Week 17 Prediction: New England Patriots vs Miami Dolphins


It’s the last game of the regular season and, as expected, the Patriots are in the playoffs. This game isn’t important – yet. The more important game for New England fans today is the Indianapolis Colts vs the Houston Texans. If the Colts win, the Patriots have a shot at home field advantage and a first round bye in the playoffs. That will make this game important. As such, I have to think some of the more important starters will play rather than being held out for safety reasons.

1. The New England receivers vs the Miami defensive backs

Miami’s defensive backfield begins and ends with Reshad Jones, possibly the best strong safety in the AFC this season. He had a pick-six of Brady last time around, and he’s one of those rare safeties that does everything well. He needs to be accounted for at all times. Chris Clemons isn’t bad either, although that’s mostly due to the superior play of Jones. The corners for Miami are physical, but easily beaten, especially inside.

I think Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, despite being listed as questionable, will both play, and they should both have decent games. Albert Breer and others have reported that Rob Gronkowski has been cleared to play, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s a limited, almost decoy role. Aaron Hernandez, by the way, has not looked good because of his injury. Don’t be surprised if he’s not back to normal until next season.

Edge: New England

2. The New England offensive line vs the Miami defensive line

Cameron Wake is one of the best pure pass rushers in the NFL, although he doesn’t come off the quarterback’s blindside. Nevertheless, he’s one to gameplan around in the run and the pass game. Paul Soliai and Randy Starks are an explosive double team on the inside who open the game up for the linebackers. Jared Odrick, on the other hand, isn’t spectacular.

The Patriots offensive line struggled mightily last time out against this defensive line, largely because of injuries, but there is no discounting the talent here. I wouldn’t be surprised if Sebastian Vollmer gets whipped again, which isn’t really a discredit to him. Dan Connolly will obviously get beat, and again I’ll say that Donald Thomas ought to be starting over him. Nate Solder will probably do well against Odrick, and Ryan Wendell and Logan Mankins need to have a very good game here. The most important thing is that they don’t get injured.

Edge: Miami

3. The New England runningbacks vs the Miami linebackers

Karlos Dansby isn’t having his usual outstanding season, but he’s still a force in the middle and has to be accounted for on every snap. At the strong side linebacker, Koa Misi was out last week, and we might see Jason Trusnik starting instead – strong side runs are a go if that’s the case. On the other hand, Kevin Burnett is doing great as a weakside linebacker and is adept against the run and the pass; he can even rush the passer well.

Despite Stevan Ridley’s fumbling issues, the coaching staff clearly still trusts him. Don’t be surprised if Shane Vereen splits more carries than usual, however. Also, Danny Woodhead should be a red zone threat on wheel routes and over the middle. I hope to see more snaps to Brandon Bolden, as he’s very underrated.

Edge: New England

4. The New England defensive backs vs the Miami wide receivers

Brian Hartline – and I can’t believe I’m saying this – likely needs to be doubled the entire game. Rishard Matthews will be starting over Davone Bess, and he’s not exactly a star. I guess we’ll also see Armon Binns and Marlon Moore, but they’re not exactly difference makers. Far more critical is Anthony Fasano, who will likely make things difficult for the Patriots linebackers (as all tight ends do).

Alfonzo Dennard is out, as is Marquice Cole, and that will make life very difficult for the Patriots defensive backfield. Additionally, Aqib Talib is definitely playing injured. It’s going to be interesting to see how much he plays, and whether Devin McCourty has to play back at cornerback. Kyle Arrington will likely have to play on the outside, and that is awful news for the Patriots. I’d like to see Talib and McCourty on the outside, Arrington in the middle, Tavon Wilson at free safety and Pat Chung at strong safety, but that’s not likely to happen.

Edge: New England

5. The New England defensive line vs the Miami offensive line

It’s time to feast. Jake Long is out, and Jonathan Martin was no good at right tackle, and won’t be good at left tackle. Mike Pouncey is a sorely underrated center (who’s easily better than his brother), but he has to deal with a nosetackle who’s on fire right now. The right side of the line, no matter who plays, is extremely vulnerable.

I look to this game to see how well the Patriots can take advantage of a clear matchup advantage. Chandler Jones should have at least one sack, and he ought to have more. Rob Ninkovich should do very well rushing against Nate Garner, and whoever plays in the middle will likely take up enough blockers for a linebacker blitz. If the Patriots can’t win this easy matchup, then they will have severe problems in the playoffs.

Edge: New England

6. The New England linebackers vs the Miami runningbacks

Reggie Bush is still doing well in Miami, but it’s important to focus on the other runningbacks too, like Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. They’re very different runningbacks, but they way to stop them is the same: plug up the holes and wrap up. As for Bush, the linebackers absolutely need to be aware of the screen.

Luckily, the linebackers are extremely good against the run. Brandon Spikes says he hates playing in the snow, so luckily for him it’s just cold. I don’t know how many of our loyal and appreciate readers have played football in the cold, but the hits hurt twice as much as usual. With New England having three thumpers back there, this will be a long game for the Dolphins.

Edge: New England

The battle up front must be won. Moreover, this game is about heart. I know it’s late in the season, but with the Colts leading (as of the writing of this post), this game is going to matter. They need to play lights out in the defensive backfield as well with the many injuries they’ve sustained. In the end, I still think it will be a close game, but I think the Patriots eke out the victory – hard-fought and well-earned.

New England W, Miami L

You can follow Christopher Field on Twitter @ChrisDField.