Well, the New England Patriots achieved all the regular season goals they set out to accomplish coming into the season. With their 34-3 demolishing of the Buffalo Bills, the road to Dallas and Super Bowl 45 on the AFC side now goes through Foxboro. This Sunday, the Patriots will play the final game of the regular season against the 7-9 Miami Dolphins. Even though this game means nothing for the postseason, we all know Bill Belichick’s history of playing his starters for long periods of time during the final game of the season. Some memories we want to remember (2007 at Giants) and some we might want to forget (Last year at Texans).
This year, Miami will come into Foxboro as demoralized as can be afterblowing a ten point lead in the 4th quarter and losing to the Detroit Lions at home last week. Ever since New England’s historic special teams performance against the Dolphins in Week 4, Miami has only won five games. Chad Henne has had a disastrous December, including a game where he had just five completions in a win over the Jets a few weeks ago. Also, head coach Tony Sparano could very well lose his job after the game.
Here are my keys to the game:
The Other Guys: If Tom Brady sits out in the second half, which is what I expect regardless of outcome, look for the receivers that are not well known on this Patriots’ roster to get a look from their head coach. Those two guys are Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman. In the receiver role, we have seen Tate sparingly (22 rec, 350 yards, 2 TD’s) and Edelman in rare spots (4 rec, 14 yards).
Both have had their moments on special teams whether it be Edelman’s punt returns or Tate’s two kickoff returns for touchdowns. So why do I bring them up? Tate needs to show he can be a downfield force for the Pats in the playoffs while Edelman can use a little Brian Hoyer to help his game. In the loss to Houston last year, Edelman had ten catches for 103 yards. Maybe, rookie Taylor Price gets a shot as well as Deion Branch is questionable with a knee injury.
The Double R running attack: The one strength that the Miami Dolphins have is their running attack. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown have been the main sources of Miami’s offense, especially when Chad Henne and Chad Pennington have been banged up this year. New England had success containing them in the first meeting this year. The two running backs combined for just 83 yards on 19 carries. If New England can take an early lead, Brown and Williams will not have the same effect on the game as they usually do, similar to when Fred Jackson was limited last week.
A Hurricane Rush: It may be the cold month of January, but the offensive line will have to watch out for a wave of pass rushers. The Dolphins are 8th in the league in sacks with 39 on the season. But, the one guy Brady needs to watch out for while in the game is linebacker Cameron Wake. In fifteen games, Wake has 14 sacks on the season, which puts him in the running for defensive player of the year in the NFL. This comes from a player who was in the Canadian Football League, of all places, a year ago. If Brady wants to stay upright, the offensive line better watch out for Wake on Sunday.
Prediction: Like I said earlier, I expect the key cogs in the Patriots’ offense to play just a half at most because the way the offense has been playing. A half should be all they need to get the rhythm going. Plus, we may get to see more flashes of excellence from backup quarterback Brian Hoyer. If New England can win this game, they will achieve 14 wins under Bill Belichick for the fourth time in the last eight years. I doubt that weighs on Belichick’s minds as much as continuing to gel on both sides of the ball going into the playoffs in two weeks.
The Patriots should be able to stop the run and after forcing seven turnovers last week, they will make Chad Henne’s day very difficult. Hopefully, Devin McCourty can get that seventh interception to tie for the NFL lead and further his case for defensive rookie of the year.
Patriots 27 Dolphins 17