Archive for January, 2011

Both Sides To Blame For Logan Mankins Contract Situation

A major off-season issue will be the contract situation with Logan Mankins, and whether or not the Patriots will re-sign him.  There is no question that Mankins is one of the best guards in the NFL and it shouldn’t be disputed. The question now is where will Mankins play next season? He is without a contract, but the Patriots could have the ability to franchise him.

Regardless of where Mankins plays football in the future, there is one thing I have learned from this issue. Both sides are to be blamed for his current contract situation.

On the Patriots end, I don’t always see eye to eye on how they handle their contract situations.  I don’t agree with letting some of their better players get to the end of their rookie contracts, and then trying to re-sign them.

Now they have re-negotiated early with a few players like Ty Warren and even Tom Brady. However, there have been other players like Asante Samuel and Deion Branch that should have been aggressively approached for a new deal way before their contract were to run out. In the end the team had built up animosity with the player, and in both of these cases the players eventually were out of New England.

Mankins falls into this category. I don’t understand why the Patriots didn’t negotiate much earlier in his existing contract? It didn’t take long for him to establish that he was a top guard in the league. Instead they waited and the price only went up and the bad blood began to grow. 

On the Mankins end, he has done a few things that I certainly don’t agree with. He made some comments about ownership that he should have kept to himself, and not made public. I understand his frustration, but all he did was upset the Patriots and make it even harder to make a deal.

A contract situation I don’t think can improve by voicing it to the press when you are dealing with the New England Patriots. As we know they are very sensitive to their public image. All this public display by Mankins did was make it more contentious to get a deal done.

Now, I have heard the argument that Mankins did the right thing by holding out, and not coming back in the middle of the season. I complete disagree with this premise. I understand he is a man of principal and he was making a stand. Since he is such a “stand up guy” he should have honored his existing contract like Wilfork did and played the entire season. That to me would have been the right thing to do.

So here we are now with both sides dug into their convictions and enough blame to go around.  Where do we go from here? This is a tough one for me. I have much respect for Mankins as a player, and want him to be in New England. However, this situation is a partnership. I don’t see either side giving in on their convictions. It takes “two to tango”, and we have parties that don’t appear to want to dance with each other.

The best solution I can see is if they can’t get a deal done, whether he likes it or not (and he’s already said he’ll be upset if they do it) would be for the Patriots to franchise Mankins with the thought of trading him. I would try to get the highest draft pick possible for the Pro Bowl player, and then both sides can move on.

But unfortunately at this point I don’t see Mankins playing another down in New England, and it’s too bad because the offensive line will likely be an area they’ll need to address heading into this offseason.

Who Do I Want To Win The AFC Championship?

After the Patriots lost the playoff game to the Jets, I came to the realization that the AFC Championship would be between two teams I really don’t care for.  I still enjoy watching football so I am going to pick my poison. Should I hope the Steelers win or actually be hoping to see the Jets in the Superbowl?

Well, there is method to my madness in hoping this team goes to the Superbowl. I want the Jets to beat the Steelers on Sunday. This has nothing to do with the Jets, and has everything to do with the Steelers.

First, if the Steelers go to the Superbowl, and win it they would have 3 Super Bowl rings in 6 seasons. Pats fans then would be hearing from the media, and the Steeler fans they now have the next dynasty.  Sorry, I definitely do not want that to happen.

Second, If the Steelers win another Super Bowl this season, Ben Roethlisberger would have 3 Super Bowl rings just like Tom Brady. Roethlisberger is a great quarterback, but he is not at the same level as Brady and Manning. If he wins a third he would probably enter the conversation. Trust me, Pats fans will be hearing this from Steeler fans. Brady’s legacy I don’t want to be seen challenged by Roethlisberger.

Third, I don’t want the Steeler fans to enjoy another Super Bowl victory. There are still some Steeler fans that feel the Patriots robbed them of two more Super Bowl appearances because of Spygate. Members of this fan-base still cannot accept they were beaten by the better team in 2001 and 2004.  

