By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — This game was never supposed to mean anything. Alas, here we are.

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Thanks to a fairly stunning loss at home to the Eagles and a strange overtime loss in New Jersey last week against the Jets, the Patriots head into Week 17 essentially needing a victory in order to secure the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the home-field advantage throughout the playoffs which comes with it. (Technically, the Patriots could still get that one seed if the Broncos lose at home to the Chargers. But let’s be honest: That is not going to happen.)

Considering the Patriots’ success at home, and considering that any team would prefer home field over having to potentially travel to Denver for a championship game, it’s safe to assume that unlike last year’s final regular-season game, the Patriots will be giving this one a full go in an effort to come away with a W.

With that in mind, here’s what to watch for when this one kicks off at 1 p.m. on Sunday.

An Early Message

The Dolphins enter the weekend with a 5-10 record and their eyes, minds and bodies looking ahead to the offseason. It will be nice for them to not be forced to run Oklahoma drills under Dan Campbell’s watch anymore.

So while it’s safe to believe the Dolphins should at least be trying to start the game, it might be fair to believe that if they get down by seven or 10 points early, they may check out. It takes so much effort, focus and determination to claw back out of a deficit against Bill Belichick’s Patriots; will the Dolphins really have that kind of collective fight?

In that sense, it’s vitally important for the Patriots to hit the ground running and execute as best they can in the first quarter to try to build an early lead. Given what’s not at stake for the Dolphins, such a start may just be enough to dictate the remaining three quarters.

One Last Test

The Dolphins may not have an Antonio Brown or a Julio Jones or Odell Beckham Jr. or even a Brandon Marshall. But they do have a Jarvis Landry. And Jarvis Landry’s pretty good.

One of the more entertaining aspects of the Patriots’ defense to watch this year has been how the team has handled opponents’ top receivers. Malcolm Butler has matched up with Beckham and Brown, while Logan Ryan has shut down Demaryius Thomas and DeAndre Hopkins. It’s a duo that may not carry a ton of star power but nevertheless has combined, for the most part, to get the job done this year.

So with the playoffs on tap, one more test with Landry and Rishard Matthews, assuming he plays, will be somewhat of a big one for a secondary that is sure to face some challenging opponents in the month ahead.

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A Miami Mess?

When you consider that Ryan Tannehill reportedly had blood in his urine prior to last week’s game, when you consider that the quarterback was limping out of the locker room after the Dolphins’ loss to Indy, when you consider that cornerback Brent Grimes’ wife went on a Twitter rampage in which she bashed Tannehill, and when you consider that Grimes’ teammates all caused a loud ruckus when the media circled Grimes earlier this week, you have to wonder exactly what the state of the Miami Dolphins will be on Sunday.

The head coach is likely serving his final game as the boss, as the Dan Campbell story quickly soured after a 2-0 start. The Dolphins are 2-7 since.

The team mustered just 12 points at home last week against a Colts team that ranks 26th in points allowed on the season.

This game just has the makings of becoming somewhat of a mess for the home team. How that manifests itself — be it with some extracurricular activity after the whistle, or some cheap shots, or just with some suspect effort levels — is anyone’s guess. But this game may get whacky. Watch out for that.

Stat Leader

This one may not matter as far as the final score or the team’s final record goes, but it still matters.

Brady enters the final week of the season as the NFL’s leader in passing yards and touchdowns. That lead is slim, so if Brady is to come out of the weekend as the passing champion, he’ll need to probably throw for at least 250 yards and three touchdowns. It’s possible he could do it with some lesser numbers, but going for 300 yards and 3 TDs would be close enough to ensure both crowns.

Again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Patriots go to the ground game to score if they’re in the red zone, because ultimately the W will mean more to the team than a fairly insignificant record in the grand scheme of things.

But for anyone watching at home, it’s worth keeping an eye on the stats accumulated by Brady, Drew Brees, Blake Bortles and Eli Manning during 1 p.m. action, and then monitoring Cam Newton, Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers in the 4 p.m. games.

If he can lead the league in both yards and TDs, he’ll be the first 38-year-old to ever do it.

Brady obviously measures success in championships, but after the year he just had … this has to at least mean something to him.

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.