Patriots-Dolphins Week 17 preview from Tom E. Curran
Earlier this week, Dolphins 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 o’clock 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 scored 20 in the fourth including a 10-yard Tom Brady-to-James White touchdown pass with 2:10 left. On the final play of the game, working to preserve their shutout, the Patriots sent an all-out blitz at Josh Rosen on a snap from the Patriots 8. It was picked by Jamie Collins.
Personally, I like it when teams keep playing to the gun because I like to see the reaction of the team getting beat. Do they whine that it’s mean and not sporting? Or do they take the blame for being down by 30 in the first place? (And I’m talking within reason; double-reverse passes with 40 seconds left would be overdoing it…).
The Patriots have two things to play for on Sunday. 1) They have to protect the No. 2 seed and the bye that comes with it. 2) 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. Both sides.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS RUN
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. Miami’s been better against the run in their past three allowing 3.5, 4.2 and 2.4 yards per carry.
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 (who became questionable Saturday with an illness), Rex Burkhead (pictured) and James White which allowed them to be less predictable on third down.
What followed was their best game of the year working off play-action because they were in favorable down and distances. The Patriots wound up going 7-for-14 on third down and 10 of their 23 first downs came on the ground. Against Cincy, 10 of 19 first downs came on the ground. That’s 48 percent.
In the 13 games prior, the Patriots ran for first downs on just 82 of the 262 total first downs gained (.312). Staying out of third-and-3 or more is the key to how long the Patriots season will go. This is a very good end-of-season test for them. The Dolphins are 21st in YPC allowed (4.43). The Patriots are 27th in YPC (3.73). I’m going on faith here with this one.
WHEN THE PATRIOTS PASS
Same as the running game: the Patriots are coming off their most efficient and productive passing game of the season 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 (pictured) 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.
Aside from Brady’s effectiveness, though, was the protection he was afforded. He didn’t take a sack and the Bills were credited with just four hits on Brady. The Patriots had allowed 87 QB hits prior (18th in the NFL) and Brady has been sacked 26 times. He’s also got 45 throwaways – his previous career high was 30 set last season and in 2016.
Afforded time by his line and options by his receivers, he’s a surgeon. Same as it ever was. The Dolphins had a season-high four sacks last week defensively. They also give receivers some room to roam – Andy Dalton’s 59 percent completion percentage was just the sixth time they’ve held a quarterback under 60 percent completions. Miami is 30th in the league in yards per play on throws (7.72) and allows 265 passing yards per game.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS RUN
Miami has been fairly putrid running the ball this season but the past two weeks the Dolphins picked up 122 yards in each game. Those represent two of the three times this season Miami’s surpassed 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.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS PASS
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. His most relied-upon targets are wideout Davante Parker (five catches, 111 yards on 15 targets last week) and tight end Mike Gesicki (6-for-82 on 12 targets last week). Albert Wilson, the former Chief, had his most productive game of the year last week so Miami has a tight end, a wideout and a slot for the Patriots to contend with a quarterback who just doesn’t GAF. So, it will be fun to watch.
Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge commented Friday that the Dolphins are more active than any team with kicking-game chicanery (pictured - remember the punter-to-kicker TD against the Eagles?) so New England has to stay loose on fourth down. Miami punter Matt Haack has dropped 21 punts inside the opponents 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 season.
OUT: CB Jomal Wiltz (shoulder). QUESTIONABLE: LB Vince Biegel (elbow), DE Taco Charlton (ankle), WR Allen Hurns (ankle, neck), DT Zach Sieler (ankle, thumb) and DE Christian Wilkins (ankle).
QUESTIONABLE: LB Ja'whaun Bentley (knee), S Terrence Brooks (groin), LB Shilique Calhoun (illness), T Marcus Cannon (ankle), LB Jamie Collins (shoulder), WR Julian Edelman (pictured - knee, shoulder), CB Jonathan Jones (groin) and CB Jason McCourty (groin), RB Sony Michel (illness) questionable.
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 past 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 .52.
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
Week 1: Patriots 16, Steelers 13
Final: Patriots, 33-3
Week 2: Patriots 30, Dolphins 0
Final: Patriots, 43-0
Week 3: Patriots 20, Jets 6
Final: Patriots, 30-14
Week 4: Patriots 19, Bills 13
Final: Patriots, 16-10
Week 5: Patriots 30, Redskins 13
Final: Patriots, 33-7
Week 6: Patriots 16, Giants 3
Final: Patriots, 35-14
Week 7: Patriots 16, Jets 13
Final: Patriots, 33-0
Week 8: Patriots 27, Browns 10
Final: Patriots, 27-13
Week 9: Patriots 23, Ravens 13
Final: Ravens, 37-20
Week 11: Patriots 26, Eagles 13
Final: Patriots, 17-10
Week 12: Cowboys 23, Patriots 16
Final: Patriots, 13-9
Week 13: Patriots 24, Texans 23
Final: Texans, 28-22
Week 14: Chiefs 27, Patriots 20
Final: Chiefs 23, Patriots 16
Week 15: Patriots 19, Bengals 6
Final: Patriots 34, Bengals 13
Week 16: Bills 16, Patriots 9
Final: Patriots 24, Bills 17