GAME DATE: 12/23/07
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
SERIES: 85th meeting. Dolphins lead series 48-36, including a 1-2 mark in the postseason. The Dolphins are the only team in the NFL to have beaten the Patriots in each of the last three seasons, however the Patriots have won seven of the last 10, including this season's 49-28 victory at Dolphin Stadium. Tom Brady threw a franchise-record six touchdown passes in that game.
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Dolphins should get a boost with the expected return of RB Jesse Chatman to the starting lineup. Between Chatman, Samkon Gado and Lorenzo Booker, Miami must move the ball on the ground and win time of possession. If the Dolphins fall behind big, QB Cleo Lemon is going to struggle to find time to look downfield in the face of the blitz. ... Sure, the Patriots will continue to work on tuning their running game for the playoffs. But Brady will come out slinging the ball, knowing the Dolphins have little hope of keeping tabs on his receiving crew. Once the game is comfortably in hand, then RB Laurence Maroney becomes the focus.
KEY INJURIES: Dolphins: DE Jason Taylor (foot) is day-to-day; MLB Channing Crowder (knee) underwent season-ending surgery. Patriots: OG Stephen Neal (shoulder) and TE Benjamin Watson (ankle) have been limited in practice and are uncertain.
FAST FACTS: The 13-game disparity between the teams' records is the largest in NFL history. ... New England has clinched home-field advantage in the AFC. ... The Patriots have had 21 players score touchdowns this season, tying the NFL record set by the Rams in 1987 and the Broncos in 2000.
-- QB Cleo Lemon finally displayed sound leadership for an entire game instead of just spurts as he directed a second-half comeback victory over the Ravens by throwing for a career-high 315 yards for a 93.4 passer rating, including the game-winning 64-yard quick-hitting post to WR Greg Camarillo.
-- RB Samkon Gado struggled in his second start filling in for sore-ankled Jesse Chatman by gaining just 43 yards on 18 carries for a 2.4-yard average. He looked slow and plodding on two receptions for six yards.
-- WR Marty Booker, back from a one-day absence due to a sore knee, looked spry with a season-high eight catches for 88 yards as he and TB Lorenzo Booker took turns making plays on two field-goal drives in the fourth quarter.
-- WR Ted Ginn Jr. was more of a decoy as Lorenzo Booker flashed across the middle for several key first down catches. Ginn had just one catch for 14 yards.
-- TE David Martin was a non-factor in the passing attack, but improved on his pass blocking.
-- LB Channing Crowder underwent arthroscopic knee surgery and is done for the season. Crowder had played several games in the middle this season because of the concussion-related symptoms sustained by Zach Thomas -- who is now on IR.
-- LB Donnie Spragan, who had been filling in for Crowder, reinjured his neck last Sunday, but is expected to play Sunday.
-- LB Edmond Miles, an undrafted rookie, received some snaps in the base defense last week and with the linebacking corps depleted by injuries, will fill in for Spragan again Sunday against the top-ranked offense in the NFL.
-- DE Jason Taylor, who had two sacks and three hurries as well as a blocked field goal, is expected to play Sunday despite having his left foot in a walking boot this week. Taylor almost had his first career touchdown catch when a pass by Lemon was a tad off target. He did get his hands on it.
-- SS Lance Schulters is making up for lost time after being out of football for more than a year. He had a team-high seven tackles in solid run support.
--TE Kyle Brady (foot) and OL Billy Yates (foot) were not present for the media-access portion of practice for the second day in a row. S Rodney Harrison and LB Adalius Thomas also weren't present for the media-access portion of practice on Thursday.
-- WR Troy Brown was the lone player wearing a black jersey, signifying that he was the practice player of the week last week. Brown played the role of Jets receiver/quarterback Brad Smith the week leading up to the game.
-- S Rodney Harrison (team decision) didn't participate in practice on Thursday. Harrison is expected to start this Sunday versus the Dolphins.
-- LB Adalius Thomas (team decision) didn't participate in practice on Thursday. Thomas was banged up in the Jets game but is expected to play this week.
-- TE Benjamin Watson (ankle) had limited participation in Thursday's practice. Watson missed last week's game against the Jets.