SERIES: 83rd meeting. The Dolphins have an all-time lead of 47-35, with New England posting a 20-10 home victory when both teams played in October. The Patriots scored all of their points off Dolphins turnovers and a blocked Olindo Mare field goal.
2006 RANKINGS: Patriots: offense 6th (12th rush, 10th pass); defense 9th (3rd rush, 18th pass). Dolphins: offense 17th (27th rush, 11th pass); defense 6th (7th rush, 5th pass)
PREDICTION: Patriots 23-16
KEYS TO THE GAME: RB Ronnie Brown will miss his second consecutive game with a broken hand, but the Dolphins received a strong effort from backup Sammy Morris last weekend. Miami needs to run the ball effectively because even though the offense has improved with QB Joey Harrington, he proved last week that he is still prone to making a few critical mistakes per game. The Patriots will devise new looks to throw his way and the Dolphins don't have the margin for error to overcome losing the turnover battle. But Miami's defense was strong in the first meeting, holding the Patriots to 213 yards of total offense and not allowing a play of longer than 15 yards. New England needs a better effort out of QB Tom Brady, who threw for just 140 yards against Miami at home. If the Dolphins have a defensive weakness, it's a vulnerability to big pass plays, and Brady is far more in tune with his receiving corps than he was in Week 5.
FAST FACTS: Patriots: RB Corey Dillon has 36 touchdowns in 39 games with the team. ... Will clinch the AFC East with a victory and a loss by the Jets. Dolphins: LB Zach Thomas has posted double-digits in tackles in 34 of his past 43 games, including six this season. ... WR Chris Chambers has a touchdown reception in nine of his past 10 home games against NFC East teams.
--DE Jason Taylor earned AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for his outstanding play in four victories in November. Taylor had two interceptions returned for touchdowns, two sacks, three forced fumbles and six passes defensed in picking up his third such honor in 10 seasons.
--LG Jeno James returned to practice for the first time since undergoing arthroscopic knee surgery last month but will still miss his fourth consecutive game.
--RB Ronnie Brown had his cast exchanged for a smaller, more flexible version, but he will miss his second consecutive game while his surgically repaired left hand continues to heal.
--RB Sammy Morris will get his second start of the season in place of RB Ronnie Brown (hand), and it doesn't get any easier, as the Dolphins face the Patriots' third-ranked rushing defense. The Jaguars were ranked fifth, and they held Morris to 47 yards on 12 carries. Morris will play with a sore ankle.
--TE Randy McMichael needs four catches to become the third Dolphin to have at least 50 receptions this year. Marty Booker needs seven more. The last time the Dolphins had four players with at least 50 catches was in 1995, when O.J. McDuffie, Keith Byars, Irving Fryar and Terry Kirby did it. Two of those players -- Byars and Kirby -- were running backs.
--WR Wes Welker, the Dolphins' leading receiver, is nursing a sore shoulder but isn't expected to be hindered Sunday.
--LB Don Davis was placed on reserve/injured list with a knee injury. Davis was a team leader on special teams and his loss will be felt in the return game. The team signed Antwain Spann to the active roster to fill his roster spot.
--DB Antwain Spann was promoted to the Patriots active roster from the teams practice squad for the second time in a month. Spann, who has 5 special teams tackles, will fill in for Don Davis in the kicking game.
--WR Kelvin Kight was promoted from the team's practice squad on saturday. Kight has appeared in just one regular season game during his three-year career. That came with the Packers in 2004.
--OL Gene Mruczkowski was released by the Patirots on Saturday. The 6-foot-2, 305-pound Purdue product has been on and off the team's roster three times this season and has yet to appear in a regular season game.
--RB Laurence Maroney (back) was looking fine at Friday's practice. The running back missed most of last week's game after leaving in the first quarter. Maroney is listed as questionable for Sunday's game.
--S Rodney Harrison (shoulder) was the lone player not present for the media-access portion of Thursday's practice. Harrison is out for this week's game.
--TE Daniel Graham (ankle) is listed as questionable for Sunday. Graham was on the Patriots' injury report last week as well but started against the Lions.
--WR Chad Jackson is questionable for Sunday. Jackson missed last week's game with a groin injury and has also battled a bad hamstring for most of the season.
--OT Ryan O'Callaghan (neck) is listed as questionable on the Patriots' injury report. O'Callaghan was inactive last week for the Lions game.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS
--He doesn't vote for the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday that Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor should win the award.
"I can't imagine him not being the Defensive Player of the Year," Belichick said. "There's nobody I've seen that has played anywhere near close to the level that he's at. He ruins a lot of games offensively for teams."
