Monday Night's Game Against the Dolphins is a "Must-Win"

FOXBORO MA - SEPTEMBER 26: Coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots reacts to an official's call in the first half against the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on September 26 2010 in Foxboro Massachusetts. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

When talking football and really any sport, the term "must win" is often used a little bit too loosely.  After all, in professional sports, isn't nearly every game a must-win?  However, every now and then comes a game that can really define a team's season, and either send the team in a positive or negative direction.

This week, the Patriots will travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins on Monday night in their 3rd divisional game in three weeks.  Here are just a few reasons why I think this game can be labeled in the "must-win" category.

  • It's a divisional game, as simple as that.  Following their 38-30 win over the Bills, the Patriots improved to 1-1 in the division.  However, the rival Jets had an impressive victory over the Dolphins and have improved to 2-0 in the division.  This week, they will play the Buffalo Bills, and should improve to 3-0 in the division.  The Dolphins on the other hand, have an identical divisional record to the Patriots.  A loss by the Patriots would likely put them in a two game divisional-hole to the Jets, and would also leave them a game behind the Dolphins.  While those numbers obviously aren't insurmountable, it would be nice if the Patriots wouldn't put themselves in that type of hole early on.
  • Road games haunted the Patriots all year long in 2009, with the team's only real road win coming against an out-of-contention Buffalo Bills team late last season.  Things didn't start well this year either, with the team dropping to the Jets 28-14 in their only road game this year.  A win would help erase the perception that the Patriots can't win on the road, and would certainly give the young guys some confidence.

Two more reasons why Monday's game is a "must-win" for the Patriots after the jump!

  • Speaking of confidence, this week will be a real confidence test for the young defense of the Patriots.  The Patriots were shredded by two of the worst starting quarterbacks in the league in back-to-back weeks.  This week, they'll be going up against an up-and-coming passing attack led by quarterback Chad Henne of the Dolphins.  Henne has some nice targets to throw too as well, including Davone Bess, Anthony Fasano, and the prolific Brandon Marshall.  Bottom-line: if the Patriots' defense, especially the secondary, can show some improvement against the Dolphins, it will give the group a much needed confidence boost.
  •  The Patriots will also be heading into the bye week.  If they can win on Monday, things will look a lot better and the team can have a lot more momentum going into the bye.  Aside from a solid first half against the Bengals, the Patriots defense hasn't looked sharp since.  While the offense had success against the Bills, it was the Bills and that group stalled against the second half against the Jets.  A solid game in all four phases (offense, defense, special teams, coaching) against a team as solid as the Dolphins could go a long way for the team heading into the bye, especially with teams like the Ravens, Chargers, and Vikings on the schedule immediately following the bye.

Overall, I just get the feeling that this game is one that can tell you a lot about the Patriots, whether it be good or bad.  Tuesday morning, I think we'll know what the 2010 Patriots are capable of bringing to the table.

One final thing to consider: if the Patriots win Monday night, they will improve to 3-1.  Essentially, this means that the team couldn't drop below .500 until week eight against the Vikings.  A loss would mean that the team is just .500, and could drop below that mark as early as their fourth game, which is against a physical Baltimore Ravens club.

So, what do you think?  Will week four's game against the Miami Dolphins go down as a must-win for the Patriots?

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