Has this season flown by or what? I can’t believe that 24 hours from now there will be just one game left in the regular season – and the football year will be over for players and fans of nearly two-thirds of the NFL’s teams. One of those twenty teams is the Miami Dolphins, but that does not mean the result of this game is a given; look no further than last night’s game between the Texans and Colts.
5-9 Miami Dolphins at 11-3 New England Patriots
1:00 PM EST on CBS
Announcers: Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts
Coverage outside New England: almost none other than southeast Florida. If you don’t have the Sunday Ticket you may want to make plans to visit your favorite local sports bar.
Line: Patriots opened up the week as 10-point favorites; that has dropped slightly to 9 or 9½ points depending on where you shop. The over/under varies from 48½ to 50 points.
Stats: Pats Offense
31.2 points per game (3rd)
426.3 yards per game (2nd)
16 turnovers (3rd)
318.6 passing yards per game (2nd)
8.7 yards per pass attempt (2nd)
35 passing touchdowns (3rd)
11 interceptions (7th)
24 sacks (5th)
107.6 rushing yards per game (20th)
4.0 yards per rush attempt (20th)
14 rushing touchdowns (7th)
2 fumbles lost (1st)
Stats: Pats Defense
21.2 points per game (14th)
414.4 yards per game (32nd)
28 turnovers (5th)
296.7 passing yards per game (32nd)
8.1 yards per pass attempt (29th)
21 passing touchdowns (18th)
18 interceptions (4th)
33 sacks (16th)
117.6 rushing yards per game (19th)
4.6 yards per rush attempt (24th)
12 rushing touchdowns (19th)
8 fumbles recovered (10th)
Stats: Miami Offense
20.4 points per game (21st)
321.0 yards per game (21st)
21 turnovers (12th)
193.6 passing yards per game (24th)
7.4 yards per pass attempt (12th)
16 passing touchdowns (22nd)
10 interceptions (6th)
46 sacks (30th)
127.4 rushing yards per game (7th)
4.3 yards per rush attempt (12th)
11 rushing touchdowns (14th)
11 fumbles lost (31st)
Stats: Miami Defense
19.2 points per game (5th)
339.1 yards per game (15th)
16 turnovers (29)
247.6 passing yards per game (25th)
7.2 yards per pass attempt (16th)
21 passing touchdowns (18th)
13 interceptions (18th)
35 sacks (14th)
91.6 rushing yards per game (3rd)
3.6 yards per rush attempt (3rd)
6 rushing touchdowns (2nd)
9 fumbles recovered (5th)
When the Pats run the ball – advantage Miami
The Dolphins are on pace to set a franchise record for the lowest rushing yards per game this year. BJGE is not the same runner he was last year; I suspect after the season is over we will find out the turf toe was much more of an issue than most of us suspected it was. Danny Woodhead is coming around after getting his bell rung early this season, but I’m not expecting much against a unit that limited Michael Bush and the Raiders to 48 yards rushing. That may change as the game wears on and Miami tries to find ways to counteract the Pats passing game, but the Dolphins should win this battle early. The Dolphins have allowed just six rushing touchdowns, second fewest in the league, and 3.6 yards per rush, which is third best.
When the Dolphins run the ball – advantage Miami
Reggie Bush is having his best season since he was in college, helped in part by the play of Richie Incognito and Mike Pouncey. The oft-repeated so-called ‘blueprint’ to beat the Pats includes keeping the ball out of Tom Brady’s hands, limiting the Pats possessions, hoping the Pats offense either does not get in a rhythm or gets frustrated and anxious, and hoping for some breaks via turnovers. While Pats fans focus on their team’s pass defense, for this game the key will be how the rush defense fares. The Pats were able to win against Denver and their vaunted rushing game last week; this will be an equally difficult test on Saturday.
When the Dolphins pass the ball – advantage Miami
His numbers may be pedestrian, but QB Matt Moore is completing what is perhaps his most important task: he’s not turning the ball over. Moore has thrown just two picks in seven games, and turnovers may be the most overlooked factor there is when it comes to what stat is the best predictor to the outcome of a game. TE Anthony Fasano has been ruled out with a concussion, but the Dolphins still have Brian Hartline, Davone Bess and TE Charles Clay. On top of that the Pats corners have a tendency to struggle with tall wide receivers and Miami has Brandon Marshall, who caught a critical 65-yard TD pass last week . Surprisingly the Dolphins have the highest percentage of ‘big plays’ (25 yards or more) via a pass this year – 7.54%; they’ve done that 34 times. For Pats fans looking further ahead, it will be interesting to see how well they do getting pressure on the quarterback with Andre Carter now on IR. Who steps up: Mark Anderson? Rob Ninkovich? How well do they big guys in the middle collapse the pocket?
When the Pats pass the ball – advantage New England
This should really be in some huge bolded font, because the difference in this part of the game is more than enough to offset the previous three, all of which are in Miami’s favor. Who does Miami put on the tight ends? Linebackers Karlos Dansby and Kevin Burnett? Please make it happen, that will be fun to watch. Sean Smith, perhaps? If so, who is covering either Wes Welker or Deion Branch – Will Allen? Jimmy Wilson? Again, I would love to see that.
Now that’s not to say there are no concerns; Cameron Wake leads the league with 37 knockdowns or hurries this year. It’s just that overall the Miami pass defense is middle of the pack – they’ll get a sack or two, but over the course of sixty minutes I just can’t see them holding up.
The Patriots are 42-7 under Bill Belichick in the month of December. He doesn’t let this team get too high after a big win like last week’s game in Denver, especially late in the season. I think this game will be far more difficult than many Pats fans do, who collectively seem to be taking the outcome for granted. But in the end look for turnovers to once again be the key.
Patriots 31, Miami 23
Happy December 23rd birthday wishes to 49er coach Jim Harbaugh, former Packer Paul Hornung, former Steeler Jack Ham, former Chargers coach Bobby Ross, marathon great Bill Rogers, former Met pitcher Jerry Koosman, pro bowler Dick Weber, actor Harry Shearer, actress Susan Lucci, and actress Joan Severance, in particular for the shower scene with Gene Wilder that you completely miss on network versions of Hear No Evil, See No Evil – but a scene that I truly appreciated when I was much younger when the movie was first released.
Another 12/23 birthday wish goes out to Boston native Johnny Contardo, the singer for the band playing in the first concert I ever paid to go see, almost forty years ago: Sha Na Na. Weird concert at the Music Hall in Boston; the warmup act was this local group that was just starting to get known a little bit in the area: Aerosmith.
One last 12/23 birthday; this one is a bit more current: Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.
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