The NFL playoffs have not yet started, but the New England Patriots are already in postseason mode. Their 7-8 record over the first 15 games has brought them to this point: if they lose against the Miami Dolphins this week, they are eliminated from participating in their tournament and their season is effectively over.
Finding success in this must-win game is imperative, but the Dolphins will be a tough opponent — even with uncertainty surrounding their quarterback position. Miami, after all, is fighting for its playoff lives as well after losing four straight to drop from 8-3 to 8-7.
Needless to say, both teams will be going all-out on Sunday. At least that’s what Patriots captain Matthew Slater is expecting.
“It’s always tough when you play an opponent within the division, twice a year. They don’t care who we are. They never have,” Slater told WEEI’s Arcand and Dondero on Monday. “All the New England Patriot mystique and whatnot that goes out the window when you’re playing divisional opponents. This team has always competed. They get players on their team that compete regardless of the circumstances.
“Obviously, this year, they’re a much improved team. They have a lot of good players, but they still play hard and play for one another. That will be no different this coming weekend. We know it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out situation. ... We expect this is going to be a fight for our lives; they’re going to fight for their lives. We’ll see how it plays out on Sunday.”
The two AFC East rivals have already met this season, squaring off on opening day back in September. That contest went badly for the visiting Patriots, who lost 20-7 behind an offense that could not get out of its own way — a familiar story ever since.
Nonetheless, New England is in a position where it still controls its own playoff destiny. If the team beats both Miami and the Buffalo Bills one week later, it enters the postseason regardless of the other five teams competing for that final wild card spot.
“Obviously, it goes without saying, it’s exciting that we have an opportunity again to control our own fate. That’s all you can ask for in this league,” Slater said. “Things happen the way that they will, especially with the 17-game season. Football’s a crazy thing; the NFL’s a crazy thing.
“We have an opportunity now, and it’s our hope that we’ll take advantage of that opportunity. We’ll see what happens but it starts with having a good week against Miami.”