8:30 PM EST, ESPN – Line: Patriots -11, Over/Under: 48.5
With the Regular Season winding down, a matchup featuring a pair of teams traveling in very different directions caps Week Fourteen, as the Miami Dolphins host the New England Patriots on Monday Night Football from Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, Florida. It’s beginning to become rather ridiculous for the Patriots (10-2, 1st in AFC East), who with last weekend’s comfortable 23-3 victory over the Buffalo Bills sealed the deal on their fifteenth consecutive Ten-Win Season, which to the shock of absolutely nobody, is yet another NFL Record. Of course, records have been falling for a while now when it comes to Tom Brady and Co., with the decorated Quarterback earning his twenty-seventh career victory over the Bills last weekend, the most by any single player against any one franchise. It was business as usual for New England, who stormed into New Era Field and put in a workmanlike performance; the visitors started slow with only three Stephen Gostkowski Field Goals to their credit, before finally breaching the End Zone twice in the third Quarter, with Rex Burkhead (12 CAR, 78 YDS, 2 TD) rushing for a pair of Touchdowns. It was only the second outing all year in which Brady (21-of-30, 258 YDS, 1 INT) was held without a Touchdown Pass, breaking a streak of eight consecutive games, and just the fourth in which he was intercepted. The Offense though did manage to churn out a whopping 435 Total Yards, rushing for 191 Yards on Thirty-Five Carries, while the Defense harassed the home side’s Quarterback throughout the day, picking off Tyrod Taylor once, while sacking him three times, the last of which knocked him out of the game altogether. Winners of eight consecutive contests, Bill Belichick’s charges currently find themselves in a race with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the No. One Seed in the AFC, which figures to sort itself out in two weeks when the two teams inevitably meet at Heinz Field. Until then, the Patriots must focus on the Dolphins, whom they’ll be facing for the second time in just three weeks. When they met back in late November, New England was far from a good host in a lopsided 35-17 victory that saw the home side rack up 417 Total Yards, including 196 Yards and a Touchdown on Thirty-Eight Carries. In short, it looked an awful lot like their recent win over Buffalo. On that day, Brady was 18-of-28 for 227 Yards, Four Touchdowns and an Interception, with Brandon Cooks (53 REC, 886 YDS, 5 TD) and Rob Gronkowski (55 REC, 849 YDS, 7 TD) accounting for three of the scores, amassing Eight-Three and Eighty-One Receiving Yards respectively, while the diminutive Dion Lewis (who is usually a factor in the Passing Game) led the way with 115 Rushing Yards on just a dozen Carries. The Defense, however was the story, as they snuffed out their opponent’s ground game (19 CAR, 67 YDS) and absolutely pummeled Miami Quarterback Matt Moore, sacking him a staggering seven times for a loss of Sixty-One Yards and picking him off on two occasions. Linebackers Trey Flowers (46 TKL, 6.0 SK, 3 PD, 2 FF) and Elandon Roberts (46 TKL, 2 .0 SK, 1 PD, 1 FR) had four Tackles and a pair of Sacks apiece, with the former also forcing a Fumble. Expect the Patriots to once again keep the focus of the attack on the ground, particularly given the expected absence of Gronkowski, who was suspended for one game after delivering a late hit on the Bills’ TreDavious White, after the Cornerback intercepted an errant Brady Pass in last weekend’s affair. Belichick’s Offense has become increasingly more run-heavy over the past two weeks, which makes perfect sense entering the month of December with the intention of preserving the health of their 40-Year Old Quarterback. The Rushing Attack has averaged a whopping 193.5 Yards, with Brady only having to attempt Fifty-Eight Total Passes, the fewest he’s managed in any two-game stretch this season. And speaking of Brady (68.5%, 302.7 Y/G, 7.47 NY/A, 26 Td, 4 INT), who is once again among the leading contenders for the MVP trophy, pacing the NFL in Passing Yards (302.7 Y/G), Completions (300), Interception Percentage (0.9%), Yards per Attempt (8.3), and Passer Rating (109.7), he’s also enjoyed quite a bit of success against the Dolphins throughout his storied eighteen-year career. In thirty overall meetings, the Five-Time Super Bowl Champion has earned a stellar 21-9 record, despite experiencing his ups and downs against them, completing 60.7% of his Attempts for an average of 227.8 Yards per Game on 6.9 Net Yards per Attempt, with Fifty-Six Touchdowns in comparison to Twenty-Two Interceptions, the most Interceptions he’s thrown versus any opponent.