Lastly, I don’t think the Jets can win the Super Bowl. The Jets have already lost to both the Packers and the Bears. I don’t see them beating either opponent in the Super Bowl. On the other hand, the experience that the Steelers have gives me confidence they would beat either NFC opponent in the Super Bowl.

Pats fans were in a similar situation last season with the AFC Championship game between the Colts and the Jets. I actually wanted the Jets to win that game for the same reasoning of this year. I didn’t want Peyton Manning and his team to win another ring. In the end it worked out as the Colts lost, and tarnished Manning’s reputation in big games.  

Do I want to see the Jets and their fans celebrate? Of course I don’t want to see that, but the Patriots legacy means more to me than my thoughts on the Jets.  

So as I watch this game and hope the Jets win, it has nothing to with the team from New York. It has everything to do with the team from Pittsburgh and their fans.

What We Learned From The Patriots Playoff Loss To The Jets

The Patriots unfortunately had their season end on Sunday with a 28-21 loss to the Jets. It was a painful loss at home for the Patriots against a bitter rival.  

The Patriots actually came out strong in their first offensive drive of the game. However, Tom Brady’s early interception on that drive set a bad tone that was felt throughout the game. The Jets settled into the game, and eventually took it over. The Patriots were the team that made the key mistakes, and it ultimately cost them the football game. It was almost as if the teams switched places for one game. The Jets were the disciplined team, and the Patriots were playing desperate at times.   It was very uncharacteristic to see, and now we’re forced to endure a long offseason until they get another shot at redemption.

So what did we learn from watching the game on Sunday?

The first thing we learned is that the Patriots defense wasn’t the issue on Sunday, it was the offense thanks to a solid game plan by New York.  Brady had a hard time finding receivers in the middle of the field where he feasted in the last game. The Jets were forcing Brady to look for options on the outside. The Jets made an adjustment going into this match-up, and unfortunately the Patriots could not counter.

The second thing we learned is that the defense is getting closer to being a solid unit. The Patriots defense actually kept the team in the game. The Jets only had 14 points going into the fourth quarter. That type of effort should have led to a victory. This unit battled and did not quit the entire game. I expect a major jump in the defense next season. It is only going to get better.

The third thing we learned is that you cannot afford to make the mistakes the Patriots made in the playoffs and expect to win. Brady threw an interception that was more costly than you might think. The Jets couldn’t convert on the turnover, but the Patriots could have really set the tone for the game and gotten up early on the Jets. Also, the fake punt should have never happened even if the match-up was there for the Patriots. The risk was too high, and the Patriots paid dearly for it.

The most important thing we learned is the Patriots future is very bright. The Patriots are very young on defense, and have some serious picks in the upcoming draft. This game represents a step in the process to being a dominant team for several years to come. The Patriots are not quite there yet, but many of the pieces are in place to have a “second chapter” to the Patriots dynasty. I truly believe that.

As I always do, I like to look back at my keys to victory to see what kind of role they played in the game. Below is my analysis of ” My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Jets.”

1. The Patriots need to stop the run. The Jets were effective running the ball against the Pats. They ran for a total of 120 yards with a 4.1 yards per carry average. The Pats did not do their job in this key.

2. The Patriots need to get off the field on third down defense.  The Patriots did not do a great job on getting off the field on third down. The Jets were 6-13 on third down conversions which looks good on paper, but there were some key plays that extended drives and New York was able to capitalize. For the Patriots to have a great defense in the future they will need to improve tremendously in this area.

3. Tom Brady needs to expose a weakness of the Jets defense which is covering the tight ends.  Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were not the match-up nightmares that I had hoped for. Gronkowski had 4 catches and Hernandez only had 1 catch.  Hernandez is the biggest surprise because he’d been used in the past in tight end screens and quick passes to allow him to make a play.  We never really saw that on Sunday.

