1. Trim the Bush! – Lost in the Patriots recent five-game winning streak and blowouts is the fact that the once-stout run defense in New England been a bit leaky over the last month. New England still ranks 10th in the NFL in run defense, but the unit has allowed its last four opponents to go for better than 4 yards a carry on the way to more than 100 yards for the game. That happened just once in the first seven games of the year. C.J. Spiller was a part of that for the Bills a couple weeks back, and leading Dolphins rusher Reggie Bush is in the same mold in terms of potential playmaking ability. Bush is speedy and quick. He can make people miss and break some tackles. He hit the Patriots for more than 100 yards in their December meeting last year before leaving with an injury. This is a challenge as the Patriots run defense looks to tighten up its fits in the coming weeks heading toward January.
2. Hats, t-shirts and traps – The Patriots are 41-5 since 2001 in the month of December, but three of those losses came in games in Miami. That leaves one to wonder if this could be one of those trap games that pop up on all teams at some point. Brady has had some less than stellar days in Miami, including 10 interceptions in those three losses. Those nightmares aside, though, the Patriots are playing for the hats and t-shirts that Tedy Bruschi used to talk about so often. The fact that New England has something so important to play for could supersede the theoretical idea of a trap game. And New England hasn’t fallen victim to a trap in the second part of the season in a while, not since one of those trips to Miami that turned out sour. Do I expect a stumble by the beach? No. Would I be stone-cold stunned if it happened? Yes. Given history is it a possibility? Sure.
3. Passing chance – In terms of the on-field matchup the biggest mismatch has to be with the Patriots No. 4 passing attack and No. 1 offense taking on Miami’s 26th ranked pass defense. Even without
4. Wake up! – The biggest concern the Patriots have on offense is dealing with the Dolphins pass rush. The unit likes to blitz enough to try to help out the coverage. But even without blitzing, Cameron Wake is a force for the New England front to deal with in his own right. He’s fifth in the NFL with 9.5 sacks and has become one of the more productive, consistent pass rushers in the game in recent years. New England has been very good in protection for most of the year, and has only allowed a single sack in the last four games, even while dealing with injuries to the line.
5. DE-pth – With
6. Net 34 – The biggest thing that jumps off the page to me looking at this game is the turnover ratio for both teams. New England leads the NFL at plus-24. The Dolphins rank tied for 27th in the league at minus-10. That’s a difference of 34 in the most important statistic, other than points, in the game. Tannehill has thrown 12 interceptions and the Patriots have done a good job in the back end taking advantage of mistakes from opposing quarterbacks and receivers. Tannehill, Bush and backup running back Daniel Thomas have all put the ball on the ground multiple times. So while Miami, like most teams New England plays, will probably move the ball they will also probably turn it over. The Patriots have forced multiple turnovers in eight straight games, including four or more in each of the last two weeks. I expect that type of trend to continue against Miami.
There is reason for some fans to have some trepidation about a Patriots trip to Miami, especially in December. Some have said that dealing with the heat in Florida is harder than dealing with the altitude in Denver. That may be even more dramatic given that the Patriots have been practicing and playing in cool or cold temperatures in recent weeks. All that said, the Patriots are clearly the better team in this matchup. If they protect Brady and take care of the ball I don’t see an upset in the making. The turnover issue with the two teams is the key. Sure if Brady has a four-pick game in Miami, there could be a problem. But as well as No. 12 is playing and as little as I think of the Dolphins defensive backfield, I don’t see that happening. In fact I see Brady taking advantage of that secondary to throw the ball early and build a lead. Then things will balance out with the ground game. On defense I expect Tannehill to give the Patriots a couple turnovers as it’s simply hard to expect anything other than that given what New England has done this season. Put it all together and this has the makings of another relatively easy win, something in the range of 33-13 for the Patriots. Hats and t-shirts for everyone!