Game Preview: New England at Miami

The Dolphins pretty much need to run the table to have any shot at returning to the playoffs, and it starts Sunday with a tough battle against the New England Patriots at Land Shark Stadium. Here's a breakdown of the matchup.

WHO: New England Patriots (7-4) at Miami Dolphins (5-6)

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1 p.m. ET

SITE: Land Shark Stadium


TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)

PREDICTION: Patriots 28-19

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Dolphins like to break out new Wildcat wrinkles for the Patriots, but are a bit limited without injured RB Ronnie Brown. Rookie QB Pat White will likely be more involved to provide a passing threat out of the formation, while RB Ricky Williams is riding a three-game streak of 100-yard rushing games. The Patriots racked up 432 total yards in the first meeting, a 27-17 home win in Week 9, and QB Tom Brady will again attack rookie CBs Sean Smith and Vontae Davis. The key for the Dolphins will be buckling down in the red zone.

FAST FACTS: Williams, 32, can join Jerome Bettis (32, 2004) as the only players 32 years or older with four consecutive 100-yard rushing games. ... The Patriots are 24-2 in December since 2003.


New England Patriots:

-- RB Sammy Morris might not get as many carries as previously anticipated because of Laurence Maroney's strong play of the past two months. Maroney has scored a touchdown in six consecutive games and has improved with more playing time.

-- LB Tully Banta-Cain has been on and off the practice field this week because of a bad shoulder. Losing him for Sunday would be a big blow since he's arguably been the team's most consistent pass rusher.

-- S Bret Lockett is back in the fold on a more consistent basis this week in terms of practice reps, so the groin injury he's suffering from shouldn't keep him out of the lineup Sunday in Miami.

-- S Patrick Chung suffered a head injury in New Orleans and has been limited in practice this week. By all accounts, he should suit up this weekend, but it will likely be a game-time decision.

Miami Dolphins:

-- Rookie WR Brian Hartline, who had two big plays, including his second touchdown catch in last week's loss to the Bills, will be given more opportunities to shine, said offensive coordinator Dan Henning. "Hartline is coming along, we haven't pushed him to the front as much. We probably will here in the near future. ... He hasn't been through all the ropes, once in a while he'll blow this or blow that. But he's got the ability to make explosive plays, and we do need to get him the ball."

-- C Jake Grove (ankle, tibia) hasn't practiced all week and once again will be replaced by Joe Berger.

-- OLB Jason Taylor, for whom Patriots coach Bill Belichick has predicted a Hall of Fame future, was asked about playing for the Patriots next year if the Dolphins choose not to re-sign him. "We'll re-evaluate where we're at at the end of the year, what the teams want to do and take it from there. You never close off any of your options, you don't burn any bridges and you always keep an open mind."

-- WR/Returner Ted Ginn Jr. is still struggling as a receiver but was named AFC Special Teams Player for November for his kick-returning success last month. In five games in November Ginn averaged 31.7 yards on 21 kicks, including two touchdown returns of 100 or more yards each in the 30-25 victory over the Jets on Nov. 1., the first player to ever do so.

-- LB Erik Walden, a special teams stalwart who has missed three straight games with a hamstring injury, has returned to practice and will play Sunday.

-- RB Ricky Williams, who is triggering the Wildcat formation since Ronnie Brown went down with a season-ending foot injury a few weeks ago, was defended by offensive coordinator Dan Henning for throwing a costly interception in the first quarter of last week's loss to the Bills. The entire coaching staff was criticized for calling for a pass from Williams -- who hadn't attempted a pass since 2001 -- instead of pounding it in from the 3-yard line. "Ricky completed that ball every time in practice for the last three weeks," Henning said. "One hundred percent. He threw a little higher (in practice). He wasn't being rushed by the linebacker. Credit has to go to Buffalo because they overplayed the formation, gave us one extra guy and (Paul Posluszny) ran through there. So (Williams) wasn't completely comfortable throwing the ball."

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