By Abraham Gutierrez

Coming off a rather bizarre finish in last week’s loss to the New York Jets, the New England Patriots travel to the Sunshine State to take on the lowly Miami Dolphins, hoping to avoid going into the NFL playoffs on a two-game skid. Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida, will be the site for the season finale between these old, bitter foes.

This week’s game marks the 101st time that the Pats and Fins will have met on the gridiron. While Miami leads the overall series 52-48-0, New England has enjoyed tremendous success in their most recent head-to-head battles. In fact, Bill Belichick’s Patriots come into Week 17 having won two straight and nine of their last 11 encounters. The last time they met dates back to Oct. 29 (Week 8), when the Pats dominated the proceedings on their way to a 36-7 win over the Dolphins in Foxborough.

New England Patriots 2015 NFL Season

With a 12-3 record on the year, there’s no question that the Patriots are one of the favorites to repeat as Super Bowl champions. With the core of the team intact, the Pats stated their title defense by winning the first 10 games of the season.

However, since New England’s win over Buffalo in Week 11, injuries and missed opportunities have put a bit of a damper on this team’s momentum as the season winds down. The Patriots come into the season clincher fresh off a disappointing loss to the New York Jets and are in danger of losing four of their final six games.

Patriots On Offense

In his second stint with the organization, Josh McDaniels enters his seventh season at offensive coordinator and his 12th overall. With quarterback Tom Brady under center, there’s no secret as to what the Patriots want to do offensively: Run the football in order to set up the play-action opportunities downfield.

Offensively, New England ranks second in passing yards per contest (297.4), third in points (30.3), fourth in total yards (386.3) and 29th in rushing yards per game (88.9). Given those numbers, it comes as no surprise that Brady leads the league in passing yards per game with 4,636 and touchdowns with 36.

Patriots On Defense

On the defensive side of the rock, the Patriots are under the watchful eye of defensive coordinator, Matt Patricia. In his fourth season as DC, he has turned this defense into a powerhouse.

Surprisingly, the Patriots D comes into the final game of the season ranked in the top 10 in three major stat categories in the league. New England’s resistance particularly shines in total yards allowed, where they rank seventh in the league surrendering 332.9 yards per contest. They are also ranked a respectable eighth place in the entire league in points per game (19.7) and rushing yards per game allowed (98.9). Their weakest aspect can be found in the passing game, where they rank 11th in the National Football League yielding 233.9 aerial yards per week.

Patriots Players To Watch

Any time the Patriots take the field, there are two players that must be accounted for at all times. Of course, everything starts and ends with four-time Super Bowl champion signal-caller, Tom Brady (390-for-603 for 4636 yards, 36 TDs, 7 INTs). Recently selected to play in his 11th Pro Bowl, the former Michigan Wolverine has now made the trip to Honolulu seven years straight and shows no signs of slowing down.

The second player to watch is Brady’s favorite target, tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronk comes into Week 17 as the leading receiver in the locker room, looking to torch the Miami defense by adding to his total of 70 receptions for 1158 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Patriots vs Dolphins Outlook

There’s no secret as to which side should win this game in the eyes of the NFL experts. While both of these clubs were expected to play deep into the postseason, unfortunately, only the Pats were able to hold up their end of the bargain. Thus, Miami comes in regarded as almost double-digit underdogs despite being at home for the season finale.

Abe Gutierrez’s (Twitter: @GutierrezAbe) passion led him to ditch law school journey in order to launch his own publishing company. His expertise make him a valued addition to Examiner.com, AXS.com and the CBS-Sports family. Some of his work can be found on CBS-Miami (Dolphins), CBS-LosAngeles (Chargers), CBS-BayArea (Raiders), CBS-NewYork (NY Jets), CBS-TampaBay (Buccaneers), AXS.com, Examiner.com and other online publications.

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