MIAMI (CBSMiami/AP) — The Miami Dolphins know their margin for error is microscopic as the team vies for a rare AFC playoff spot.
Ryan Tannehill was heading out the door when someone noted the predicted high temperature of 83 for Sunday’s game between the Dolphins and New England Patriots.
“Not quite hot enough,” Tannehill responded with a smile.
Turn up the heat. That’s what the Dolphins tend to do when the Patriots play in Miami.
While New England has dominated Miami — and everyone else — in the AFC East over the past decade, the reverse has been true lately when the teams meet in South Florida.
The Dolphins have won four of the past five home meetings, including 27-20 last December when Jay Cutler outplayed Tom Brady.
Oddsmakers expect the trend to end, with New England (9-3) a touchdown favorite over Miami (6-6).
Here are things to know as the Patriots attempt to clinch their 10th consecutive division title:
TOUGH PLACE TO PLAY
In recent years the Patriots have had worse results in Miami than anywhere else, and New England coach Bill Belichick blames the Dolphins.
“They’ve got a good football team,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of good players.”
That’s fine, coach, except that in Foxborough, your team has won 10 in a row against Miami by an average score of 33-13. That includes a 38-7 victory earlier this season. And in the standings, the Dolphins have been perennial also-rans to your dynasty.
Belichick and his players discount the South Florida climate as a factor, but it does favor the Dolphins, with teams from the north tending to wilt in the warm weather.
“Sometimes it hits some of these teams pretty hard,” Miami coach Adam Gase said.
The bad news for the Dolphins is that forecasters don’t anticipate the heavily favored Patriots will take the game lightly — not with the annoyance this week of constant questions about their recent results in Miami.
“The last few times we’ve played them down there, we haven’t played very well,” running back James White acknowledged, “so I think that’s enough motivation.”
After a quiet day when the teams met in September, Miami receiver Danny Amendola is itching for another crack at his former team, but he has been nursing a knee injury and missed last week’s win over Buffalo.
Amendola became one of Brady’s favorite targets during his five seasons in New England. He is in his first year with Miami after signing a $12 million, two-year contract and leads the team in catches and yards receiving.
Patriots safety Patrick Chung said Amendola was always a handful in practice.
“Danny’s the man,” Chung said. “He’s a small dude, but he’s stronger than you think and he’s feisty. He’s going to be ready for us.”
Early this season, opponents took advantage of a New England defense that struggled to get pressure up front and was susceptible in the secondary to big plays.
The Patriots appear to be tightening up at the right time. They haven’t allowed a 300-yard passer in five consecutive games, or a 100-yard rusher in nine consecutive games.
That’s a vast improvement for a unit that gave up 30 or more points three times in the first seven games, including a season-high 40 in narrow win over Kansas City.
Belichick said the improvement is part of an evolving identity in the first season with linebackers coach Brian Flores making defensive calls.
Tannehill has a passer rating of 112.7 with five touchdowns and one interception in two games since returning from an injury to his throwing shoulder. The performances come amid growing speculation about whether the Dolphins will bring him back next season.
“I have a long way to go to get where I want to be,” he said. “I think I’m doing all right, but a lot of plays I’d like to be better at. I think we have a lot better football in front of us as an offense.”
Brady enters Sunday tied with Peyton Manning for the most touchdown passes in NFL history, including playoffs.
Manning and Brady both have 579 TD tosses, followed by Brett Favre (552) and Drew Brees (547). The 508 regular-season touchdown passes by Brady and Favre trail Manning (539) and Brees (518) on the career list.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)