By Danny Cox
The New England Patriots have locked up the AFC East and they have a first-round bye in the playoffs, but there is still something on the line as they head into the final regular season game. Home-field advantage is something that every team wants, but it will require a victory over the Miami Dolphins in the regular season finale in order for New England to get it.
Miami Dolphins Season Record: 10-5
Miami is having a phenomenal season and they have now won nine of their last 10 games, but that last loss was a big one. A few weeks ago, they were throttled by the Baltimore Ravens by a score of 38-6. Since then, they have rolled off three big wins in a row and are looking to keep the Patriots from having home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
The Dolphins lost to the Pats in Week 2, but it was only by seven points, and New England did not have Tom Brady at the time. On the other hand, these Dolphins are much better than the team that started the season and this finale is anyone’s game.
Dolphins On Offense
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is still out despite recently having the cast removed from his leg. He is still listed as day-to-day, and that is how the Dolphins are going to approach his injury. Even though there are no plans on resting starters in Week 17, coach Adam Gase may very well let Tannehill sit one more week to get him healthier for the playoffs.
If that ends up being the case, going with veteran Matt Moore is not a bad thing for Miami. He has played well—Moore finished out the win over the Cardinals and led his team to consecutive victories in his two starts with six touchdowns and only two interceptions. A crop of great talents in the receiving game helps out Moore a lot, and it never hurts to have a great running back like Jay Ajayi behind him.
Dolphins On Defense
One thing that the Patriots hope to take advantage of is the fact that the Dolphins give up a number of points. In their last five games, only one opponent has been held to under 20 points and two scored more than 30 points. There are definitely holes in the Dolphins defense, and LeGarrette Blount should be able to expose a number of them along the front.
If the running game gets going, it should open up things more for Tom Brady and company in the passing game. Brady will have to beware of cornerback Tony Lippett (four interceptions) and defensive end Andre Branch (5.5 sacks) though, as they can bring about some trouble for opposing defenses. Now is not the time for Patriots players to be absorbing big hits and risking injury.
Dolphins Players To Watch: WR Jarvis Landry and DE Cameron Wake
In Week 2, the Patriots may have been without Tom Brady, but he doesn’t play defense, so there is no excuse for what Jarvis Landry was allowed to do. In that game, Landry had 10 receptions and a season-high 135 yards as he just unloaded on New England. It was one of four 100-yard receiving games for Landry this season. While that is impressive, he does not find the end zone a lot as he has a mere three touchdowns in 2016 with 85 receptions and more than 1,000 yards.
The Pats offense will need to watch out for defensive end Cameron Wake, who is only getting better with age. He leads the Dolphins with 11.5 sacks this season and always seems to find his way into the offensive backfield. He is strong, big and fast off the ball, so Brady will not have a lot of time to sit in the pocket and search for a receiver. If anything, Wake may end up being the reason that Tom Brady is taken out of the game early.
This is far from an easy victory for the New England Patriots and they’re going to face some extremely strong competition from the Miami Dolphins. Miami has a great running game and some excellent talent in the passing game that will have the Patriots’ defense on their toes. The Pats need to pick up a win and get home-field advantage—it’s that simple. Unfortunately, Dolphins head coach Adam Gase says the team is not planning on resting their starters in Week 17 so a win by the Patriots is anything but simple.