Patriots Will Bring Dolphins Back to Earth

The Miami Dolphins are peaking at the right time, headed into the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, their early season losses eliminated any chance they might be able to build on their recent success in the 2005 postseason, one they will be watching from home. The Dolphins are on a five game winning streak and look to continue that against the New England Patriots on Sunday. The Patriots who ARE headed to the postseason, can't afford a letdown, and there's no reason to expect they will have one.

The New England Patriots have nothing to gain in this Sunday's regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins, but they will probably play a fierce and entertaining game nonetheless.

The Patriots have dominated their last four opponents, and they surely would like to whack another one on their way into the playoffs and a quest for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl win.

They should have a hellacious battle on their hands. The Dolphins are riding a five-game win streak, and they need to make it six to finish at 9-7 and give head coach Nick Saban a winning record in his first season in Miami. And what better way to crown the campaign than a victory over the defending champs.

It might behoove Bill Belichick's team to rest key players and just look ahead to next week's Wild Card playoff game, but that won't happen. The optimum scenario for New England would be for the starters to build a big lead in the first half and leave it to the reserves to seal the deal after halftime.

New England's starters are probably eager to play again, and why not? Over the last four weeks, they have buried their opponents by a combined score of 110-31. The dominance has started with the defense, which has slammed the door to the tune of only 164 total yards per game. (For comparison, the NFL's leading defense, the Chicago Bears, has allowed 274.2 yards per game for the season.)

The New England defense faces an interesting challenge. Star linebacker Tedy Bruschi will likely sit out the game to rest the calf injury he suffered in Monday's win over the New York Jets, but his teammates will want to maintain the high level of play. They have allowed only 125 yards rushing in the last four games combined.

Enter the Dolphins, fresh off a 24-10 win over the Tennessee Titans in which RB Ricky Williams ran for 172 yards.

Something has to give, and it probably won't be the Patriots. Two weeks ago, Tampa Bay's Carnell "Cadillac" Williams came to Foxboro riding a four-game streak in which he averaged 102 yards per game, and the Patriots held him to 23 yards on 14 carries.

Reserve LB Monty Beisel will probably fill in for Bruschi. Beisel struggled in that position earlier in the season while Bruschi was sitting out six games recovering from an offseason stroke, and he will have plenty to prove on Sunday.

The Patriots might also rest starting CB Asante Samuel, who took a hard blow to the head during the Jets game. Hank Poteat is the likely replacement.

If the Patriots play the way they have the last four weeks, they should dominate the Dolphins, who have been far from overpowering during their winning streak. Playing against teams with a combined record of 25-50, the Dolphins have won by an average of less than seven points while allowing their opponents a healthy average of 319 yards per game.

The highlight of Miami's successful run was a 23-21 road win over the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 11, but the Dolphins gave up 397 yards and 20 points to the 3-12 Jets on Dec. 18 and 23 points and 319 yards to the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 4. In three games against the Jets and Bills this month, New England has allowed an average of 10 points and 173 yards.

Despite their recent success, the statistics show Miami to be a mediocre team: 17th in the NFL in scoring, 15th in total yardage, 14th in points allowed and 20th in yardage allowed.

The one area where the Dolphins shine is sacks, where they lead the NFL with 48, including 22 in the last five games. DE/LB Jason Taylor leads with 12, and Kevin Carter and David Bowens each have six. Ten Dolphins have logged at least two sacks. With two sacks against the Patriots, they would break the Miami single-season record.

The Patriots have done a good job of protecting QB Tom Brady, allowing only 27 sacks on the season. Expect to see OT Tom Ashworth continue to play at tight end and fullback to help keep Brady on his feet.

On offense, the Patriots will probably continue to run a well-balanced attack, using four different rushers to wear down the Dolphins. Corey Dillon should catch a breather after carrying a season-high 26 times last week. Look for FBs Heath Evans and Patrick Pass to get upwards of 15 carries between them. New England's rushers have averaged only 3.4 yards per carry over the last four games, but that has been good enough for them to run the ball nearly 40 times a game.

The New England passing attack has been consistent all season and is only getting better now that Brady has a full arsenal of receivers. Deion Branch and David Givens give the Patriots one of the league's top wide receiver tandems. Tight ends Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson both find openings downfield and are dangerous after the catch, and Kevin Faulk is one of the league's best receivers out of the backfield. With all that talent, there aren't many catches left for wideouts Troy Brown and Tim Dwight, but they have had their moments too.

On Sunday, look for Brady to help Branch surpass two statistical milestones--he needs four catches and 21 yards to reach 80 and 1,000, respectively--and otherwise spread the wealth.

When the Dolphins have the ball, look for them to attack through the air first to try to loosen up the run defense for Ricky Williams and rookie Ronnie Brown. QB Gus Frerotte threw for a season-high 360 yards when these teams met on Nov. 13 in Miami. WR Chris Chambers is having his best season with 77 catches for 1,043 yards and 11 touchdowns, and at 5'11, 210 pounds, he is a tough matchup for New England's smaller cornerbacks. Chambers has been limited to nine catches and 85 yards over the last two games, but in the previous three he had 29 catches for 460 yards. He has caught six touchdown passes in the last four games.

It will be interesting to see how much pressure the New England defense gets on Frerotte. The Patriots have logged 15 sacks in the last four games, but Miami has surrendered only 24 sacks all season (fifth fewest in the NFL), and the Patriots have to be somewhat cautious out of respect for Miami's dangerous running backs.

