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Patriots vs. Dolphins preview: New England attempts to end the regular season in style

Related: NFL playoff picture: Are the Patriots headed for another meeting with the Bills?

NFL: AUG 12 Chicago Bears Training Camp Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The New England Patriots locked up their playoff spot in Week 17, but before their first elimination game have one more regular season contest on their schedule. The Patriots will travel to Miami on Sunday to take on the 8-8 Dolphins.

New England will try to get revenge for a tough loss on opening weekend, and to keep its chances at winning the AFC East alive. Let’s take a deeper dive into the Dolphins, though.

Welcome to Week 18.

Offense

Points scored: 19.3/game (24th)

Yards gained: 307.6/game (25th)

Passing offense: 389-for-593, 3,548 yards, 20 touchdowns, 14 interceptions, 0.017 EPA (21st), 2.1% DVOA (22nd)

Rushing offense: 399 carries, 1,373 yards, 3.4 yards/attempt, 11 touchdowns, -0.192 EPA (31st), -27.1% DVOA (31st)

The Dolphins offense has had its issues this season, with neither the passing game nor the rushing attack proving to be particularly productive. The ground attack in particular has struggled, which in turn should give New England’s run defense another good opportunity to find its groove after a series of disappointing games earlier in the year.

Defense

Points against: 21.8/game (16th)

Yards given up: 334.9/game (15th)

Passing defense: 353-for-578, 3,626 yards, 22 touchdowns, 13 interceptions, -0.015 EPA (7th), -0.1% DVOA (9th)

Rushing defense: 398 carries, 1,733 yards, 4.4 yards/attempt, 14 touchdowns, -0.058 EPA (20th), -10.5% DVOA (13th)

Miami’s defense is a middle-of-the-pack unit in scoring and yardage, but it has looked solid in one particular area: the team is strong versus the pass, as evidenced by its EPA and DVOA figures. The team’s run defense has not been as stout, though, which should give the Patriots an opportunity to do some damage on the ground and keep the team out of unfavorable passing matchups.

Week 1 at New England Patriots: W 17-16

Week 2 vs. Buffalo Bills: L 35-0

Week 3 at Las Vegas Raiders: L 31-28 (OT)

Week 4 vs. Indianapolis Colts: L 27-17

Week 5 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: L 45-17

Week 6 at Jacksonville Jaguars: L 23-20

Week 7 vs. Atlanta Falcons: L 30-28

Week 8 at Buffalo Bills: L 26-11

Week 9 vs. Houston Texans: W 17-9

Week 10 vs. Baltimore Ravens: W 22-10

Week 11 at New York Jets: W 24-17

Week 12 vs. Carolina Panthers: W 33-10

Week 13 vs. New York Giants: W 20-9

Week 14: Bye

Week 15 vs. New York Jets: W 31-24

Week 16 at New Orleans Saints: W 20-3

Week 17 at Tennessee Titans: L 34-3

The Dolphins became the first team in NFL history this season to achieve both a seven-game losing streak and a seven-game winning streak in the same year. Miami started its campaign with a narrow win over the Patriots, followed by seven straight defeats. The last of those losses, in Buffalo, did see the team show some marked improvements, however.

The following week, Miami returned to the win column. The Dolphins would not leave it for the next seven weeks to claw their way back into playoff contention. The team even briefly reached the seventh seed in the AFC after Week 16, but was not just dropped out of the playoff picture due to its 34-3 loss in Tennessee but disqualified entirely.

With the NFL adapting its Coronavirus protocols to reduce quarantine to five days regardless of vaccination status, it is possible that players sent to the appropriate reserve list are eligible to return ahead of the game. Miami currently has two players listed on the Covid-19 list; they are listed in italics.

Offense

QB Tua Tagovailoa; RB Myles Gaskin; WR Jaylen Waddle*, WR DaVante Parker; TE Mike Gesicki, TE Durham Smythe; LT Liam Eichenberg, LG Austin Jackson, C Michael Deiter, RG Robert Hunt, RT Jesse Davis

*rookie

The Dolphins have an impressive assortment of talent at the skill positions, with Jaylen Waddle and DaVante Parker forming one of the better wide receiver duos in the league. Mike Gesicki, meanwhile, is a premier tight end; Myles Gaskin is a dual-threat running back who is ranked second on the team behind Waddle in yards from scrimmage. The main issue for the Miami offense is the play up front: the team’s offensive line has been up and down all year.

