TV: CBS (Ian Eagle, Solomon Wilcots)
SERIES: 86th meeting. Dolphins lead series, 47-35, but are 1-2 in the postseason. Miami has lost seven of the last 10. Most historic meeting between these two teams was the 1985 AFC Championship Game won by the Patriots 31-14, who then lost to the Bears in Super Bowl XX. Tony Eason threw three TD passes, all four yards or less, and Craig James and Robert Weathers combined to gain 192 rushing yards.
KEYS TO THE GAME: With QB Chad Pennington's lack of arm strength and inability to stretch the field vertically (no passes for 25-plus yards this season), the Dolphins simply have to improve on their 60.5 rushing yards per game just to compete. Of course, that requires keeping the score close. But the opportunity is there with the Patriots allowing 4.3 yards per carry. If Pennington struggles, don't be surprised to see rookie Chad Henne get significant playing time. ... Dolphins OLB Joey Porter is one of the few players who has openly said the Patriots are flat out not the same team with QB Matt Cassel at the helm. Cassel will get his opportunity to put up some good stats with the Dolphins' leaky secondary giving up 272.5 yards per game through the air. RB Sammy Morris should be a focal point as the only full healthy running back other than third-down back Kevin Faulk.
KEY INJURIES: Dolphins: FS Chris Crocker (neck) is expected to be replaced by Renaldo Hill. Patriots: RBs Laurence Maroney (shoulder) and LaMont Jordan (foot) did not practice midweek; TE Ben Watson (knee) could make his season debut.
FAST FACTS: DE Kendall Langford is the first Dolphin to have a sack in each of his first two NFL starts since the league began tracking the stat in 1982. ... Pennington is averaging just 5.76 yards per completion. His career average is 7.1 yards.
-- DE Vonnie Holliday has found himself playing a lot of nose tackle this season when Jason Ferguson isn't in there. He has six tackles and is still seeking his first sack. Holliday hasn't provided the leadership on the field so far that he does in the locker room.
-- FS Renaldo Hill will start over struggling Chris Crocker Sunday. Hill was the starter in the first seven games last year (and all 16 in 2006) before blowing out his knee while unsuccessfully trying to defend Randy Moss on a 35-yard TD pass in the Patriots 49-28 win last October.
-- WR Ted Ginn Jr. has had limited production with just three catches for 26 yards so far, and last week wasn't on the field when the Dolphins used a three-receiver set. Coach Tony Sparano said Thursday that Ginn is playing fast, running crisper routes but the ball just hasn't gone his way, and that he will play in three-receiver sets Sunday.
-- CB Will Allen is clearly the best cover corner on the team as both Tony Sparano and DC Paul Pasqualoni inferred by their praise Thursday, however, in order to reach Pro Bowl status Allen has to finish the play, meaning come up with more interceptions. Allen had four picks in his rookie season in 2001, but just six over the last six years. Sparano said the best way to slow down Randy Moss is to, "reroute him," or hit him at the line because if he runs free he can, "jump out of the building."
-- RB Ricky Williams has gotten off to a terrible start after raising hopes with a sensational offseason and preseason. He has gained just 52 yards on 21 carries the first two games and may be replaced by Ronnie Brown in the starting backfield. Tony Sparano used both backs at the same time for several plays last week.
-- RB Laurence Maroney missed practice for the second day in row Thursday with a shoulder injury. Maroney's absence would leave the Patriots thin at running back despite their overall depth at that position.
-- RB LaMont Jordan also missed practice Thursday for the second day in a row with a foot injury. Jordan would be the primary option in the running game if Laurence Maroney is unable to play.
-- LB Eric Alexander missed practice Thursday with a calf injury and is in danger of missing his second consecutive game. Alexander is a key contributor on special teams in the Patriots' kickoff and punt return coverage.
-- WR Kelley Washington missed practice Thursday for the second day in a row and continues to nurse an ankle injury. With Washington and Eric Alexander possibly out for Sunday's game, the Patriots may need to plug some holes on their coverage units.
-- NT Vince Wilfork was listed under the "limited participation" category for Thursday's practice with a back injury. Wilfork may have hurt himself during Wednesday's practice. His status is unknown at the time.