4. In the redzone the Patriots need to score touchdowns.The Patriots were not in the red-zone often, but in their first time in the area they were forced to settle for a field goal. This situation might not sound like it had an impact, but it really hurt the Patriots early in the game.  Forcing the Jets to play from behind over the course of the game likely would have made a big difference in the outcome, especially with New England playing at home.

 5. Shayne Graham needs to be solid in his kick-offs and converting field goals. Graham did not do a great job in kick-offs and the Jets often started drives with good field position. However, he was effective in kicking two field goals and ended up being a solid replacement for Stephen Gostkowski, who whopefully will be back healthy next season.

So what did we learn from this game? In the end the Jets were just better on Sunday. Sometimes you just have to give credit to the other team.

However, in the big picture the season was a success and that shouldn’t be overlooked by a loss in the playoffs. The Patriots are pointing back to the top, and I expect in the next several seasons many more Patriots victories in the playoffs than losses. The Tom Brady era is far from over. With all their draft picks and a chance to bring in a couple of free agents, it actually might be entering its second chapter. 

What are your reactions to the game? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 28-21 playoff loss to the Jets.

Patriots vs. Jets: Five Questions With Dan Leberfeld of Jets Confidential

I had the pleasure before the last game between the Patriots and the Jets to have Dan Leberfeld of Jets Confidential give me some insight on the Jets.

Dan was nice enough to take some time to answer my questions once again.

Here are my “Five Questions About The Upcoming Jets Game with Dan Leberfeld of Jets Confidential”.

1. The Jets ran the ball very effectively against the Colts in their victory. Conventional wisdom would be that they would run the ball heavily against the Patriots. Do you see running the ball for the Jets to be their offensive strategy or do you see a different offensive game-plan?

If the Jets are going to have any chance to win this game, they have to run the football. They have one of the best offensive lines in the league, and New England is ravaged on the defensive line. The Jets need to take advantage of this for two reasons. One, to take pressure off Mark Sanchez, who is a good, not great quarterback. Secondly, they need to keep Brady off the field.

2. The weather seemed to bother Mark Sanchez the last time the teams played at Foxboro. It is expected again to be fairly cold. Do you think the weather will be a factor in the performance of Mark Sanchez on Sunday?

Sanchez has improved in cold weather since that debacle. He played well in bad, cold weather in Pittsburgh and Chicago. Sanchez’s problems is completion percentage, and it’s been an issue in domes and bad weather. 54 percent is not going to cut it in the NFL.

3. In the second match-up between the teams, Jim Leonhard got hurt days before the game and possibly affected negatively the Jets defense. This week Damien Woody was put on injured reserve and Drew Coleman reportedly might have injured himself in the Thursday practice. Will either of these injuries really affect the Jets on Sunday?

It was reported by Bob Glauber, who is close with Coleman’s agent, that the cornerback is going to play. I don’t think Coleman is very good, but the Jets keep running him out there at the nickel spot. Brady will go after him. Remember, Wes Welker’s 15 catch game, a lot of that was against Coleman. As for Woody, his backup, Wayne Hunter, is a starting quality player, so there isn’t a big dropoff.

4. The Jets defense struggled against the Patriots offense in the game in Foxboro. What kind of adjustments do you see this unit making in containing Brady in this game?

I think they are going to play a lot of “coverage.” It worked well against Peyton Manning. The Jets don’t have a great pass rush, so they might as well drop seven into coverage and take their chances that way. I would be shocked if this game is anything like the last one. Rex Ryan might have a big mouth, but he’s also a great defensive coach, almost as good as Belichick. His plan will be a lot better this time.

5. What is your key matchup for the game?

The key match-up with the Jets offensive line vs. the Pats decimated defensive line. If the Jets can take advantage of this, they can win the game. If they can’t, they are in a lot of trouble.

A special thanks to Dan for giving his time to give his thoughts on this playoff match-up. You can also follow him on twitter at jetswhispers. Dan can also be heard on “Press Coverage” Saturday Mornings from 11 AM – 2PM EST on Sirius NFL Radio.

