Celtics

Hightower confident about Sunday's game

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Hightower confident about Sunday's game

FOXBORO -- A win over the Dolphins this weekend would award New England its ninth AFC East title in 10 seasons.

And it's hard not to see it happening.

This 5-6 Miami team might still be in the playoff hunt, but most of the numbers in this matchup favor the Patriots.

The Dolphins are ranked 26 in points scored per game with 19.2. New England sits at No. 1 with an even 37.

The gap narrows significantly on the other side of the ball, with Miami surrendering a relatively stingy 20.5 points on average (No. 8) and New England giving up 22.2 (No. 13).

Perhaps that's why rookie linebacker Dont'a Hightower didn't sound too worried on Friday.

"They've been playing pretty good. I know quarterback Ryan Tannehill and we talked during the draft and he's been playing really good," he said.

"But all-in-all, I just think we need to go out and execute our game plan, know everything that head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia have put out there, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels as well. So I feel like if we go out and execute like we're supposed to, we'll be all right."

Another spot where the Patriots have a leg up is turnovers.

New England's plus-24 giveawaytakeaway ratio is head and shoulders, and maybe knees, above Miami's minus-10. Having 32 takeaways (14 interceptions, 18 fumbles) will do that.

Hightower was asked if the team's success is simply a credit to practice.

"I really feel like it's something we do emphasize during the week, but it's also about playing style -- that's how everybody plays. We play for the big hit and the big turnover to change the face of the game. Everybody wants to make a play and everybody's going to do their job. Whenever the opportunity comes, everybody's ready to strike fast," he explained.

"I believe this season we've all been doing a really good job. Maybe some times we've started off slow, but I definitely feel like we've come out in the last couple of games and done a good job there."

Tannehill: Beware.

Miami's 22-year old signal caller has just two touchdowns to six interceptions over his last three games. Three of those picks were thrown in Buffalo two weeks ago.

It just so happens the Patriots defense leads the AFC in that category (14).

So what if Miami tries to make gains on the ground?

Several scouting compliments this week have been dished out to Reggie Bush. The running back is an integral part of Miami's ground game (662 yards, five touchdowns on 150 carries) and has gashed teams more than a few times on the outside.

And you can't forget about Daniel Thomas. Though his numbers are more modest (306 yards, four touchdowns on 83 carries), he's effective in grinding out key yards inside.

Hightower complimented both backs.

"Thomas a really good back. He comes in on third down and does a really great job. Even when he comes in on first and second down to run the ball he's done a really good job. I feel like they're trying to split the carries with those guys, as well. But it's a really good tandem with Bush and Thomas; they have a similar running style. Those are two really good backs who are coming up, so you've got to be prepared for them."

True, the Dolphins are always a tough test in Miami -- especially for New England. But if the Patriots can keep up the pace, it sounds like they could be comfortably crowned on Sunday.

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Jayson Tatum vs. Markelle Fultz debate

0:41 - Michael Holley, Tom Giles, and Kayce Smith give their reactions on the Celtics getting their first win of the season and a comparison between Isaiah Thomas and Kyrie Irving in the 4th quarter.

7:17 - Phil Perry joins BST to break down the tale of the tape between the Falcons and the Patriots as he breaks down the quarterbacks, offense, defense, coaching, and intangibles between the two teams.

11:57 - Our crew on BST discuss number 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz and number 3 overall pick Jayson Tatum going up against each other and debate who seems like the better pick so far. 

16:35 - In this segment of Irrelevant Questions, Tom Curran interviews Patriots WR Phillip Dorsett as he asks him a bunch of random questions. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

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ALCS: Verlander, Astros beat Yankees 7-1 to force Game 7

HOUSTON -  Justin Verlander remained perfect with Houston, pitching seven shutout innings when the team needed him most, and Jose Altuve homered and drove in three runs as the Astros extended the AL Championship Series to a decisive Game 7 with a 7-1 win over the New York Yankees on Friday night.

Acquired in an Aug. 31 trade, Verlander has won all nine outings with the Astros. And with his new club facing elimination in Game 6 against the Yankees, he delivered again.

After striking out 13 in a complete-game victory in Game 2, Verlander threw another gem. The right-hander scattered five hits and struck out eight to improve to 9-0 with 67 strikeouts since being traded from Detroit. George Springer helped him out of a jam in the seventh, leaping to make a catch at the center-field wall and rob Todd Frazier of extra bases with two on and Houston up 3-0.

Game 7 is Saturday night in Houston, with the winner advancing to the World Series against the NL champion Los Angeles Dodgers.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE