TIME TO REBOUND

The Dolphins are looking forward to playing in front of the home crowd after two disappointing losses in back-to-back road games. Miami can clinch a playoff spot with a victory on Sunday. <p> Atlanta comes to town with a 7-7 record, but is still mathematically alive in the NFC playoff race and is hungry to chase that down.

What follows is a look at Sunday's game:

WHO: Miami Dolphins (9-5) vs. Atlanta Falcons (7-7)

WHERE: Pro Player Stadium; Miami, Fla.

KICKOFF TIME: 1 p.m. ET

TELEVISION: FOX

LINE: Miami by 7.

COACHES: Atlanta — Dan Reeves (5th year with Atlanta); Miami — Dave Wannstedt (2nd year with Miami)

SERIES RECORD: The Dolphins hold the lead in this one 6-2 and are 4-1 when playing in Miami.

LAST MEETING: In what amounted to one of the worst games of the 1998 season for Miami, Atlanta took the contest 38-16 to close out the regular season. The eventual NFC champion Falcons jumped out early and never looked back, taking a 21-0 lead in the first quarter. The Dolphins turned the ball over four times in that game.

INJURIES: Dolphins — LB Derrick Rodgers (shoulder) is out and on injured reserve; FB Rob Konrad (ribs) is doubtful; WR Oronde Gadsden (hamstring), WR Chris Chambers (ankle), DT Jermaine Haley (calf), RB J.J. Johnson (calf), WR James McKnight (ankle) are questionable; T Spencer Folau (back), FS Brock Marion (knee), G Todd Perry (knee), CB Patrick Surtain (finger), QB Jay Fiedler (elbow) are probable.

Falcons — DE Brady Smith (back), CB Elijah Williams (ankle), FB Bob Christian (calf/knee), WR Brian Finneran (knee), S Chris Hudson (knee), T Ephraim Salaam (ankle), RB Maurice Smith (ankle/toe) are probable.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

The Dolphins special teams vs. Falcons return man Darrien Gordon — Gordon has an innate talent for returning kicks and he is as dangerous now as he ever was. He's leading the NFL and has been named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week twice this year.

Dolphins cornerbacks vs WR Tony Martin — Although Martin hasn't had that great of a year overall, he will certainly be inspired to play well against the same Miami team that decided not to re-sign him this past offseason.

Dolphins pass D vs Falcons QB Chris Chandler — The Dolphins have the No. 1 pass defense in the NFL and will have to shut down Atlanta's veteran, accurate quarterback Chris Chandler. Chandler put up huge numbers last week against Buffalo as he threw for a career-high 431 yards and led the game-winning drive at the end of the game.

WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL: The Dolphins have faced two top-flight opponents in consecutive weeks, but the Falcons are certainly not in that category. Atlanta has one of the worst defenses in the league and the opportunity to put up points should present itself. As always, Miami will look to run the ball, and in this instance where its top three receivers have injury problems, it might be the desired offense of the day. There has been talk all week of giving rookie running back Travis Minor more carries.

WHEN THE FALCONS HAVE THE BALL: Atlanta got its best effort from Chandler in last week's game and will need similar offensive numbers if they want to put up points on this Miami defense. Miami has been struggling to stop the run and until they prove that they can, look for every team to test them on the ground. Atlanta is no exception. But the Dolphins have been excellent on defense at home this season.

BOTTOM LINE: Both teams come into this game hungry to make the playoffs. The Dolphins are a little banged up right now, but needing just one win to make the playoffs should inspire a good effort. The Dolphins are the better team and should come away with a win if all goes according Coach Dave Wannstedt's "mistake-free football" philosophy.


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