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Week 17 Patriots vs Dolphins Instant Analysis and Observations: Conservative Patriots Limp into Playoffs

The New England Patriots have lost to the Miami Dolphins with a final score of 20-10. Here is what we learned.

Quarterback Tom Brady looks exhausted

He's no longer fired up on the sidelines and it seems like he's accepted the fact the offense is in shambles. His receivers are unavailable, or just not talented enough. He's getting battered every other time he drops back. After every drive, Brady seemed to slump back towards the sidelines. Instead of getting in the face of his players, he seems to just exhale on the bench. Maybe he's waiting; he understands that health is more important than winning at this point in the year. But his energy on the sideline is worth noting.

The offensive line is worse than 2014

I don't think that's too much of a claim. This line is worse than the unit from weeks 1 through 4 of the 2014 season. The tackles are bad, the guards are bad, and the centers are bad. Across the board. Marcus Cannon almost broke Tom Brady's ankle early in the game, Shaq Mason, Tre Jackson, and Josh Kline are beaten by the simplest of combinations and strength, and Bryan Stork just seems uncomfortable with his linemates. The return of Sebastian Vollmer will help, but this unit is serious trouble for the Patriots postseason hopes.

Everyone is hurt or not talented enough

Julian Edelman didn't suit up. Danny Amendola didn't play every snap. Brandon LaFell was clearly limited and doesn't fight for the ball. Keshawn Martin doesn't have the same feel for the open field as Edelman. Rob Gronkowski was staying away from most routes that required huge contact. Scott Chandler has been a bust. Steven Jackson and Brandon Bolden aren't bellcow backs, especially behind such a weak offensive line. James White isn't versatile enough to warrant more snaps or touches.

This isn't the playoff offense

But keep in mind that Edelman will suit up in the playoffs, Amendola and Gronkowski will be 100%, and LaFell will drop back to being the 4th receiving option in the offense. This makes the offense all-the-more dangerous as the quick-passing attack can return, which should open up softer zones for the running backs. What you see now isn't what you will get.

The defensive front really missed Dont'a Hightower and Chandler Jones

Linebacker Jamie Collins seems to be recovering from his midseason illness as his tackling technique isn't at his typical level. Jerod Mayo is a fine #3 linebacker, but he definitely lacks some sideline-to-sideline ability. The defensive front missed both Jones and Hightower in the run game, but also in generating pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

Akiem Hicks is a monster

While he's currently on a rental contract, Hicks has quickly become one of the most imposing forces on the Patriots defense. He groups with Malcom Brown and Alan Branch to offer a seriously fearsome interior. Hopefully he'll be willing to stick around to provide a young three-headed monster with Brown and Dominique Easley, with Branch as the savvy veteran.

Leonard Johnson isn't Justin Coleman

For two straight weeks, opposing quarterbacks have actively targeted Johnson in coverage. Justin Coleman isn't a world beater, but he offers speed that Johnson lacks; teams are trying to send receivers facing Johnson deep because the Patriots defensive back can't recover.

Devin McCourty wasn't 100%

That was very clear- the Patriots free safety has been battling an ankle sprain and he was unable to fully plant and change direction with his coverage. He was a step late on some of his breaks- and these were breaks that he would normally make without hesitation. Hopefully he'll continue to recover over the bye week.

The Patriots didn't clinch homefield advantage, but they didn't suffer injuries

If a loss was the cost to survive a week without an injury, the Patriots were willing to pay the price. Tom Brady escaped a scare when Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh bent the quarterback like a pretzel. Brady hobbled around for a bit after the contact. Safety Patrick Chung was shaken up with his hip injury, but jogged off the field. No player suffered a major setback.

We're on to the bye week.