The New England Patriots can secure a first-round bye if victorious over the Miami Dolphins.
The New England Patriots took care of business last Saturday by defeating the Buffalo Bills 24-17, and in the process, clinched the AFC East division for the 11th straight year and the 17th total season during the Tom Brady and Bill Belichick era.
Usually by this point in the season the New England Patriots have already claimed their playoff spot, and the final two games of the season against their division rivals are typically meaningless affairs… but not this year.
The Patriots needed to defeat the Bills and their top-ranked defense to clinch the AFC East. But they also need to defeat the Miami Dolphins this week to secure themselves a first-round bye in the playoffs.
For the past week, we have heard Coach Bill Belichick refer to these last two games of the season as “playoff games.” The great coach talked about it to his players postgame in the locker room last week, per video from the team’s official website:
"“Look, this is very simple now. Miami is a playoff game. If we beat Miami, then we get a bye. If we don’t, then we’ll be playing the next week. So, it’s a playoff game. We got to be ready to go here. We need our best week. Keep building on what we’ve been building here, and keep this thing rolling.”"
It seems to be the norm for the New England Patriots to struggle against the Miami Dolphins. Up until Week 2 of this current season, the Pats had lost four of their last five games in Miami. Uncharacteristic variables occur for the Pats when they play the Dolphins, such as the “Miami Miracle” that happened just last season.
Most of this regular season finale will be on the shoulders of the defense, as the unit has carried the Patriots all season long. But a lot of it will also come down to Tom Brady and how he can conduct his offense just well enough to secure the victory and earn a the first-round bye.
Here’s another quote from Belichick, this time courtesy of ESPN’s Mike Reiss, that addresses Brady and the importance of the offense specifically in Week 17:
"“Certainly with Tom having the ability to orchestrate a lot of things on the field, that’s a big plus, too. I think we’ve all seen Tom play a lot of his best football in the most critical games of the year, in the most critical situations in those games.”"
As the regular season comes to an end, we’re starting to see the Patriots come together and form their identity as they head into the playoffs. Tom is showing more trust in his young receivers, the running game is improving, and the defense is still standing tall. If the Patriots can earn a win over the Dolphins, the playoffs will once again go through New England – at least until the AFC Championship Game potentially.