The Patriots head back out on the road for the 2016 regular season finale when they take on the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at 1 p.m.
The Patriots are 13-2 and could clinch the top seed in the AFC tomorrow with a win or from a loss or tie by the Raiders in Denver. But remembering last season’s finale in Miami, the Patriots want to close the deal and finish strong with a win. The Patriots can finish the season 8-0 on the road with a victory Sunday which would mark just the seventh time it’s been done in history.
The Dolphins are 10-5 and have already clinched a playoff spot. They’re currently locked into the #6 slot but with a win and some help, could slide up to the 5th position. While not sounding like a large variation, it would be the difference between traveling to Pittsburgh on Wild Card weekend, or to Houston.
Here are our five players from a Patriots perspective to watch on Sunday:
QB Tom Brady: Brady has been hobbled by a thigh injury that he suffered weeks ago against the Seattle Seahawks. He hasn’t missed any game action and appears completely healthy from that standpoint. But he’s missed practice time again this week, although it could just be the coaching staff wants to limit his workload heading into the postseason.
Although the Patriots have won 10 of their last 13 against the Dolphins, the last three times they’ve been in Miami they’ve come up short. And Brady hasn’t had some of his best games down there. That’s something he’d like to change this week. Facing a defense where many of their players are hurting, this could be a prime opportunity.
Unlike last season where the Patriots had a preponderance of the game plan centered around running the ball with an aging Steven Jackson, this season should show the Patriots using a much more balanced attack. Look for Brady to be on top of his game this week, facing a playoff team that doubles as a divisional rival.
DT Alan Branch: The Patriots have been very good against the run in 2016 and much of the credit has to go to the big men in the middle, Branch, and Malcom Brown. They’ve been excellent at clogging up the running lanes and stopping the forward progress at the point of attack. The Pats have allowed just 89.5 yards per game on the ground.
But this week they face a resurgent Dolphins team with Jay Ajayi who rushed for 206 yards last week against the Bills. No doubt Bill Belichick will have the team watch the tape of overtime where Ajayi burst through the defense and rolled for a 57-yard run that eventually proved to be the difference in overtime. Branch, 32, is in the final year of his contract and would like to finish off the 2016 regular season and head to the playoffs on a high note.
Belichick praised the veteran this week, as the Patriots most consistent defensive tackle. Branch will be looked to on Sunday, to slow the running of Ajayi and force the ball and ultimately the game into Matt Moore’s hands.
RB LeGarrette Blount: Blount is in the middle of a mini-slump while still having the best year of his career. Although the big man has gained over 1100 yards and scored 17 touchdowns, the past two weeks has found Blount averaging less than 2.5 yards per carry against Denver and the Jets.
A game against the porous Dolphins run defense could be just what the doctor ordered for the big man. Miami is allowing 141.8 yards per game and a whopping 4.9 yards per carry, worst in the league. Blount and Dion Lewis should see plenty of carries in this week’s matchup against the league’s 30th ranked rush defense.
Miami is banged up on defense and will be missing their top two safeties, their best corner, and a starting linebacker. The Patriots have plenty of weapons on offense and should keep the Dolphins focus on their passing game while using the running game to keep the offense balanced. Look for Blount to log another 20-carry day in the Miami heat on Sunday.
CB Logan Ryan: The Patriots veteran corner has been playing very solidly the past several weeks and is usually lined up on the opponent’s speediest wide receiver. The Patriots have settled on a trio of Malcolm Butler, Eric Rowe, and Ryan. And since then, the play of the secondary has improved.
The Patriots remember the second half of the Week 2 contest where Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins nearly pulled off a huge comeback. Tannehill completed 20 of 21 at one point and both DeVante Parker and Jarvis Landry went over the 100-yard mark.
Look for Ryan to match up with the speedster Kenny Stills this week. He’s been the Dolphins big play receiver and seven of his eight touchdowns have gone for 20 yards or more this season, including three of more than 50 yards. Ryan will have his hands full with this matchup and this one should be a key one to watch tomorrow.
TE Martellus Bennett: The wide receivers of the Patriots will draw the attention of Miami’s corners this week. The three running backs can stress the defense in both the running game and the passing game, and then there is Bennett.
The Patriots big tight end is a terrific blocker as well as a difference maker in the passing game. In the first matchup with the Dolphins, he caught five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown. And with Miami hurting on defense, he can be a guy that can create some mismatches for Tom Brady.
Although Bennett has been slowed lately with some injuries, he’s been able to answer the bell and has gutted his way thru the pain since Week 5 against the Browns. The Dolphins will have two backup safeties starting this week. I look for the Patriots to attack the seams of the defense, especially with Bennett who had success against them in Week 2. He will also be looked to in the running game to help spring the backs and get them to the second level.
Stay tuned to PatsFans.com as we’ll have up-to-the-minute breaking news as well as post-game analysis.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Buffalo Bills Chris Hogan Danny Amendola Denver Broncos Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard Jay Ajayi Jimmy Garoppolo Julian Edelman Malcolm Butler Martellus Bennett Matt Moore Miami Dolphins Michael Thomas Ndamukong Suh New England Patriots NFL Patriots Rob Gronkowski Ryan Tannehill Tom Brady