2020 has been the year of the unexpected and with just two weeks to go until we flip the calendar to a new year, it continues to throw curveballs at us. Last night, the Buffalo Bills won the AFC East for the first time since 1995, officially ending an 11-year run of dominance for the New England Patriots.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are trying to keep their slim playoff hopes — they have just a 2 percent chance of making the playoffs, per FiveThirtyEight — alive another week. Their opponent in Week 15, however, has played spoilers before. Likewise, however, New England also has an opportunity for some spoiling — and some payback.
Just under a year ago, the 4-11 Miami Dolphins marched into Foxboro and shocked the Patriots with a 27-24 win to force the team to play on wild card weekend. With the Dolphins currently sitting at 8-5 and clinging on to the AFC’s final wild-card spot, New England has a chance to play spoiler and really make things difficult for Miami heading into the final two weeks of the season.
With that all said, let’s figure out how the Patriots can come away victoriously.
Pressuring Tua Tagovailoa
Bill Belichick improved his impressive record versus rookie quarterbacks to 21-5 two weeks ago after laying a thumping on Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers with a final score of 45-0. Belichick’s Patriots’ will get another shot at a very promising rookie, this time Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa. All week we’ve heard New England praise the first-round pick’s decision making and ability to slow the game down at such a young age; he’s thrown just one interception in his seven appearances this year.
Coming off a rough performance in their second tilt in Los Angeles, getting pressure and making life difficult for Tagovailoa in the pocket will be imperative for the Patriots to have success on Sunday — especially to help an offense that has struggled mightily all year when it comes to putting up points.
This has been a thorn in the Patriots’ side all year long as they rank just 26th in the league in red zone offense. New England is coming away with a touchdown on only 56 percent of the times it enters the opponent’s 20-yard line, and ranks dead-last over the last three games at 41.4 percent.
The Patriots have struggled since the start of the season stringing drives together and scoring points consistently, but we really saw it last Thursday versus the Los Angeles Rams. The team scored just three points in that game and wasn’t effective either throwing or running the ball, particularly in the red area.
Whether it’s getting more creative with the play-calling or dominating at the line of scrimmage as they did two weeks ago, the Patriots will need to start finding the end zone especially versus a team like Miami that can score points in a hurry.
Let the kids play!
I’ve advocated enough for the opportunity to see Jarrett Stidham finally get a start here in 2020. It seems that it may never happen, however, as long as the Patriots are not yet mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Still, these last few weeks should be an opportunity to get younger players more snaps and more experience.
One guy I would love to see consistently targeted, for example, is N’Keal Harry. Harry is coming off his best game as a pro in Los Angeles where he executed a nice double move, went up and won a 50/50 ball along the sidelines. It was something we saw all over his college tape and have been waiting to see it translate to the pro ranks.
Harry is just one example of an expanded role for the younger guys on the team, but getting guys like Kyle Dugger, Dalton Keene, Devin Asiasi, Anfernee Jennings and Josh Uche more snaps over the next few weeks is imperative for their continued development and building the right culture moving forward.
Prediction: Dolphins 28 - Patriots 17