Patriots-Dolphins Preview/Review: New England says bye-bye to the bye
PREVIEW: Earlier this week, Dolphins head coach Brian Flores assessed his season-ending matchup with the Patriots and Bill Belichick this way: “He’s going to try to beat the heck out of us. And he knows this about me: We’re going to do the same. … We’re going to be competing against each other and nobody’s going to care about any (relationships) … At 1:00 on Sunday, they’re going to be on the other side, and we’re competing, and we'll be friends after those three to four hours.” That was actually borne out in September when the Patriots kept on punching in their 43-0 win over Miami long after the fight was decided. The Patriots have two things to play for on Sunday. One, they have to protect the No. 2 seed and the bye that comes with it. Two, they need to use the final two regular-season games this year the same way they did in 2018: as playoff tuneups/momentum builders. Expect full effort from both sides.
REVIEW: I thought a corner may have been turned last week against the Bills. Wasn’t sure. But I liked the momentum building. But the Dolphins — especially offensively — hatched a plan that negated the Patriots' pass rush schemes and took advantage of the things New England does defensively in the secondary. The game was won/lost by the Dolphins playing mistake-free, the Patriots generating nothing in the kicking game and — mostly — by being punchless on offense in one of Tom Brady’s worst games in some time.
When the Patriots Ran
PREVIEW: Miami threw a blanket over the Bengals running game last week, allowing just 59 yards on 25 carries a week after Cincy had its way on the ground with the Patriots. Last week’s ground performance by the Patriots against Buffalo was their most impressive of the season. While totals rolled up against the Texans, Chiefs and Bengals had some empty calories mixed in, the Patriots got consistent first and second-down yardage on the ground from Sony Michel, Rex Burkhead and James White, which allowed them to be less predictable on third down. This is a very good end-of-season test for them. The Dolphins are 21th in YPC allowed (4.43). The Patriots are 27th in YPC (3.73). I’m going on faith here with this one… Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: The Patriots ran the ball pretty well. They had 77 yards on 16 carries in the first half, 29 on three carries from Rex Burkhead, who finished with 48 on six carries. Sony Michel had 74 yards on 18 carries with a touchdown. But there were key stops in there as well. Their first third down of the game, James White lost 3 yards on third-and-2. They ran effectively to get inside the Dolphins' 10 on their fourth drive of the half and again on their last drive of the third and into the fourth. But they couldn’t string plays together after the favorable runs and it cost them. Advantage: Patriots
When the Patriots Passed
PREVIEW: Same as the running game: the Patriots are coming off their most efficient and productive passing game of the year, and that includes the Week 2 win over the Dolphins when Tom Brady had Antonio Brown at his disposal. That Dolphins defense was an abomination. Now? Not “good” but certainly better. Brady was 9 for 9 throwing to James White and Rex Burkhead last week, 4 for 4 throwing to tight ends. If they could just get Mohamed Sanu going — and this would be a good week to work that since Julian Edelman could use a lighter load — things would be really headed in the right direction. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: Eighty-eight of Tom Brady’s 221 yards came on a semi-off-target bomb to Phillip Dorsett for 50 and a 38-yard sneak attack with Elandon Roberts. And even that throw to a wide-open Roberts was off the mark. Without seeing much pressure, Brady was 16 for 29 and took one sack. He also threw a bad pick in the direction of Julian Edelman that was turned into a pick-six. Mohamed Sanu had a drop, but also came up with a big 22-yard catch that set up the go-ahead touchdown that didn’t stand. James White and Edelman were targeted 10 times combined as the Patriots seemed intent on managing their workloads. White had a good game. Edelman was well-covered and had three for 26 on the day. Advantage: Dolphins
When the Dolphins Ran
