New England Patriots (4-4) at Miami Dolphins (3-5)
Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms, Bonnie Bernstein
SERIES: 77th regular-season meeting. Dolphins lead series, 45-31, although the Patriots have won two of the three playoff matchups. New England is 7-30 all-time in Miami and has lost six of its last seven visits. The Patriots beat the Dolphins on their home field in the 1997 regular-season finale. They didn't win again in South Florida until 2003, when Tom Brady hit Troy Brown with an 82-yard TD pass in overtime for a 19-13 victory. Last year's visit ended in disaster for the Patriots as they blew an 11-point fourth quarter lead in a 29-28 loss.
*2005 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 9th (28th rush, 2nd pass); defense 31st (27th rush, 27th pass). Dolphins: offense 22nd (15th rush, 24th pass); defense 16th (20th rush, 14th pass)
PREDICTION: Dolphins 20-17
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots might be allowing 242.0 passing yards per game, but the Dolphins are 3-0 when they have at least 30 carries. Even against New England's beat-up secondary, Miami isn't likely to put the game on the arm of QB Gus Frerotte. RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams have combined to rush for 307 yards the past two games, and the Patriots are allowing 128.9 yards per game on the ground. A strong running attack would also help keep the ball away from the Patriots' offense. Despite a sagging running game, QB Tom Brady continues to put up impressive numbers and the Patriots' deep receiving corps should have a significant advantage working against the Dolphins' secondary.
FAST FACTS: Eleven of the past 16 games have been decided by seven points or less. Patriots: K Adam Vinatieri needs 25 points to pass Gino Cappelletti (1,130) for the franchise scoring record. ... Have allowed eight individual 100-yard receivers this season. Dolphins: DE Jason Taylor has at least one sack in each of the past four meetings in Miami. ... Brown leads all rookies with 611 rushing yards.
--DL Mike Wright could see a lot of playing time against Miami since three of the Patriots' top four defensive ends - Richard Seymour (knee), Ty Warren (hip) and Marquise Hill (ankle) - have missed practice this week. Wright subbed for an injured Warren in the second half last week.
--LB Tedy Bruschi has made 19 tackles in his two games back since suffering an off-season stroke.
--WR David Givens (42 catches for 477 yards) is on pace for career highs in both categories.
--QB Tom Brady is the league's fifth-rated passer (97.0). That would be a career-best rating should he maintain it for the entire season.
--RB Corey Dillon has one 100-yard game this season, against Atlanta in Week 5. At this point last year he had four, en route to a career-high nine.
--T Brandon Gorin likely will start at RT against Miami if Tom Ashworth can't go. Ashworth has not practiced this week with a knee injury, although he was moving around the locker room without a limp on Thursday. He is listed as questionable on the injury report.
--WR/PR Tim Dwight ranks fifth in the league in punt return average (9.4) with a long of 29.
--P Josh Miller ranks third in the league in punting average (46.8) and sixth in net average (39.3).
--DL Richard Seymour was seen walking around the Patriots locker room on Friday. He managed to get on the field for the beginning of practice, but it is unknown if he will be able to play.
--SLB Junior Seau practiced with a non-contact jersey Wednesday and Thursday but isn't listed on Miami's injury report for Sunday's game against New England.
--MLB Zach Thomas (groin) practiced with a non-contact jersey Wednesday and Thursday but isn't listed on Miami's injury report.
--TE Jason Rader, who was released late in the preseason was signed to the developmental squad. Rader takes the developmental-roster spot of TE Alex Holmes, who was promoted last Saturday to the 53-man roster.
--CB Will Poole had surgery Tuesday to clear debris from his left knee, the Miami Herald reported Thursday. Poole will remain on the physically unable to perform list for the rest of 2005 stemming from a left knee injury suffered during a May minicamp.
--FS Yeremiah Bell now leads Miami in special teams tackles with eight. Miami's dime safety, Bell also recovered a fumbled Atlanta punt return in last Sunday's 17-10 loss to the Falcons.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Patriots safeties vs. Dolphins TE Randy McMichael - McMichael, who famously exchanged words with Rodney Harrison during the 2003 season, represents another tough tight end matchup for the Patriots, who have been burned by the likes of San Diego's Antonio Gates and Atlanta's Alge Crumpler. Harrison was able to keep McMichael under wraps, but can free safety Eugene Wilson and whoever starts at strong safety have similar success?
Patriots ILBs Tedy Bruschi and Mike Vrabel vs. Dolphins RBs Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams - Bruschi and Vrabel have been paired inside for two games, with mixed results. Buffalo's Willis McGahee ran for 136 yards against the Patriots two weeks ago, and Edgerrin James had 104 yards on Monday night, although he averaged only 3.1 yards per carry. Brown leads all NFL rookies in rushing yards (611) and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. As a Dolphin, Williams has rushed for 94 or more yards in three of his four games against the Patriots.
Dolphins WRs Chris Chambers and Marty Booker vs. Patriots CBs Asante Samuel and Randall Gay - This might be the best opportunity for Chambers and/or Booker to have their first 100-yard outing of the season. The Patriots, who are without the services of SS Rodney Harrison (knee), have surrendered a whopping 32 pass plays of 20-plus yards.
Dolphins DT Keith Traylor vs. Patriots RB Corey Dillon - The Patriots probably wouldn't have released Traylor had they known he had so much left in the tank. Traylor has done an outstanding job as a run-stuffing presence and helped keep offensive linemen off MLB Zach Thomas, who is averaging 13 tackles a game. Injuries and possibly age (32) have made Dillon a shell of the tailback who rushed for 1,635 yards and 12 touchdowns in 2004. Dillon, though, is being forced to carry New England's running game in light of injuries to Patrick Pass and Kevin Faulk.
GAME PLAN: Even though this is a division game against what should be a familiar opponent, the Patriots will be facing a new-look Dolphins squad that has been remade, especially defensively, under new coach Nick Saban. What offensive success the Patriots have enjoyed this season has come through the air, so look for Tom Brady to keep throwing against a Miami secondary that returns only one starter - CB Sam Madison - from last year. On defense, the Patriots need some takeaways against a Dolphins team whose 16 turnovers are tied for the 10th most in the NFL.