Prediction: Patriots 24, Dolphins 17

John MacKenna is a regular contributor to Patriots Insider. You can also find archives of his columns on the Insiders by searching for "John MacKenna" or


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The New England Patriots have nothing to gain in this Sunday's regular season finale against the Miami Dolphins, but they will probably play a fierce and entertaining game nonetheless.

The Patriots have dominated their last four opponents, and they surely would like to whack another one on their way into the playoffs and a quest for an unprecedented third straight Super Bowl win.

They should have a hellacious battle on their hands. The Dolphins are riding a five-game win streak, and they need to make it six to finish at 9-7 and give head coach Nick Saban a winning record in his first season in Miami. And what better way to crown the campaign than a victory over the defending champs.

It might behoove Bill Belichick's team to rest key players and just look ahead to next week's Wild Card playoff game, but that won't happen. The optimum scenario for New England would be for the starters to build a big lead in the first half and leave it to the reserves to seal the deal after halftime.

New England's starters are probably eager to play again, and why not? Over the last four weeks, they have buried their opponents by a combined score of 110-31. The dominance has started with the defense, which has slammed the door to the tune of only 164 total yards per game. (For comparison, the NFL's leading defense, the Chicago Bears, has allowed 274.2 yards per game for the season.)

The New England defense faces an interesting challenge. Star linebacker Tedy Bruschi will likely sit out the game to rest the calf injury he suffered in Monday's win over the New York Jets, but his teammates will want to maintain the high level of play. They have allowed only 125 yards rushing in the last four games combined.

Enter the Dolphins, fresh off a 24-10 win over the Tennessee Titans in which RB Ricky Williams ran for 172 yards.

Something has to give, and it probably won't be the Patriots. Two weeks ago, Tampa Bay's Carnell "Cadillac" Williams came to Foxboro riding a four-game streak in which he averaged 102 yards per game, and the Patriots held him to 23 yards on 14 carries.

Reserve LB Monty Beisel will probably fill in for Bruschi. Beisel struggled in that position earlier in the season while Bruschi was sitting out six games recovering from an offseason stroke, and he will have plenty to prove on Sunday.

The Patriots might also rest starting CB Asante Samuel, who took a hard blow to the head during the Jets game. Hank Poteat is the likely replacement.

If the Patriots play the way they have the last four weeks, they should dominate the Dolphins, who have been far from overpowering during their winning streak. Playing against teams with a combined record of 25-50, the Dolphins have won by an average of less than seven points while allowing their opponents a healthy average of 319 yards per game.

The highlight of Miami's successful run was a 23-21 road win over the San Diego Chargers on Dec. 11, but the Dolphins gave up 397 yards and 20 points to the 3-12 Jets on Dec. 18 and 23 points and 319 yards to the Buffalo Bills on Dec. 4. In three games against the Jets and Bills this month, New England has allowed an average of 10 points and 173 yards.

Despite their recent success, the statistics show Miami to be a mediocre team: 17th in the NFL in scoring, 15th in total yardage, 14th in points allowed and 20th in yardage allowed.

The one area where the Dolphins shine is sacks, where they lead the NFL with 48, including 22 in the last five games. DE/LB Jason Taylor leads with 12, and Kevin Carter and David Bowens each have six. Ten Dolphins have logged at least two sacks. With two sacks against the Patriots, they would break the Miami single-season record.

The Patriots have done a good job of protecting QB Tom Brady, allowing only 27 sacks on the season. Expect to see OT Tom Ashworth continue to play at tight end and fullback to help keep Brady on his feet.

On offense, the Patriots will probably continue to run a well-balanced attack, using four different rushers to wear down the Dolphins. Corey Dillon should catch a breather after carrying a season-high 26 times last week. Look for FBs Heath Evans and Patrick Pass to get upwards of 15 carries between them. New England's rushers have averaged only 3.4 yards per carry over the last four games, but that has been good enough for them to run the ball nearly 40 times a game.

The New England passing attack has been consistent all season and is only getting better now that Brady has a full arsenal of receivers. Deion Branch and David Givens give the Patriots one of the league's top wide receiver tandems. Tight ends Daniel Graham and Benjamin Watson both find openings downfield and are dangerous after the catch, and Kevin Faulk is one of the league's best receivers out of the backfield. With all that talent, there aren't many catches left for wideouts Troy Brown and Tim Dwight, but they have had their moments too.

On Sunday, look for Brady to help Branch surpass two statistical milestones--he needs four catches and 21 yards to reach 80 and 1,000, respectively--and otherwise spread the wealth.

When the Dolphins have the ball, look for them to attack through the air first to try to loosen up the run defense for Ricky Williams and rookie Ronnie Brown. QB Gus Frerotte threw for a season-high 360 yards when these teams met on Nov. 13 in Miami. WR Chris Chambers is having his best season with 77 catches for 1,043 yards and 11 touchdowns, and at 5'11, 210 pounds, he is a tough matchup for New England's smaller cornerbacks. Chambers has been limited to nine catches and 85 yards over the last two games, but in the previous three he had 29 catches for 460 yards. He has caught six touchdown passes in the last four games.

It will be interesting to see how much pressure the New England defense gets on Frerotte. The Patriots have logged 15 sacks in the last four games, but Miami has surrendered only 24 sacks all season (fifth fewest in the NFL), and the Patriots have to be somewhat cautious out of respect for Miami's dangerous running backs.

Patriots 24, Dolphins 17

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