By Gregory Hunt

The New England Patriots have already clinched a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs, but they will look to clinch the number-one seed when they face the Miami Dolphins Sunday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium. With a victory, the Patriots will earn a number-one seed for the 6th time since the Bill Belichick era began in 2000.

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Season Record

The Dolphins currently hold a 5-10 record, putting them in last place in the AFC East, two games behind the third-place Buffalo Bills. After a 1-3 start, the Dolphins fired head coach Joe Philbin and named tight ends coach Dan Campbell the interim head coach. The Dolphins are currently on a three-game losing streak. Miami went 8-8 last season and has not finished above .500 since 2008, when they won the division with an 11-5 record. The Patriots have won the AFC East seven consecutive times since that season.

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 51-46, although they trail the Patriots 1-2 in the postseason. Back on October 29 at Gillette Stadium, the Patriots defeated the Dolphins 36-7.

Dolphins on Offense

Miami’s offense has struggled for most of the season, largely because of the inconsistent play of the offensive line. In last week’s 18-12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Sun Life Stadium, the Dolphins allowed quarterback Ryan Tannehill to be sacked six times. On one play, Tannehill suffered a leg whip from Indianapolis linebacker Erik Walden, so Tannehill was seen after the game wearing a compression sleeve on his left leg. Over the past four seasons, Tannehill has been sacked 183 times, which is the most in the NFL over that span.

The Miami running game isn’t doing much better. Although the Dolphins are averaging a respectable 4.5 yards per carry, they are gaining only 93.3 rushing yards per game, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Furthermore, because the Dolphins find themselves trailing in so many games, they frequently abandon the running game in the second half.

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Dolphins on Defense

Despite losing to Indianapolis last week, the Dolphins defense did not give up a touchdown pass in a game for the first time all season. Miami has some talented pass rushers on its roster, but opposing quarterbacks have still been able to put up a 98.8 passer rating against the Dolphins. Against the run, the Dolphins are giving up a whopping 129.9 yards per game. The only teams giving up more are the New Orleans Saints and Cleveland Browns.

Dolphins Players to Watch

The one standout player on Miami’s otherwise shaky offensive line is center Mike Pouncey, who was selected to his third Pro Bowl this season. Center is his natural position, but he still made the Pro Bowl last season at guard after injuries to his teammates forced the team to make some adjustments.

Safety Reshad Jones probably should have made the Pro Bowl after a year in which he has made five interceptions, two sacks, and 102 solo tackles through the first 15 games of the season. Jones is the only safety in the NFL that has returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season.

Outlook
Last week, even though the Patriots didn’t play particularly well in losing to the New York Jets, New England still took a very competitive team to overtime. The Dolphins are far less talented than the Jets, so it’s difficult to see New England losing this game. Injured defensive backs Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung both missed that game against the Jets, so if they return to action against Miami, the Dolphins will find it very difficult to throw the ball downfield.

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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 Examiner.com.