THE CRYSTAL BALL

The way things are breaking, this could wind up looking like the 2000 season all over again for the Dolphins. One part of the scenario is closing the regular season at New England, and the Dolphins wouldn't mind a repeat of two years ago. Will it happen?

First, let us present you with the interesting 2000/2002 comparison.

If the Dolphins win on Sunday and the other favorites win this weekend, then the Dolphins would play host to the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round, just like in 2000.

If the Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers both win at home that weekend, then the Dolphins would travel to Oakland for the second round, just like in the 2000 playoffs.

Interesting, no?

First things first, though. Taking care of the Patriots.

Will it happen? Well, not according to Dolphins play-by-play announcer Howard David's prediction on his morning sports talk show. But David later said that prediction of a Dolphins loss was made tongue-in-cheek.

We bring up David's public prediction because it created a furor among Dolphins fans on Friday afternoon.

Whatever. The Dolphins will win simply because they have a better team than New England, and simply because not making the playoffs with their best team in years would be a monumental waste.

No, it won't be easy. New England is a dangerous team.

But it's also a battered and reeling team. The Patriots have injury problems and they're coming off convincing losses to Tennessee and the New York Jets.

The truth is, the Patriots have lost seven straight games against teams with a winning record, which tells you they don't quite match up.

New England is a one-dimensional team on offense because they haven't been able to run the ball. They also don't have a major weapon at wide receiver to make a huge difference, such as a Randy Moss orMarvin Harrison.

Defensively, the Patriots have had problems stopping the run, which plays into the hands of the Dolphins. Ricky Williams did have to fight for his 105 yards in the Dolphins' 26-13 victory over the Patriots in October, but don't be surprised to see him break a long one or two.

Because it's on the road and it could be snowing, don't expect the Dolphins to win by a blowout. Who knows? Maybe it will come down to an Olindo Mare field goal. Just like 2000.

The call: Dolphins 20, Patriots 17.


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