Defense

DE Emmanuel Ogbah, DT Raekwon Davis, DT Christian Wilkins; LB Jerome Baker, LB Andrew Van Ginkel, LB Elandon Roberts; CB Xavien Howard, CB Byron Jones; DB Eric Rowe; S Brandon Jones, S Jevon Holland*

*rookie

Miami has serious talent on all three levels of its defense. The defensive line has been disruptive, with Emmanuel Ogbah notching a team-high 5.5 sacks; the linebackers are an experienced group including ex-Patriot Elandon Roberts; the secondary is led by three-time Pro Bowler Xavien Howard and an emerging cast of safeties. All in all, the Dolphins defense has been serviceable this year and a main catalyst behind Miami’s seven-game winning streak.

Specialists

K Jason Sanders, P Michael Palardy, LS Blake Ferguson; KR Jaylen Waddle*, PR Jevon Holland*

*rookie

Led by one of the best place kickers in the league, the Dolphins’ special teams group is solid all around. The return game, however, has been somewhat of a concern: Miami is averaging only 17.2 and 6.6 yards per kickoff and punt returns, respectively. For comparison, the team’s opponents are gaining 20.6 yards on kickoffs and 8.6 yards on punts.

QB Tua Tagovailoa: Tagovailoa’s long-term outlook as Miami’s franchise quarterback remains the subject of speculation, but the former first-round draft pick has had a solid sophomore season so far. Starting 11 games, he has completed 67.8 percent of his passes for 2,544 yards as well as 15 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also has carried the football 25 times for 100 yards and three additional scores. Tagovailoa’s biggest issue has been ball security: on top of his 10 interceptions he also fumbled the ball nine times, even though only one was recovered by the opposing defense.

WR Jaylen Waddle: A former teammate of both Tagovailoa and Patriots quarterback Mac Jones at the University of Alabama, Waddle has been the Dolphins’ WR1 ever since joining the team in the first round earlier this year. Through 15 games so far this season, he has caught 99 passes for 988 yards and five scores. Waddle, who lines up all over the formation, has also added another touchdown as a runner.

LB Jaelan Phillips: The Dolphins’ second first-round pick this year has also had a quality campaign so far. Selected 18th overall this year, Phillips is ranked second on the team with 8.5 sacks. Despite being on the field for only half of the team’s snaps every given week, the situational pass rusher has proven himself a disruptive player up front — and perfect complement to fellow edge defender Emmanuel Ogbah.

CB Xavien Howard: New England’s J.C. Jackson leads the league with 25 interceptions since his arrival in 2018. Second on that list is Xavien Howard, who has caught 22 of them. This season, Howard has picked off four passes in 15 games. While that number is low compared to his output in previous seasons, he remains a playmaker for Miami: he has forced and recovered two fumbles each, and has scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery. Howard also has a sack to his name.

Head coach: Brian Flores

Coordinators: Eric Studesville/George Godsey (offense), Josh Boyer (defense), Danny Crossman (special teams)

The Dolphins have plenty of Patriots connections on their coaching staff, led by head coach Brian Flores. A long-time assistant in New England, including as the team’s defensive play-caller, Flores took over the Miami job in 2019 and has since registered a 3-2 record against his former boss, Bill Belichick.

The Patriots ties run deeper than Flores, though. Co-offensive coordinator George Godsey spent time in New England, as did defensive coordinator Josh Boyer. The same is true for coaching assistant and former NFL safety Steven Gregory.

The Patriots and Dolphins have met 112 times so far, with three of the meetings taking place in the postseason:

  • Patriots wins: 54 (2 playoff wins)
  • Dolphins wins: 58 (1 playoff win)

Rivals since the 1960s, the Patriots and Dolphins have played some memorable games over the years — from the “Squish the Fish” AFC Championship Game in 1985, to the “Miami Miracle” during the 2018 regular season. The most recent meeting has not fallen into the same category, but it was still a noteworthy one from New England’s perspective: Mac Jones’ first start as the team’s new quarterback.

The Patriots lost that game on opening day with a final score of 17-16, in large part due to a fourth-quarter fumble by Damien Harris while well within range for a game-winning field goal. As a result of the loss and the one suffered in December 2020, New England has now lost back-to-back games against the Dolphins for the first time since the 2013/14 seasons.