As we head into the Christmas season, there are only two games left in the 2011 regular season. The Patriots (11-3) find themselves in control of their own destiny to have home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. On Saturday, they take on the 5-9 Miami Dolphins. New England has the momentum now after their 41-23 win over the fighting Tim Tebows (a.k.a the Denver Broncos). Now, I want to see New England dominate inferior competition with their defense. Before the Broncos game, this Patriots’ defense played five quarters of their worst football against Dan Orlovsky and Rex Grossman.
I can’t think of a team that has worst luck than the Miami Dolphins. They sign Reggie Bush in the offseason after failing to recruit Jim Harbaugh as their head coach. They start the year 0-7 under Tony Sparano and they are in the running for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Then, they win four in a row with Matt Moore and fire Sparano. When they thought they were in the running to get Matt Barkley, Barkley decided to stay at USC yesterday. But, they are playing some of their best football with Matt Moore at quarterback and we all know that divisional games are never one that you could write a win in pen before the game. Can interim coach Todd Bowles continue to spark Miami to a solid finish to their year?
Here are my keys to this Christmas Eve matchup in Foxboro:
Reggie’s Rushing To The North Pole: The Dolphins usually don’t play well in the cold over the course of their franchise history. However, they went up to Buffalo and played well last week. The guy who I thought would be the worst running back in the AFC East coming into the year has actually stepped up. Reggie Bush ran for 203 yards and a TD against the Bills on Sunday. He has run for an average of 135 yards per game in the last three games. I look for him to be a bigger rushing factor in this one compared to the first game when Bush had more receiving yards (56) than rushing yards (38).
Wake Up On Christmas Eve: On the night of Christmas Eve, children go to sleep so that Santa can come to bring those presents. Well, let us hope that the Patriots’ offensive line does not fall asleep in the afternoon against this Miami defense, particularly against Cameron Wake. Wake has 7.5 sacks, which is half as many as he had last year. In the first game of the year, Wake did have a sack, but only had three tackles in the loss. If the Dolphins are going to win this game, Wake needs to make an impact on the defensive side. Otherwise, Tom Brady might just throw for 500+ yards once again.
A New Reindeer leads the Pass Rush: With Andre Carter out for the season with an injured quadriceps, a new defensive end has to pull Bill Belichick’s team of pass rushers, or lack thereof. I look for Mark Anderson to be the Rudolph of this defense. He has nine sacks on the season, and had two in the win over the Broncos. He was a misfit with the Chicago Bears, until Belichick said to come join his pass rush. Now, Anderson is thriving and will have his chance to be the difference. Plus, Patrick Chung will probably be back this weekend, which adds a little more depth in the secondary to produce some form of pass rush.
PREDICTION: Christmas Eve should be a joyous one for Patriots’ fans. With a win on Christmas Eve, New England will clinch at least a first round bye thanks in part to the Houston Texans losing to the Indianapolis Colts. Tom Brady and Wes Welker should be able to have the same connection that they had in Week One. Brandon Marshall is going to put up yards against this Patriots defense, since he put up 139 yards in Week One. However, I think New England keeps Miami from scoring more than 20 points. The Patriots know how to finish off the year strong and I expect they get their 7th straight win this week.
PATRIOTS 38 DOLPHINS 20