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Mailbag: Week 17 Dolphins at Patriots

It's the fourth road game in five weeks for the Dolphins, who are looking to stop a losing streak while possibly securing their spot in the playoffs with some help this weekend. A win Sunday, per the New York Times Playoff Odds Simulator, would increase the Dolphins chances of qualifying for the postseason tournament by 22 percentage points. Entering Week 17, the simulation has Miami's playoff chances at 58 percent. Win in Foxboro and that number jumps to 80 percent and gives the Dolphins several clinching scenarios.

Miami can punch its ticket to the Wild Card round with a victory over the Patriots and a Jets loss or tie in Seattle.

Each Thursday, we put out the call for questions on Twitter. We choose three every week to be answered on the mailbag, as well as three for the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield and three more here on the written mailbag.

Question from @HenryJax918 – What are the realistic expectations for Teddy Bridgewater this week?

A: I think the expectation is that he can play winning football. Earlier this week, head coach Mike McDaniel emphasized the importance of acquiring a player like Teddy for games like this.

"That's one of the reasons you go and aggressively pursue a player like Teddy Bridgewater," he said. "And the team is, I expect them to do what is pretty difficult for a lot of people but no one really cares. This is something that we have all of our fortunes ahead of us, so it's up to us to choose what we do with all the past experiences, move on to the next game, which in this case is the New England Patriots."

As for those New England Patriots, there are some rather suggestive trends through the first 15 games of their season. When teams score more than 17 points against New England this season, they are 8-0. When scoring 17 or less, the Patriots' opposition is winless at 0-7. And in those seven victories, the New England defense has produced 14 takeaways.

So, for Bridgewater, limiting turnovers and getting the ball into the hands of his two explosive playmakers – Tyreek Hill, who has already set the single-season franchise receiving record, and Jaylen Waddle, who is on track to finish second to Hill – is a recipe for success.

Question from @DustFin89 – What does the defense have to do to carry us to a win?

A: I think it's pretty rare that one side of the football carries any team to a win in any week. That's no exception here as the Dolphins need all three phases. That said, the Patriots third down offense ranks 27th in the league and Miami has produced a top-five pressure rate on balance this season (better than 40 percent, per ESPN).

To get to those situations, it starts by stopping the run. Miami's run defense is 10th in the NFL and the Patriots rushing offense ranks 11th. That ground game is spearheaded by breakout second-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who has developed a reputation as a hammer.

"You've got to run your feet on contact and it's a team tackling mentality against a guy like this," linebackers coach Anthony Campanile said. "He's a guy that finishes runs. So you've got to gang tackle, you've got to get off blocks, you've got to be physical."

Then, after the run defense gets its stops, it's imperative to finish those series with third-down stops. If Miami can force New England into third-and-long consistently, that could equal a winning formula. The Patriots convert just 21 percent of their third-and-long opportunities and allow the fifth-most sacks in such situations.

Setting up third-and-long creates opportunities for the defense to make splash plays, gives the offense short fields and maybe even helps the defense score some points of their own, just like the Week 1 matchup.

Question from @HarmonTweets13 – Even if we win Sunday, what are our realistic chances of competing with the top teams in the playoffs?

A: The results the last month have obviously been below anyone's expectations, but it's not like the Dolphins have been no-shows in those games. You could argue that one or two plays going the other way in each of those games and Miami could've gotten the preferred result in each. Additionally, Miami beat some pretty good teams earlier this season, including the AFC's current No. 1 seed in Buffalo and the present top wild card club in Baltimore.

This season has been a wonky one. There's extreme parity, surprising upsets each week, and I think the Dolphins have the offensive firepower to compete with any of those conference leaders that you mentioned.

It's a conversation for maybe a week or two down the road, but the great news is that Miami heads into the new year with everything still on the table.

For more, check out the Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield, available five days a week on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. The Twitter mailbag thread will go up every Thursday at 8:30 a.m.

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