My Five Keys To Victory For The Patriots Against The Jets

The Patriots had a bye week last weekend, and their opponent the New York Jets went on the road and upset the Indianapolis Colts 17-16. With this victory by the Jets, it sets up a third match-up this season between these two AFC East rivals. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.   

WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live Sunday on CBS at 4:30 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

GAME NOTES: The Jets on Wild Card Weekend controlled the second half with their running game, and kept Peyton Manning on the sidelines. Mark Sanchez led the Jets down the field in the final minute of the game. This led to a 32 yard field goal by Nick Folk which now sends the Jets to Foxboro on Sunday. The Patriots embarrassed the Jets on December 6th 45-3. I expect a much closer and tougher game in the Divisional round of the playoffs.

On defense, the Jets best player is cornerback Darrelle Revis. It will be interesting to see who he covers in this match-up. The other Jets cornerback is Antonio Cromartie, and his play on Sunday could be key for the Jets. He was good in the first match-up between the two teams, but in the second match the Pats got the better of him. The Jets have a solid defense, but if they do not get pressure on Brady to help out the defensive backs it could be a long day for this unit.

On offense, the Jets running game will be very important. In the last match-up the Jets ran for a total of 152 yards. Shonn Greene had 64 yards and Ladainian Tomlinson ran for 47 yards. The wildcard in this unit has to be Sanchez. He will have to play much better than the last time he faced the Patriots which saw him throw 3 interceptions.

This game is going to be a battle, and could be decided sometime in the fourth quarter. I do look for the Patriots to pull away late in this game but I don’t think it will be easy.

Here are my “five keys” which  I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.  Some of these keys are fairly obvious, but I feel are important points to watch in the course of the game.

1. The Patriots need to stop the run. This key is a “no brainer” in this match-up. The Jets against the Colts really controlled the game with their ability to run the ball and kept Peyton Manning off the field. The Patriots will need to stop the run and force Mark Sanchez to beat them.

2. The Patriots need to get off the field on third down defense.  As we know, the Patriots were the worst team in the league on third down defense this season. They cannot afford to let the Jets convert at a high level on Sunday. If the Jets do convert often they will be extending drives and keeping Brady off the field.  We saw the effect this almost had in the Green Bay game – so hopefully we won’t see them have the same success.

3. Tom Brady needs to expose a weakness of the Jets defense which is covering the tight ends.  Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez are match-up nightmares for the Jets as we saw in their last meeting. If Brady can find them as often in the middle of the field as he did during the Monday night blowout, the Jets will be in serious trouble.

4. In the redzone the Patriots need to score touchdowns. This sounds like a basic key, but a very important one. I don’t think the Jets can afford to get into a shootout with the Patriots, and scoring 7 points in each trip will help them get up on New York and force them to play from behind.  However, if the Jets force the Patriots to kick field goals instead of scoring touchdowns, they will keep themselves in the game.

5. Shayne Graham needs to be solid in his kick-offs and converting field goals. Graham had a meltdown in last year’s playoff game against the Jets when he played for the Bengals. He missed 2 crucial kicks, and the Patriots cannot afford for him to be off on his game against the Jets. His kick-offs will be crucial as well on Sunday as field position will be very important in this game.

The Patriots should win this playoff game, but by no means will the Jets make it easy for them. In the playoffs, the quarterbacks are so important in these games and the difference in this match-up could be the play of Brady and Sanchez. As I mentioned in the last match-up, if it comes down to the quarterbacks the Patriots have a major edge, and could be headed to a victory. It will be a struggle but I am predicting a 27-17 Patriots playoff victory. 

What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.


