The New England Patriots (11-4) had hoped to possess a first-round bye headed into Week 17.
Instead, they go into their showdown with the Miami Dolphins (7-8) with little idea what their playoff route will be.
The Patriots can still get #1 if they beat the Dolphins and both the Texans and Broncos lose.— Andrew Siciliano (@AndrewSiciliano) December 24, 2012
Even though that good fortune may be wishful thinking, hope is in the Foxboro air.
In Miami, they cannot say the same about their football team in 2012.
The Dolphins can cheer for a .500 campaign at best, which would be a moral victory for Joe Philbin’s staff. They took over a perceived last-place roster and took them out of the cellar.
Miami came out feisty against the Pats in November, giving them all they could handle in a 23-16 loss. This next matchup, though, has much more at stake for New England and a lot less for Miami.
All the TV info and fantasy favorites for this matchup can be found below.
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.
When: Sunday, Dec. 30 at 4:25 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NFL Sunday Ticket
Spread: Patriots (-10), Over/Under: 46.5 (both via Vegas Insider)
Vegas thinks that the Pats will fare much better than their last outing against Miami. New England will need to cover a double-digit spread, which they failed to do last week against Jacksonville.
However, Tom Brady and the Pats' offense should be more focused in this matchup with something to play for. Plus, the Dolphins will be heading into their first cold-weather game of the season.
I try to avoid double-digit favorites, so if a 9.5 point spread pops up I would feel more comfortable taking the Pats.
Injury Report (via CBS Sports as of 12/25/12)
New England Patriots
|CB||Alfonzo Dennard||HAMSTRING, KNEE||OUT|
|TE||Rob Gronkowski||FOREARM, HIP||OUT|
|WR||Wes Welker ||ANKLE||QUESTIONABLE|
Fantasy Big Plays
New England: Tom Brady
For those fantasy owners in Week 17 leagues who were worried about Tom Brady's availability, boy did they luck out.
Brady will be playing for playoff seeding in what is normally a meaningless game for New England. That will lead to some high point totals.
The Patriots' offense sleepwalked through much of the Jaguars contest last week, so their final regular-season game will be a rebound fantasy-wise. Expect a 275-yard, three-touchdown finish at minimum against the Dolphins hobbled secondary.
Miami: Reggie Bush
The Dolphins got Bush involved in a big way against Buffalo, scoring three touchdowns on the day. Expect Miami's lead back to anchor the Miami attack throughout.
Bush is currently in a contract year, so he's trying to pile on the stats before his time as a featured back is over.
Miami will return the favor with an assortment of touches in the receiving game to help Ryan Tannehill ease into a hostile environment.
New England could take an early lead and play a soft defense for most of the game, so starting Bush in fantasy lineup is essential.
Key to Victory
Keeping the Ball Away From Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez
In Rob Gronkowski’s absence, Brady has relied on Welker and Hernandez in most passing situations, as opponents have no answer for them.
Miami could not keep the ball out of those two pass-catchers' hands in their first game, combining for 20 of Brady’s 24 completions on the day.
Welker was especially lethal in Miami, catching 12 balls for over 100 yards and a score.
There’s only so much the Dolphins can do to keep the Pats’ best receivers down with Brady at the helm. They’ll try to use bump-and-run coverage with Sean Smith to keep them from getting into routes and hope the pass rush can get some pressure.
Miami’s DC Kevin Coyle put together a smart game plan against Brady last month; it wouldn’t be a surprise for the defensive mind to have his team keeping touchdowns off the scoreboard this Sunday.
Even so, that’s a lot of uncertainties for the Dolphins to prepare for on defense. And that’s why the Patriots are favored as much as they are.
Division rivals seem to play up to their opponent in their second matchup of the year, so I expect Miami to be a threat to win throughout the game.
However, the will of Tom Brady and this offense will be too strong and eventually break through.
Miami will show promise, but Ryan Tannehill and Co. are not yet ready to slay the mighty Patriots.
Final Score: New England 27, Miami 20
Mike Shiekman is a Breaking News Writer for Bleacher Report.