By Gregory Hunt

A first-round bye in the AFC playoffs has already been clinched, but the New England Patriots will look to earn the number-one seed with a victory over the Miami Dolphins Sunday afternoon at Sun Life Stadium. The 12-3 Patriots are currently one game ahead of the 11-4 Denver Broncos for that top seed, but a New England loss combined with a Denver win over the San Diego Chargers will give the Broncos home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

Belichick respects the Dolphins

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick is never one to take an opponent lightly, so when he spoke to the media Wednesday about New England’s upcoming game against Miami, he made it a point to mention how the Dolphins are better than their 5-10 record may indicate.

“I think that [interim] coach [Dan] Campbell has made a very conscious effort to play the game a certain way,” Belichick said. “I think you definitely see that when you watch the film and they have had good success doing it.”

Campbell started the season as Miami’s tight ends coach, but he took over the head coaching position on an interim basis when Joe Philbin was fired on October 5 after a 1-3 start. The Dolphins won two of their first three games under Campbell before losing 36-7 to the Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 29.

“[The Dolphins] played well last week,” said Belichick, praising Miami’s defensive effort in an 18-12 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at Sun Life Stadium. “[They] do a lot of things well. We’re going to have to play our best game in a few weeks.”

The Dolphins are winless against AFC East opponents this season, but they do have an impressive 44-26 win against the Houston Texans, who currently lead the AFC South. Miami also got a 20-19 win on the road against a Philadelphia Eagles team that later beat the Patriots 35-28 at Gillette Stadium.

New England’s injury woes continue

An already-battered Patriots team suffered three new injuries in last week’s 26-20 loss to the New York Jets, to cornerback Justin Coleman (head), linebacker Rob Ninkovich (leg), and tackle Sebastian Vollmer (ankle). None of them were spotted at the Patriots practice facility on Wednesday, casting doubts about their availability for the upcoming game against Miami. Also missing from practice was linebacker Jonathan Freeny, who missed last week’s game with a hand injury. The good news is that safety Patrick Chung, who also missed last week’s game, is back at practice despite a foot injury.

Martin proving to be a valuable acquisition

With wide receivers Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Brandon LaFell all dealing with various injuries this season, the player that has helped fill that void has been Keshawn Martin, who was acquired from the Houston Texans in September. The third-year player from Michigan State has set career highs for receptions (23) and receiving yards (265) this season, and he has also become New England’s designated kick and punt returner.

“I think that he has demonstrated the ability to do the two things that we really tell our receivers they have to do, which is to get open and catch the ball,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Wednesday about Martin. “He’s versatile. He can play multiple roles in multiple spots, which he has done in each game he has played in.”

Martin was New England’s leading receiver last week, making seven catches on 11 targets for 68 yards.

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.

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