Miami Dolphins (7-8 SU, 7-6-2 ATS) vs. New England Patriots (11-4 SU, 8-6-1 ATS)
NFL Week 17
Date/Time: Sunday, December 30, 4:25 p.m. EST
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Massachusetts
TV: CBS/DTV 713
by Vesper Abadon, Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: Mia +10/NE -10
Over/Under Total: 49.5
Don’t expect the New England Patriots to rest their starters on Sunday because they have a lot to play for in their last game of the regular season. They can clinch home-field advantage if they win and both the Denver Broncos and Houston Texans lose their matchups; furthermore, they can clinch a first-round but if they win and either the Texans or Broncos lose. Rest assured they’ll do what they can to make any of those scenario happen, but all three have a common dominator-they must win.
On the flip side, the 7-8 Miami Dolphins have been eliminated from Playoff contention, but that doesn’t mean they won’t put up a fight. On the contrary, the young squad looks to take some momentum into the offseason by finishing at .500, an impressive feat for a team in their first year of rebuilding. If they can’t make the postseason, the Fins will do their best to make their division rival’s path as difficult as possible.
With that said, the Patriots enter the game as the heavy favorites. They boast the best offense in the NFL, averaging 426.9 yards per game (YPG) of which an average of 292.4 YPG come through the air and 134.5 YPG on the ground. That’s good enough to give them the 4th-best passing game and 8th-best rushing attack in the league.
Regarding the former, Tom Brady has shown once again that he’s one of the league’s elite quarterbacks going 379 of 601 for 4,543 yards, 32 touchdowns and just eight interceptions-good for a 98.3 rating. Brady’s favorite target has been the ever-consistent Wes Welker, who has 110 receptions for 1,260 yards (11.5 Avg) and five touchdowns, though Brandon Lloyd has stepped up as of late with 73 catches for 902 yards (12.4 Avg) and four touchdowns. While both those men have been excellent red zone options, they still don’t hold a candle to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has 53 receptions for 748 yards (14.1 Avg) and ten scores. Unfortunately Gronkowski has been out with injury (forearm/hip) in recent weeks, and his status for Sunday is probable. With so much on the line, Gronkowski will likely be eased back into the lineup, though Aaron Hernandez will likely shoulder the majority of tight end duties.
Speaking of having ten touchdowns, second-year running back Stevan Ridley has that on the ground on the way to carrying 270 times for 1,189 yards (4.4 Avg). For the past decade, the Pats have had trouble establishing an effective run game, but it looks like they’ve finally solved that problem. Toss in Danny Woodhead, Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden in supporting roles, and the Pats’ backfield is one of the more formidable in the league.
While the Patriots’ offense is a well-oiled machine, their defense is far from it. They allow an average of 381.1 total YPG, which includes 275.5 passing YPG and 105.5 rushing YPG, and that gives them the lowly 28th-ranked defense in the league. On the other hand, the Dolphins are ranked 18th in the NFL and outshine their division rivals on the defensive side of the ball. They allow an average of 351 total YPG, which includes 246.5 passing YPG and 104.5 rushing YPG. It’s a small difference, but even the smallest translates into a slight edge.
Unfortunately the Dolphins, who’re ranked 26th with an average of 315.2 YPG, are far outclassed offensively. Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been giving it his best, but he is still experiencing growing pains. Tannehill, who leads the 26th-ranked passing game, has went 262 of 449 for 3,059 yards, 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, which gives him a respectable 76.9 rating. Most of his passes have went to either Brian Hartline or Davone Bess, the former with 69 receptions for 1,014 yards (14.7 Avg) and the latter 61 catches for 778 yards (12.8 Avg). Surprisingly, both men have just one touchdown catch apiece. Hartline will look to finish the year strong prior to hitting the open market (though the Dolphins will likely try to resign him), but Bess, who has missed the last two games with a back injury, is questionable as to whether or not he’ll see action.
Likewise, Reggie Bush, who has carried 219 times for 960 yards (4.4 Avg) and six touchdowns, will be a free agent after this season. He’ll likely be playing his last game as a Dolphin on Sunday, and he’ll no doubt have his eyes set on crossing the 1,000-yard mark. Bush had a huge game in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills, which boosted the Fins to 13th overall in the run department, so look for him to utilize that momentum.
Vesper Abadon’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: The last time these two teams met was a few weeks back on December 2 when the Pats defeated the Fins in a 23-16 victory to clinch the AFC East title for the fourth consecutive year-it was also the fifth consecutive time the Pats defeated Miami. The question on Sunday will not be whether or not they make it six in a row, but whether or not they’ll do it while covering the spread.
Ten points is a big line, especially against a team like the Dolphins who’re notorious for keeping it close. I believe the Dolphins will do just that in the first half, but the Patriots will keep the pressure on and pull away in the second. They’ve got a lot to play for and are in a must-win situation to improve their lot in the Playoffs-the Dolphins don’t have near as much motivation. I also think the South Florida team, who’re accustomed to nice weather, will have difficulties keeping pace with Brady and company in the tough Northeastern winter conditions. It’s not with the utmost confidence, but if I had to choose I’d bet the Patriots.
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