South Florida is a lovely place to be in early January, with many Americans choosing to escape the harsh winter and spend time on the beaches. For residents of Miami who follow the Dolphins, December and January are not as fondly thought of as it is usually the time of year when hope has been lost and the football team is playing out the string. Unfortunately for them, nothing has changed this year either. That division rival New England is coming to town, fresh off yet another AFC East title and looking to again secure the #1 seed in the AFC is again hard to take for Miami natives. All is not rosy in Patriots-ville mind you, with the Pats having lost 3 of their last 5 games with, seemingly, another key player getting hurt each week. How Bill Belichick plays this game will be interesting, we already know Julian Edelman will not travel, but the willingness to risk other beat up stars will be interesting to see, with a bye week already secured. For Miami, the focus has already turned to the search for the next Head Coach, finishing the season 6-10 against 5-11 is unlikely to change the mood of the fans. Given the optimism in Miami this season following what was a ‘successful’ Free Agency period, anything short of a division title or play-off appearance was always going to be a massive disappointment. Perhaps the biggest storyline to watch in Miami is whether owner Steve Ross, who has always wanted a ‘statement’ hire, makes a play for Chip Kelly, a big name whose offensive system would, at first glance, fit the skillset of Ryan Tannehill.
Keys To the Game
- Do Miami players care enough? Yes, they are professionals, yes, they are playing for their jobs next year, yes, it is the hated Patriots, but no, motivation is unlikely to be high in Miami where players are going to be as focused on next week’s family holiday as they are on New England. Dan Campbell, who, realistically, must know he is coaching his last game as Miami HC has a heck of a job to do prepping his players for this game.
- Can New England protect Tom Brady? In the last few weeks Brady has been among the most pressured QBs in the entire league, sacked 14 times in the last 5 games and hit a whole bunch more. Given the level of production, it is easy to forget that Brady is 38 years old and the Patriots would like to keep him as fresh as possible as they go into the playoffs.
- How do NE attack the Miami D? The Patriots offense is best described as ‘chameleonic’ – adapting on a weekly basis to suit the opponent. In the first meeting between these two, Tom Brady threw for 356 yards and 4 touchdowns and improving that performance by just 8 yards would see Brady eclipse 5000 yards and 40 TDs on the season. Miami, however, also rank 30th in the league in rush defense giving up almost 130 yards per game. Josh McDaniels might think it prudent to give recently signed Steven Jackson a heavy dose of carries to familiarise himself with his strengths in the Patriots scheme heading into January.
Matchup to Watch
Miami DE’s Derrick Shelby & Olivier Vernon VS NE T Cameron Fleming, Marcus Cannon & LaAdrian Waddle
As mentioned above, New England have really struggled to keep Tom Brady upright the last few weeks as they have been beset by injuries along the offensive line. Having earlier this season lost Nate Solder, Sebastien Vollmer will also be missing this week from the Pats OL and the Miami Defensive Ends will be looking to pad their stats as they look to put good film on tape for the new HC.
Miami always represent a tough matchup in December for New England – of Brady’s 6 losses in the month, 4 have come versus the Dolphins – so a win for the Floridians wouldn’t represent as much of a shock as it might first appear. Despite this, I can’t see past a win for the Patriots here.