The New England Patriots look to enter the postseason with some confidence after just getting by the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 16. The Miami Dolphins have nothing to lose with their 7-8 record. They have done some good things, but are still the little brothers of the Patriots in the AFC East. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Belichick is there it appears the Dolphins, Bills, and Jets will continue to play that role. This season hasn’t been all roses for the Patriots as they are entering week 17 with 4 losses, an afterthought in the preseason. Many pundits actually had the Patriots going undefeated or one loss. They were extremely close to making it a 2 loss season, but the early season slipup against the Arizona Cardinals and the questionable field goal made by the Ravens to win that one are two games that stick out. I don’t think the 11-4 record bothers Belichick that much considering look what happened in the last two Patriot Super Bowls after they bulldozed teams in the regular season. Under the radar is just where the Patriots want to be. It is a little funny to talk of an 11-4 team as flying under the radar, but the win over the Jaguars did not impress anyone. I expect the Patriots to work out some kinks in week 17 to enter the playoffs at full speed.
The Patriots have been without question the best team in the NFL for over a decade now, and the Patriots aren’t ready to slow down just yet. Brady and Belichick are dying for one more ring before they call it a career. Statistically they are the same juggernaut that you come to know from a Brady led offense. Even with the injury to number one options like tight end Rob Gronkowski, the offense just keeps on clicking. A major injury? No problem, the Patriots will just employ a different gameplan during the week, making fans completely forget that a major piece of the team is on the sidelines. That’s what makes the Patriots so good, their ability to keep trucking forward effectively when faced with serious injuries. The Patriots’ offense is 1st in the NFL for good reason, averaging 426.9 yards a game and 35.3 points per game. Their passing game is 4th, where Brady is averaging 292.4 yards a game. The main reason why the Patriots aren’t higher in that regard is the fact that the running game has improved drastically. Behind Stevan Ridley, the Patriots are 8th in rushing. Something they didn’t really possess in their last two Super Bowl runs.
Not only has the running game seen improvements, but the defense is much better. If you were to look at yardage allowed, yeah, then they don’t look very good (27th). However, this is a defense that only allows 22.1 points a game. That is better than the 7th ranked Jets who allow 23.1 per game. The improvement is in part to their drafting, taking defensive end Chandler Jones out of Syracuse and linebacker Donta Hightower from Alabama. The Patriots’ run defense went from being at the bottom of the barrel to 12th in just a year. They are an opportunistic unit that forces turnovers and shuts teams down in the red zone. At the end of the day the only thing that matters is points allowed, and the Patriots are just fine there.
The Dolphins offensively aren’t the type of team that has the power to truly test the Patriots. Like any rookie, Ryan Tannehill has had an up-and-down campaign. He is coming off a mistake performance against the Bills with 130 yards passing and 2 touchdowns. He and Reggie Bush are going to need to take command of this game if they want a chance at the upset. Tannehill has passed for 3059 yards, 12 touchdowns, 12 interceptions, with a 76.9 QB rating. Just about where most rookies are in their first season. The offense is 26th in the NFL, scoring only 19.2 points a game.
Dolphins vs. Patriots Spread and Betting Odds:
Miami Dolphins +10 (-105)
@ New England Patriots -10 (-115)
Over 46 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Dolphins vs. Patriots Pick:
The Miami Dolphins from the south make the long, cold trip north to finish up their season against the mighty Patriots. After looking like garbage against the Jaguars last week, the Patriots should be eager to get all of the cylinders firing in time for the playoffs. The Patriots usually come out on fire after playing so poorly the week before. Tom Brady was heard yelling loudly at his team following their win outside of the locker room. I expect the team to put together a perfect picture performance en route to a potential first round matchup with the Bengals or Colts.
The Patriots should get on the score board early and often. Tannehill is not the kind of quarterback that will be able to trade points with Brady. I expect him to get frazzled under the light in Foxborough after the Patriots pour it on. This isn’t a game the Patriots want to win, instead, they want a flawless complete team effort. If Brady gets upset, the team usually responds in a big way around him. I like the Patriots to cover and pick up some momentum heading into the 2012 playoffs.
PICK = Patriots -10