Taylor is having one of the best seasons of his 10-year NFL career. Taylor has a team-high 10.5 sacks and scored two defensive touchdowns to lead a defensive unit that currently ranks No. 7 in the NFL.
--Miami's Vonnie Holliday is making a push to become one of the NFL's most coveted free-agent defensive tackles in the 2007 offseason. Holliday's 6.5 sacks rank second among all NFL defensive tackles, behind the seven registered by Oakland's Warren Sapp.
--Dolphins middle linebacker Zach Thomas is on pace to lead the NFL in tackles. Thomas has been credited with 116, which is three ahead of Houston rookie linebacker DeMeco Ryans. Buffalo's London Fletcher-Baker is third with 112 stops.
--With seven more catches by Marty Booker, the Dolphins will have three different wide receivers with at least 50 receptions in the same season for the first time in franchise history. Wes Welker leads the team with 58, followed by Chris Chambers with 52.
The 153 combined receptions from Welker, Chambers and Booker rank third among NFL wide receiver trios behind Cincinnati's Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry (164) and St. Louis' Torry Holt, Isaac Bruce and Kevin Curtis (157).
BY THE NUMBERS: 2002 -- The last season Miami finished with an average time of possession of 30:00 or higher. Miami's current average time of possession is 30:10.
THEY SAID IT: "I really do take it as a compliment because he is one of the guys in this league that I have the utmost respect for as a coach. Talking to the players that play for him, what they think of him and what I think of him from the outside looking in, I have a lot of respect for him. He's one of those guys that I like a lot as a coach. It's a compliment, but it's probably a little bit of a mind game too. He probably does a little bit of that, but that's all right. I think I am tough enough to deal with it." -- Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor when told that Patriots coach Bill Belichick believes he should be voted the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year.
--The Patriots placed defensive back Eugene Wilson on injured reserve Monday and signed defensive back Ray Mickens to the roster. Wilson played in four games this season, starting the team's first three contests. He injured his hamstring in the third game against the Broncos and was inactive the next two weeks. Wilson re-injured his hamstring in his first game back, Oct. 22 against the Bills, and has been out ever since. He will now be lost for the season, while Rodney Harrison still recovers from a broken wrist. Mickens will help as a nickel and dime cornerback but it still leaves the Patriots with a big void at the safety position until Harrison returns.
"We added a couple of players to the roster over the last couple of days and placed Eugene (Wilson) on injured reserve," Bill Belichick said. "That's disappointing to him and all of us, but we just didn't feel that situation was improving much. So that's pretty much where we're at."
--The Patriots can clinch the AFC East and a berth in the playoffs with a victory over the Dolphins this week and a New York Jets loss to the Buffalo Bills. If the Patriots win the division, they will have won the last three AFC East titles, marking the first time the team has won three straight division crowns. They would have also won the AFC East in four out of the last five years, with 2002 being the only exception. The Jets won the division that year.
--TE Daniel Graham was named a team captain before last week's game. He said the last time he was a captain was high school.
"I think I've been through a lot with Dan," Tom Brady said. "I know all the veterans on this team and he's one of the core guys we have. I'm very excited for him. He certainly is deserving. He's been deserving for quite some time."
--The Patriots are 2-11 in games played at Miami in the month of December. New England is making just its third December trip to the Sunshine State since 1989.
--The Patriots have played 40 previous games against the Dolphins in Miami. They have only recorded a winning streak of two or more consecutive games on one occasion. New England won four straight games in Miami from 1986-88.
--"You know, I'm very proud of the fact that we're 9-3. I would love to be 12-0, but 9-3 is not bad. We're up near the top of the AFC. We have a great opportunity ahead of us. I'm always kind of a frustrated person because I expect perfection, and when it doesn't go well, when it doesn't go perfectly, I get probably more frustrated. But I'm a competitor and I like to win, just like a lot of guys around here. I'm enjoying having a chance now in December to really make a push." -- Tom Brady on the Patriots being 9-3 after 12 games this season.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 -- Only four teams in the NFL rank in the top 10 in both total offense and defense. Those teams are the Patriots, Cowboys, Steelers and Chargers.
THEY SAID IT: "We'll be easy on him. It's hard to initiate a guy his age. Five years, he's kind of seen it all." -- Tom Brady on whether or not the players made TE Daniel Graham go through an initiation before he was named team captain.
Newswire - an assortment of the latest news from around the web. Must read material
Dolphins Message Boards - Fan forums before, during and after the game
Patriots Message Boards - Fan forums before, during and after the game
Postgame - Games Balls and Goats - who played poorly, who played well