As many fans probably already know, this new revamped Patriots defense has taken its share of criticism this season. Many experts do not know if they’re good enough yet to win a Championship. Well, I like to first go by what my eyes tell me. They show me a defense that has improved, and has shown the ability to make plays in key situations. If your eyes don’t show you enough, then let’s do a little statistical comparison that might surprise you.  After looking at the numbers, this same Patriots defense actually stacks up with the 2009 Super Bowl Champion Saints.

Many experts throw out the line at playoff time that “defense wins championships”. Well, that might have been true several years ago, but recently we have seen two teams win a Super Bowl ring with average defenses. The 2006 Super Bowl Champion Colts had a defense that struggled during the regular season, but stepped it up in the playoffs.  Also, just last season the Saints did not have a top defense on their way to the title. Surprisingly, the 2010 Patriots defense has very similar statistics to that same New Orleans team.

I think one of the most important defensive statistics is points allowed per game. The Patriots this season ranked 8th in the NFL giving up 19.6 points per game. The ’09 Saints ranked 20th in the league giving up 21.3 points per game.  Not bad for a defensive unit that’s full of rookies and young players.

Here is another statistic that might surprise you. Let’s look at total yards per game on defense. The Patriots defense ended up ranked 25th while giving up 366.5 yards per game. The ’09 Saints were also ranked 25th and gave up 357.8 yard per game.  

Next, let’s look at where the teams ranked in the NFL in defensive rush and passing yards per game. The Patriots defense ranked 11th in  rushing yards allowed per game, and 30th in passing yards allowed per game. The ’09 Saints defense ranked 21st in rushing yards per game, and 26th in passing yards per game.

If you want to look at statistics that show how both defenses succeeded it would have to involve turnovers. Both teams took advantage of their opponents by creating turnovers. The Patriots defense this season had 25 interceptions and recovered 11 fumbles.  The 2009 Saints defense had 26 interceptions and recovered 15 fumbles. There is no question that both defenses feasted on the mistakes of their opponents. The numbers are very close between both defensive units. 

A statistic that I think speaks volumes of both defenses has to be the turnover ratio. The Patriots this season had a +28 turnover ratio. The 2009 New Orleans Saints had +11 turnover ratio. There is no question that this statistic shows that even though these defenses gave up yards, they were able to offset that by getting the ball back from the offense.

It has been drilled into my head the importance of defense in the playoffs, and I believe that to an extent.  I actually think you need a good defense, but not necessarily an elite defensive unit. There are other ways to win championships now. Both the Colts in 2006 and the Saints in 2009 were led by their quarterbacks who had prolific offenses. The Patriots quarterback and the offense are on that same level, and in the coming weeks we may find there is more than one way to win a Super Bowl in the modern game. 

So the next time you are breaking down the Patriots chances in the playoffs and are concerned about the defense,  just remember that the Patriots defense stacks up very nicely with the defending Super Bowl champion Saints defense. If the Saints found a way to win the Super Bowl with that group, why can’t the 2010 New England Patriots?

What We Learned From The Patriots Victory Against The Dolphins

The Patriots took charge early on Sunday on their way to beating the Miami Dolphins 38-7. With this victory the Patriots finished out the 2010 regular season at 14-2, and were also the number one seed in the AFC going into the playoffs. 

The Patriots came out strong from the minute the game began. Devin McCourty intercepted Chad Henne on the Dolphins opening drive, setting New England up with great field position. They would score on their opening drive and never looked back, taking a 24-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.  Since they were in complete control of the game, it appeared that the second half was more about giving some players a chance to play to get some reps heading into the playoffs.  Overall, this was an easy victory for the Patriots as they just showed why they are 14-2 and the top seed in the conference.

So what did we learn from watching the game on Sunday?

The first thing we learned is the defense just continues to get better. They were playing an inferior opponent, but you could see continued discipline and more aggressive play up front.

The second thing we learned is the Patriots offense is so versatile now that if they just go out and execute, they’re able to move the ball regardless of who is out there.  Head coach Bill Belichick sat Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez against the Dolphins.  Yet even with those players out, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman picked up the slack with key contributions. The Dolphins were the #3 defense in the league going into the game, and the Patriots went right through them without any real problem.

