The New England Patriots and the Miami Dolphins head into their 2019 regular season finale with very different reasons to win (or lose) the game.
“Any given Sunday” certainly holds true for the vast majority of the weeks in the NFL regular season.
After all, one need look no further than the 11-4 Seattle Seahawks’ surprising loss to the 5-9-1 Arizona Cardinals last week as proof that even the mightiest contenders are capable of slipping up against inferior competition in the month of December.
That being said, it would be fairly shocking to see a competitive game today between the 12-3 New England Patriots and the 4-11 Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins have been playing well under head coach Brian Flores of late. Despite currently having one of the worst rosters in the entire NFL in terms of talent and experience, Flores seems to be pushing all the right buttons to get the maximum effort and intensity from the players he has to work with.
There’s no better illustration of this than quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the 37-year-old vagabond who is taking snaps under center for his eighth NFL team. Now in his 15th season as a pro, Fitzpatrick has thrown for over 3,000 yards this season and tossed 19 touchdown passes despite playing in only 14 games so far – 12 of which he officially started.
Fitzpatrick also gets the benefit of seeing an undermanned Patriots secondary today that will be down starting cornerback Jason McCourty and key defensive back Terrence Brooks. Though slot cornerback Jonathan Jones is active, it’s fair to wonder just how functional he will be coming off a groin injury that forced him to miss last week’s win over the Buffalo Bills.
Of course, Defensive Player of the Year candidate Stephon Gilmore is still healthy and back there for Bill Belichick, making life miserable for opposing offensive coordinators and their signal-callers. Gilmore may very well feel an extra sense of motivation to try and embarrass Fitzpatrick today and snag another pick or two in an effort to further distance himself from his competition in the race for the NFL award.
For the Patriots offensively, they’ll look to build on their best performance of the second half of this season, which came last week in a 24-17 victory over the visiting Bills. New England’s run game has come on of late, although Sony Michel was a late addition to the team’s injury report with an illness.
Miami has one of the worst defenses in the league though, so this could be the perfect opportunity for Tom Brady and the offense to gain some further momentum and confidence as they hit the playoffs. They’ll need all of it to contend with the likes of teams like the Kansas City Chiefs, Baltimore Ravens, or Houston Texans, all of whom can score points in bunches.
More than anything though, the Patriots will attempt to win the game today to clinch the No. 2 seed in the AFC over the Chiefs. Doing so would net New England a first-round bye, and more importantly some much-needed downtime to get banged-up players like McCourty, Jones, Julian Edelman, Jamie Collins, and others some time to heal up before the Divisional round.