Meanwhile, it’s been a disappointing campaign for the Dolphins (5-7, T-3rd in AFC East), who finally snapped a dismal stretch of five consecutive losses with a convincing 35-9 drubbing of the woeful Denver Broncos last weekend. Finally, Miami ran into a team that had been struggling just as much (if not more) than they have of late, with their defense feasting upon the unmitigated disaster that has become the Denver Offense; Adam Gase’s charges held the visiting side to just 270 Total Yards, including a damnable 1-of-10 on Third Down, while forcing Three Turnovers, each of which were an Interception of the inept Trevor Siemian, who managed to complete a ridiculously poor 19-of-41 Passes. Sophomore Cornerback Xavien Howard (38 TKL, 2 INT, 1 TD, 9 PD) was the star of the show, accounting for two of those Interceptions, the first of which he returned Thirty Yards for a Touchdown. The Defense would add two more scores to their portfolio, getting a Safety in the First Quarter, as the visitors’ snap was fumbled out of the End Zone, before closing the game out with another Safety, as Senorise Perry tackled Broncos’ Return Man Isaiah McKenzie in the End Zone when the latter fumbled a Punt Return. With that said, it shouldn’t go unnoticed that the Offense performed against what is still one of the better defenses in the league; the Dolphins rushed for a season-high 145 Yards, led by Kenyan Drake (65 CAR, 320 YDS, 2 TD), who racked up a career-high 120 Yards and a Score on Twenty-Three Attempts. With Jay Ajayi having been traded away to Philadelphia, and fellow Tailback Damien Williams out for at last another two weeks with a dislocated shoulder, expect Gase and Co. to continue to lean heavily on the Sophomore, for this Offense has never been more effective than when it’s been able to lean on the Run. While they were far from prolific in 2016, Miami’s Offensive Success came on the strength of the league’s Sixth-Ranked Rushing Attack (114.0 Y/G), which also averaged a healthy 4.5 Yards per Carry (8th Overall). This year has been a different story, with the Running Game underperforming at 84.7 Yards per Game (29th Overall) on 3.7 Yards per Carry (25th Overall). Furthermore, no team has received fewer Touchdowns from their Backfield, scoring just a pair thus far (32nd Overall), which to put things into perspective is fewer than three different Patriots’ Tailbacks! Though he’s only had a small sample size, Drake has shown good burst averaging 4.9 Yards per Carry, making it interesting to see if he can sustain that explosive ability down the stretch with a heavier workload. Sunday’s win also saw the return of a healthy Jay Cutler (63.9%, 183.7 Y/G, 5.45 NY/A, 15 TD, 11 INT), who missed the previous meeting with New England with a concussion suffered in a 30-20 loss against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. While he was far from great (18-of-31, 235 YDS, 2 TD, 2 INT), the veteran Quarterback, who was signed weeks before the Preseason began, clearly gives this team the best chance for success. While that may not sound like much, the Twelve-Year Veteran was coaxed out of retirement solely on his rapport with Gase, whom he worked with in Chicago back in 2015. That particular campaign was arguably the most efficient of his career, in which he posted his second-lowest Interception Rate (2.3%) and his highest Net Yards per Attempt (6.85), along with a league-best four Fourth Quarter Comebacks. While the two figures certainly understand each other, that hasn’t necessarily translated to success on Offense, where the lack of chemistry between Cutler and his teammates has been apparent for everyone to see. With the likes Jarvis Landry (80 REC, 699 YDS, 6 TD), Kenny Stills (48 REC, 733 YDS, 6 TD), DeVante Parker (36 REC, 414 YDS, 1 TD), and Julius Thomas (37 REC, 362 YDS, 3 TD) in the Receiving Corps, there is no shortage of weapons to utilize, but that lack of chemistry is the prime reason for the Dolphins’ train-wreck of an attack; Miami has averaged just 17.4 Points (26th Overall) on 309.5 Total Yards (29th Overall), while struggling mightily on Third Down with a 33.1% Conversion Rate (29th Overall). It really is a shame that Starting Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season after tearing his ACL during Training Camp, for this was certainly a team that appeared to be on the verge of making the proverbial leap after making the Playoffs for the first time since 2008. Instead, that fateful injury served as the catalyst for their demise in 2017, followed by the signing of Cutler, the disruption to their schedule caused by Hurricane Irma, the insane scandal surrounding former Offensive Line Coach Chris Foerster, and the shocking trade of Ajayi, leaving this year in all likelihood to be looked upon as a season of what could have been for the Dolphins, which mercifully is almost over.