By Gregory Hunt
After a two-game road trip to Green Bay and San Diego, the New England Patriots will be back at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon when they face the Miami Dolphins. It’s the first of a three-game stretch that has the Patriots facing all three of their division rivals to finish the 2014 regular season.
The Dolphins currently hold a 7-6 record, putting them in a tie with the Buffalo Bills for second place in the AFC East, three games behind the 10-3 Patriots. With a victory, the Patriots will clinch their 12th AFC East title in the past 14 seasons. Miami is looking to finish above .500 for the first time since since 2008, when they won the division with an 11-5 record.
Miami’s division rivalry with New England dates back to 1966, when the Dolphins were established as an expansion franchise in the American Football League. The Dolphins lead the all-time regular season series against the Patriots 51-44, although they trail the Patriots 1-2 in the playoffs. Miami currently holds a two-game winning streak against New England, having won 33-20 in Week 1 this season and 24-20 in Week 15 last season. Both games were played at Sun Life Stadium Their most-recent playoff meeting was in 1997, when the Patriots defeated the Dolphins 17-3 at Foxboro Stadium in a Wild Card playoff.
Dolphins On Offense
In their Week 1 loss to the Dolphins, the Patriots had a great deal of difficulty stopping Miami running back Knowshon Moreno, who carved up the New England defense for 134 yards and one touchdown on 24 carries, but he won’t be a factor Sunday due to an ACL tear he suffered in Week 6. The Miami running game is still averaging 4.6 yards per carry, which is good for 7th-best in the league, but the team still prefers to rely on the arm of quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Miami’s 25.2 rushing attempts per game ranks only 22nd in the NFL.
Tannehill played well during a stretch of the season where the Dolphins won three games in a row and placed themselves in position for a wild card playoff birth, but when left tackle Branden Albert suffered a season-ending knee injury in November, Tannehill’s protection deteriorated and his quality of play declined with it. In last Sunday’s 28-13 loss at home to the Baltimore Raven’s, Tannehill was sacked six times.
Dolphins On Defense
Miami’s run defense, which performed respectably early in the season, has dropped to 22nd in the NFL by giving up 123.5 yards per game. Against Baltimore, this unit gave up 183 yards rushing, which allowed the Ravens to overcome an early 10-0 deficit. The Dolphins have given up 661 yards on the ground in the past three games. Also, Miami’s secondary took a hit Sunday when starting safety Louis Delmas went down with a knee injury that will keep him out of the lineup for the remainder of the season. Delmas is the team’s third-leading tackler this season and his lone interception was returned 81 yards for a touchdown.
Now that running back LeGarrette Blount has added a new dimension to the Patriots rushing offense, look for him to have a big game against the porous Miami run defense. Given the improved play of the New England defense and the deteriorating play of the Miami offense, the Dolphins will likely struggle to score points. The Patriots were an eight-point favorite as of Monday afternoon and they should cover that spread easily.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.