The Dolphins going into the game were out of the playoffs, but I expected them to play hard against the Patriots. I couldn’t have been more wrong as it seemed the Dolphins were playing like they were already on vacation.  The majority of the media in Miami basically wrote on Monday morning that the players had quit on head coach Tony Sparano, and after watching the game that definitely seemed to be the case.

On offense, the Dolphins were pathetic. Henne might have shown he is not the franchise quarterback they need in Miami. He was 6-for-16 for 71 yards and was replaced at one point for Tyler Thigpen, who was not much better. The running game did not give the Dolphins anything to help out the Dolphins quarterbacks. This was a shockingly bad performance.

On defense, the Dolphins supposedly have one of the better defenses in the league, but they certainly did not come to play against the Patriots. Brady had time to throw the ball, and just picked apart the Dolphins secondary. Also, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was very effective running the ball against this unit. Lastly, did Cameron Wake even play yesterday?  He was held to just 4 tackles and no sacks.

For the Patriots on offense, Brady was efficient and in control throwing two touchdown passes. Green-Ellis also did a nice job, and was able to get enough yardage to reach the 1000 yard plateau for the season.

On defense, this unit continues to make plays and get better. Whether is is ex-UFL player Eric Moore stripping the ball from Ricky Williams, or Vince Wilfork sacking the quarterback, the Pats defense is really coming together at a time of the year when they need to. 

The most important thing we learned is that the Patriots are ready for the playoffs. If this was a tune-up for the postseason, then Belichick’s team passed this test with flying colors.

As I always do, I like to look back at my keys to victory to see what kind of role they played in the game. Below is my analysis of ” My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Dolphins.”

1. The Patriots should come out passing to get up early on the Dolphins.  I don’t think the Patriots came out passing like crazy. In fact, I think their intention was to run the ball and mix in the pass. It worked out just fine because they were able to get up early on the Miami, and this one was never in doubt.

2. The Patriots should run the ball heavily in the second half and get some work in for Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor.  The Patriots did get some work in for Morris and Taylor in the second half. Taylor had 10 carries for 35 yards. I think the Pats though wanted Green-Ellis to get to a 1000 yards so you did still see him in the second half.  It’s fairly obvious that was the case since that milestone came on a 4th-and-16 rushing attempt at the Dolphins 19 where they could have easily opted to kick a field goal. Regardless, the running backs in total did the job in the second half and it was good to see him get there.

3. The Patriots defense should be trying to force turnovers when they have the opportunity.  The Patriots certainly succeeded in this key. McCourty had an interception on the opening Dolphins drive, and Eric Moore forced a fumble.  New England finished the year with a +28 turnover differential, and both situations helped the Patriots control the game on their way to a victory.

4. Stopping the run on defense is vital. The Dolphins did not run the ball much against the Patriots. However, the Pats defense did a great job limiting their yards when they did run the ball. The Dolphins overall ran for 44 yards with a 2.8 yards per carry average.  It was a great effort, and it’s obviously good to see them playing so well up front heading into the postseason despite several guys missing from the line-up.

5. Brandon Tate and the rest of the kick-off return unit need to do a better job with starting field position.  This key was a non-factor in the game as Tate only had one kick-off return for 23 yards. However, kick-off returns is an area of the game the Patriots will need to excel in when they get to the playoffs.  The return game did see a punt return from Julian Edelman, who ran back a punt 94 yards for a touchdown.  He’s a guy who overall seemed to be struggling with his confidence, and that should hopefully give him some heading into the postseason.

So what did we learn from this game? I just think we saw a team just getting ready for the playoffs, and making sure they ended the year on the right foot. The Patriots are now ready for the postseason, and I have a great feeling about  the direction they are going.  Belichick may have his club taking things “one game at a time”, but fans can look forward, and I’m starting to see a Sunday in February with the Patriots possibly playing on the biggest stage.   

