David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE
My inner pessimist has been screaming at me lately, and I can't ignore him any longer.
Right now, the Patriots look unstoppable. They are scoring points all over the place, the defense is stepping up and creating turnover after turnover, and even with some of their most valuable starters hurt, New England is absolutely rolling at the moment and playing their best football. Coming off a Thanksgiving night pasting of the New York Jets, the team has enjoyed a long week to rest up, get healthy, and prepare for what has turned out to be an absolutely monster game against the Miami Dolphins this Sunday. The Dolphins, while they have surprised pretty much everyone this year, are still a young, struggling team with a highly suspect secondary that should create all kinds of mismatches for Tommy B.
So why am I so nervous?
Hank has been relatively quiet as of late; he wasn't around for the Bills, Colts, or Jets, although he probably should have been. So why he suddenly decided to show up for a game that the Patriots are in prime position to win is a bit of a mystery. Regardless, I learned a long time ago that he simply can't be ignored, and so I'd better go ahead and get this out of the way now so it doesn't have any negative ramifications come game time.
But Alec, the Dolphins are surprising everyone this year, and they always play the Patriots tough at home!
Shut up, Hank. Yes, the Dolphins do usually represent a tough game for the Patriots, but I actually think that that's a good thing. The past two weeks have been such blowouts that I think a hard fought, close, yet very winnable game would do this team a lot of good as they head into the toughest two games they have left on the schedule. Being able to grind out a hard-earned win on the road against a division opponent is the kind of victory that will give the team the confidence it needs to gain some serious ground in the AFC over the coming weeks. Of course, my psyche and my ticker would be just fine with another blowout, but I also think there are a lot of benefits to another nail biter.
But Alec, the Patriots have struggled against the run recently, and Reggie Bush is having a great year! The Dolphins running game cannot be stopped!
Shut up, Hank. The Dolphins rushing attack absolutely can be stopped. Actually, I think that Sunday is a great primer for the two games following this one; both Arian Foster and Frank Gore are key cogs in their respective team's offense, and if the Patriots are going to keep this winning streak alive, then stopping those two are going to be key. New England should have plenty of opportunities to get its groove back against the run this week; the Dolphins are likely to try and keep Tommy B off the field by controlling the clock, minimizing turnovers, and win the game on slow, methodical drives that lean heavily on the run. If the Patriots can return to their early season form against the run and force Ryan Tannehill to throw, they should not only be in good shape for this game, but for the next few games as well.
But Alec, this game has huge playoff implications! What if the Patriots lose?
Shut up, Hank. This game does have huge playoff implications; if New England wins, they clinch the AFC East. And if I know that, you can damn well be sure that the team knows that as well. Everyone is going to want to bring home another division title, and I don't think it matters who is standing in their way. Sunday represents a great chance to secure a playoff spot and then turn our attention towards locking up a first round bye, and one thing that this team has always done very well at in the past was take advantage of regular season opportunities. And even if the unthinkable happens and they do lose, New England still has a fairly commanding lead in the AFC East; I feel very confident that there's no way that the Pats finish anything less than 10-6 - and that record would mean that the team suffered a fairly serious collapse down the stretch.
Shut up, Hank. When has that ever happened? When have the Patriots ever overlooked anybody? The team has come out looking flat and sluggish in the past, losing games that they have no business losing, but you'll be hard pressed to convince me that those losses came as a result of looking too far ahead on the schedule. I can promise you this: Bill Belichick will have this team ready to play come Sunday. Like I just said, it honestly doesn't matter who the opponent is this week; when there is a win and you're in situation like this, New England will be all business.