate for personnel issues. The absence of Vince Wilfork is evident by the fact that this team struggles significantly against the rush.

If Miami can establish the running game early it would give Ryan Tannehill the opportunity to exploit the Patriots weak secondary. There’s no question that this is a golden opportunity for the Dolphins to catch the Patriots in a vulnerable position following the loss of key players.

Patriots Key Defensive Players

  • (DE) Chandler Jones: 70 tackles (35 solo), 10½ sacks, forced fumble.
  • (LB) Brandon Spikes: 78 tackles (45 solo).
  • (DE) Rob Ninkovich: 78 tackles (34 solo) 6.0 sacks, 2 forced fumbles.
  • (DT) Chris Jones: 45 tackles (19 solo), 5.0 sacks.
  • (FS) Devin McCourty: 63 tackles (43 solo), 2 forced fumbles.
  • (CB) Aqib Talib: 4 INTs.

Patriots vs. Dolphins Head-to-Head

Although the Patriots come in trailing the Dolphins 46-50 in the overall series, it has been all New England since the turn of the millennium. In fact, one has to look all the way back to the 2009 NFL season to find Miami’s last victory over the Patriots. There’s no question that snapping a seven-game losing skid will be no easy task, especially considering the last time they met, the Patriots prevailed by a final score of 27-17 on October 27, 2013.

For more Dolphins news and updates, visit Dolphins Central.

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Abe Gutierrez is a criminal justice admin whose love for sports led him to become a writer and editor. His expertise makes him a valued addition to and its partners. His work can be found on .