The New England Patriots’ regular season will end the way it started: with an AFC East matchup versus the Miami Dolphins. The Patriots will travel to Florida for the game, trying to improve to 11-6 on the season and get some revenge for a one-point loss suffered on opening weekend.
In order to get some revenge for their 17-16 defeat in Week 1, the Patriots will need to see some quality performances across their roster. The following five players in particular are worth keeping a close eye on, though.
RB Damien Harris
The Patriots’ lead running back projects to play a prominent role yet again versus the Dolphins. While that is no real change compared to every other week, the game in Miami will still be a special one for Damien Harris: he will have the opportunity to exorcise some demons.
The Week 1 loss, after all, happened in large parts due to Harris losing a fumble late in the fourth quarter. With New England down 17-16 but already in field goal range, he allowed Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard to punch the ball out and recover at the Miami 9-yard line. With only 3:31 left in the game, Miami successfully ran out the clock to secure the win.
Harris has been able to put the fumble behind himself. The Patriots will need him to continue playing mistake-free football on Sunday.
G Ted Karras and G Michael Onwenu
Last week’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars saw the Patriots introduce a rotation at the left guard position. Michael Onwenu, who started the year at left guard before being moved to right tackle and eventually the bench, saw some snaps over Karras again.
With their playoff spot already locked up, New England might decide to give Onwenu more opportunities with the starting unit. In turn, it will be fascinating to see how Karras will be used. Sunday could give us an clue how the Patriots’ coaches view the two players heading towards the postseason.
CB Myles Bryant
Dolphins co-offensive coordinator George Godsey and head coach Brian Flores both spent considerable time in New England, and it would not be surprising to see them follow an approach regularly used by the Patriots: find the favorable matchup and exploit it. When it comes to Sunday’s game, Miami might therefore try to put pressure on slot cornerback Myles Bryant.
Bryant has played some solid football this season in place of an injured Jonathan Jones, but he has had some ups and downs — partially due to his lack of experience, partially due to his usage in the Patriots’ scheme. The Dolphins will likely try to make life hard on him, either by matching him up against the speedy Albert Wilson in man coverage or by moving Jaylen Waddle to his side in zone.
S Adrian Phillips
With Kyle Dugger no safe bet to make the trip to Miami — the second-year safety is dealing with a hand injury and missed practices on both Wednesday and Thursday — the Patriots might ask Adrian Phillips to go up against tight end Mike Gesicki this week. Phillips is one of the better box safeties in football and more than capable of winning this matchup, but it still will be a big one for the Patriots.
Gesicki, after all, is the number two target for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Only first-round rookie Jaylen Waddle has seen more passes thrown his way; if the Patriots focus on taking Waddle away, the matchup with Gesicki becomes that much more important.
WR Nelson Agholor
Nelson Agholor was forced to miss the Patriots’ last two games because of a concussion sustained in Week 15, but he should make his return against the Dolphins. Agholor returned to practice earlier this week, but it remains to be seen how much action he will see.
Nonetheless, getting him back onto the field and incorporated into the offense again is a positive development from New England’s perspective. It also will allow the team to use its depth receivers — N’Keal Harry and Kristian Wilkerson — in a more specialized fashion.