What are your reactions to the game? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 38-7 victory against the Dolphins.

My Five Keys To Victory For The Patriots Against The Dolphins

After the Patriots beat the Bills in Buffalo 34-3 last Sunday, they are back at home for the final game of the season against the Miami Dolphins. Before each Patriots game this season, as always here’s a preview with my five keys to the game that I hope will lead to a Patriots victory.

WHERE TO WATCH: The game will be shown live Sunday on CBS at 1:00 PM EST. You can also listen to the game on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston.

GAME NOTES:The Dolphins come into this game with a record of 7-8, and in third place in the AFC East. Miami lost last week to the Lions 34-27. The Patriots upset the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium 41-14 on October 4th and even though this game does not have any playoff implications, I am confident the Dolphins want to leave Gillette Stadium with a victory and end their season on a high note.

On defense, The Dolphins are a top 10 unit and can really get after the quarterback. The strength of this unit has to be their linebackers. They are led by Cameron Wake who has 14 sacks. Koa Misi and Channing Crowder are solid linebackers as well and should not be taken lightly. The Dolphins however will be without Karlos Dansby, who has been put on injured reserve.

On Offense, the Dolphins still have a solid running game led by Ronnie Brown with 727 yards and Ricky Williams with 668 yards this season. Quarterback Chad Henne has had an up and down season, throwing for 15 touchdowns but with 18 interceptions.

The main target for Henne is Brandon Marshall, who has had a good season in his first year in Miami. He has 81 receptions for 917 yards, and I think the Patriots secondary will have their hands full containing him on Sunday.

Overall, this season has been a disappointment for the Dolphins. Many experts before the season began picked them to win the division. For Miami this game is about pride, and possibly jobs for next season so we could still see a solid effort coming from the Dolphins players. Even though this game means nothing regarding the playoffs, I expect the Patriots to come away with the victory.

Before I list my keys I want to mention that these “keys” each week should be obvious to most die hard fans. I have had some criticism on my keys this season which I appreciate. This is a preview and the keys are my way of showing what I think the Pats need to do to win.

Here are my “five keys” which I believe could play a role in a potential victory for the Pats.

1. The Patriots should come out passing to get up early on the Dolphins. I went to the last game of the 2003 season when the Patriots played the Bills. They got up early on them and never looked back. I would let Tom Brady throw it all over the field with the idea of scoring early and often. If they can establish a healthy lead at the half, Belichick will have an option to sit certain players in the second half.

2. The Patriots should run the ball heavily in the second half and get some work in for Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor. Hopefully we will see Taylor and Morris featured in this juncture of the game and keep Green-Ellis sidelined until the playoffs. If my first key is established, hopefully both of these Patriots running backs could then control the second half and the clock.

3. The Patriots defense should be trying to force turnovers when they have the opportunity. The Patriots currently have a +27 turnover ratio. The offense has been great in taking advantage of turnovers resulted from the defense. The aggressive play of the defense has served them well, and could be a huge benefit in this game.

4. Stopping the run on defense is vital. The defense has lately been struggling to stop the run. Injuries have been a factor in rush defense, but tomorrow would be a perfect time to show you can stop Miami’s two top running backs. Stopping the run would help tomorrow, but it would also let future playoff opponents know they have taken care of this issue.

5. Brandon Tate and the rest of the kick-off return unit need to do a better job with starting field position. Early in the season, Tate was doing a great job in kick-offs. Lately he has not put the Patriots in great field position. He could really be a weapon in the playoffs. Against the Dolphins he needs to establish himself once again as a good kick-off returner.

There has been much talk about how much the Patriots will be resting players. I am hoping the Patriots will treat this like any other game, and play the starters as long as the game is in doubt. I do expect the Patriots to win this game and take it comfortably. I am predicting a 28-14 victory for the Patriots against the Dolphins.

What are your predictions? Feel free to post them in the comments section below.