DATE: Sunday, Dec. 30
TIME: 4:25 p.m. ET
SITE: Gillette Stadium
TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, play-by-play; Phil Simms, analysis)
SERIES RECORD: Miami leads 50-44 (including playoffs)
AT MIAMI: Dolphins lead 33-14
AT NEW ENGLAND: Patriots lead 29-17
AT TAMPA: Patriots lead 1-0
LAST MEETING: 2012 at Miami; Patriots 23, Dolphins 16
SERIES TREND: The Patriots have won the last five meetings, but the Dolphins had a chance in each of the last two, losing by three points late last season and by seven in early December this year. The Dolphins’ last victory against New England was a 22-21 thriller at Sun Life Stadium in December of 2009.
SERIES HIGHLIGHT: Just like this season, the Dolphins went to New England to close out the regular season in 2000. The game was played the day before Christmas and the Dolphins gave themselves a great present when they beat the Patriots, 27-24, on a late Olindo Mare field goal to clinch the AFC East title in Dave Wannstedt’s first year as Miami head coach.
NEW ENGLAND’S RECORD: 11-4
LAST GAME: Won 23-16 at Jacksonville
OVERVIEW: The Patriots once again are among a handful of teams deserving to be considered as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, but they no longer look like THE team the way they did after blowing out Houston in a Monday night game. As a result of their Sunday night loss to San Francisco the next week, the Pats now are looking at not having a bye in the playoffs and having to win at both Denver and Houston to make it to the Super Bowl. For the Pats to get a bye, they need to beat the Dolphins and have either the Broncos lose at home against the Chiefs or the Texans lose at Indianapolis. If one of those three things fails to materialize, New England will open the postseason at home against Cincinnati.
THE PATRIOTS’ STRENGTH ON OFFENSE: Nothing new here, it’s Tom Brady and the passing game. In the first meeting between the Dolphins and Patriots, it was tight end Aaron Hernandez and wide receiver Wes Welker who did a lot of damage in the passing game. Brandon Lloyd, however, was the main target in New England’s victory at Jacksonville last weekend.
THE PATRIOTS’ QUESTION MARK ON OFFENSE: If you’re a New England fan, there might be reason for concern that the offense is going through a slump at the wrong time. The stat that stand out is that starting with the Dec. 2 game at Miami, Tom Brady has thrown six interceptions in four games after throwing three in the first 11 games and he’s been sacked 11 times after being sacked 15 times before that.
THE PATRIOTS’ STRENGTH ON DEFENSE: The Jacksonville game was a perfect example of what the Patriots have done on defense this year. Despite an overall lackluster performance, New England was able to win because it came up with three interceptions, including two by safety Patrick Chung in the last four minutes. The Patriots have forced 39 turnovers and their plus-23 turnover margin easily is the best in the NFL (Chicago is second at plus-16).
THE PATRIOTS’ QUESTION MARK ON DEFENSE: While the pass defense has improved since the arrival of former Tampa Bay first-round pick Aqib Talib, opponents still have enjoyed a lot of success throwing the ball against New England. Chad Henne, for example, passed for 348 yards in last week’s game.
THE PATRIOTS’ STRENGTH ON SPECIAL TEAMS: In addition to its powerful offense and opportunistic defense, New England has been solid on special teams all season, both in the return game and covering kicks. The Patriots were third or fourth in the NFL in punt return average, punt return average allowed and kickoff return average allowed. They’re only 23rd in kickoff return average, but Devin McCourty has scored a 101-yard touchdown this season.
THE PATRIOTS’ QUESTION MARK ON SPECIAL TEAMS: After struggling early in the season, kicker Stephen Gostkowski has returned to his normal form. But punter Zoltan Mesko has had a mediocre season throughout — even though that doesn’t matter all that much given the fact the Patriots don’t punt that often.