PREVIEW: Miami has been fairly putrid running the ball this season, but the past two weeks they picked up 122 yards in each game. Those represent two of the three times this season Miami’s been over 100 yards as a team on the ground. Their leading rusher is Ryan Fitzpatrick with 228 yards. Patrick Laird and rookie Myles Gaskin have been the main ball-carriers the past two weeks. They are last in the league in rushing yards per game (72.9) and 31st in YPC (3.34). A promising day on the ground doesn’t seem to be in the offing. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: No quibbles with the Patriots' run defense. They kept the Dolphins under wraps, allowing just 63 yards on 22 carries and putting the game on Ryan Fitzpatrick to try and find a way to win. Advantage: Patriots
When the Dolphins Passed
PREVIEW: Fitzpatrick is always going to be a threat. Thousands of years after the apocalypse, when the earth tentatively begins to show signs of awakening — a blade of grass poking through the ash; a cockroach scuttling over a rock — somewhere on the dormant planet, Ryan Fitzpatrick will be standing, shoulders back, chin pointed upward, feet set firmly on the ground, gripping a beat-up football with both hands waiting for his next assignment. He’s thrown 19 touchdowns and 13 picks in his 37-year-old season. Miami has a tight end, a wideout and a slot for the Patriots to contend with an a quarterback who just doesn’t GAF. So it will be fun to watch. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: No mistakes. A lot of really solid throws among his 41 attempts. A terrific game-winning touchdown orchestrated in the fourth quarter. Fitzpatrick finished 28 for 41 for 320 with a touchdown to tight end Mike Gesicki inside Patrick Chung late in the second half. He also got it to Parker a lot with Stephon Gilmore in coverage and completed eight of the 11 he threw Parker’s way for 137 yards. The Patriots sacked Fitz twice but he got a lot done moving around the pocket and really outperformed Brady in a fairly astonishing performance. Advantage: Dolphins
PREVIEW: Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge commented Friday that the Dolphins are more active than any team with kicking game chicanery so New England has to stay loose on fourth down. Miami punter Matt Haack has dropped 21 punts inside the opponent's 20 and 28 of his 65 punts have been returned this season. Jakeem Grant is a talented kick returner. Miami’s kicker Jason Sanders is 8 for 14 outside of 40 yards, which is not great. Steady Nick Folk has been a godsend for the Patriots special teams. Jake Bailey has dropped 33 of his 77 punts inside the opponent’s 20. Insane to think the Patriots have had to punt more often than Miami this year. Advantage: Patriots
REVIEW: Kind of a wash. Jake Bailey had three of his four punts downed inside the 20 and the Patriots allowed an average of 3.5 yards on two returns. Matt Haack dropped two inside the Patriots' 20 and threw incomplete on an ugly fake punt. Miami had two field goals to the Patriots' one. Give it to the Fins because of that. Advantage: Dolphins
PREVIEW: The officiating crew of Clay Martin will handle this one, folks. Earlier this season, they did Patriots-Redskins and a total of 13 penalties were walked off between the two teams. They have been a fairly laissez-faire group in their last two games with just 15 total penalties called between combatants. Weird stat, the home team is winning just .385 percent of the time with Martin’s crew. The league average is .520.
REVIEW: A preposterous OPI call on Benjamin Watson was handed down by New York in a replay review. The Dolphins had four penalties for 35 yards. The Patriots had six for 65. Deatrich Wise, who had racked up penalties at a surprising rate this season, was flagged for a horsecollar tackle.
The Line & Prediction
PREVIEW: The Patriots are favored by 16. The total is 44.5.
The Patriots are 9-6 against the spread, 4-3 ATS at Gillette. Nine of the Patriots' 15 games have gone under. Miami is 8-7 against the spread and eight of their games have gone over the total.
Patriots 30, Dolphins 20
REVIEW: The Dolphins covered and the game went over. So the Patriots wind up 9-7 against the spread and seven of their 10 games went over. I gave you the side and the total here in the preview.
Dolphins 27, Patriots 24
- Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
- Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
- Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
- Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
- Week 5: Patriots 30, Redskins 13
- Week 6: Patriots 16, Giants 3
- Week 7: Patriots 16, Jets 13
- Week 8: Patriots 27, Browns 10
- Week 9: Patriots 23, Ravens 13
- Week 10: Patriots 26, Eagles 13
- Week 11: Cowboys 23, Patriots 16
- Week 12: Patriots 24, Texans 23
- Week 13: Chiefs 27, Patriots 20
- Week 14: Patriots 19, Bengals 6
- Week 15: Bills 16, Patriots 9