By: Russ Goldman
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.
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