New England Patriots (10-2 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Miami Dolphins (5-7 SU, 4-6-2 ATS)
NFL Week 14
Date/Time: Sunday December 11th 8:30 PM EST
Where: Hard Rock Stadium
by Mike M, Expert Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE-11 / MIA+11
Over/Under Total: 47
The Patriots head south to take on the Dolphins for a Monday night matchup with playoff implications as New England can clinch the AFC East with a win or loss by Buffalo and Miami mathematically alive for a Wild Card spot, but needing to win out to have any sort of legit chance of getting in.
All hope seemed to be lost for Phins as they were mired in a five game losing streak after having started the year with a promising 4-2 record, but they were able to snap out their funk with a dominant 35-9 victory against the Broncos last Sunday. This not only ended their midseason slide but was also their first easy win of the season with their previous four coming by an average of 3.5 points per while also providing some hope for the offense as this was just the second time all year that they were able to score 24 points or more in a game and with Kenyan Drakes score in the third quarter only the second time they have rushed for a touchdown this season.
There is little question that the things have not turned out as hoped for Miami fans with the signing of Jay Cutler, but Sundays win marked the fifth of the year for the team with him under center as he continues to give the Dolphins their only plausible chance of winning this season with backup Matt Moore clearly not the answer unless their goal is to tank the season for a better draft pick. Cutler has now thrown for multiple touchdowns in five of his last six games with a TD-INT ratio of 11/5 in those matchups and will be hoping to continue that momentum on Monday against a Patriots team that he has struggled against in limited meetings through his career. The former Broncos/Bears signal caller has lost all three of his previous matchups against Belichick and the Patriots, with none of the games remotely close and New England winning the trio by a combined score of 128-37 and Cutler completing just 59% of his passes while throwing for an average of less than 200 yards per game and for more interceptions (5) than touchdowns (4).
In their last game against New England two weeks ago, it was clear who the Patriots focal point was on the Dolphins with head coach Bill Belichick micd up for the game and constantly heard throughout asking wheres Landry? in regards to Miamis offensive star, Jarvis Landry. In his last six games against New England, Landry has been targeted 64 times (with at least eight in every game) and finished with a combined total of 47 receptions for 523 yards and a touchdown. The increased role of Kenny Stills in the offense may take away some of the attention from Landry, though with the increased disappearance of DeVante Parker (only one catch in each of last two games, zero touchdowns since September) and an inconsistent rushing attack will likely equate to the Dolphins top wideout remaining the central concern of the Patriots defensive game plan.
New Englands defense continues to make their troubled first month start a distant reality with another strong performance last weekend against the Bills, and after having let up 125 points in their first four games (avg of 31.25 ppg) they have since given up a total of 95 points in their last 8 (11.9 ppg). One reason for the Patriots recent success has been the consistent advantage they have been able to gain from field position, with their opponents having started their last 100 drives in a row on their own side of the 50. Just this past week against Buffalo, the Bills had ten total drives and their best starting field position was their own 28 yard line, which came on their first drive of the game off the opening kickoff.
Along with having a potent offense that usually doesnt have many three and out drives, the biggest factor for their field position positivity is the unheralded play of punter Ryan Allen. The former Ray Guy award recipient, which is given annually to the best punter in college football, was signed by the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and after beating out Zoltan Mesko in training camp has had the job all to himself on New England throughout his career. This season Allen ranks 5th in the league with an average yards per return off of his punts of just 5.0 and is also currently second for least amount of punts with 40, which averages out to just over 3 per game.
While the defense keeps churning along and shutting down opponents, the Patriots new backfield continues to impress on a weekly basis. It didnt affect the team in any way last week with Brady not throwing a touchdown pass in a game for the first time since week one of the season as they were able to rely on a stout rushing attack led by Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis. The season started with Mike Gillislee and James White as the major cogs, but after scoring four touchdowns in their first two games Gillislee has all but disappeared and has been a healthy scratch for the last four weeks, while Super Bowl LI record setter White has seen his playing decrease as after having recording double-digit touches in three of the first four weeks he now gone eight straight without getting ten or more in a game.
The Patriots have had the upper hand of late against the Dolphins having won and covered in five of their last six meetings, but at the same time have struggled when playing them in Miami, going just 1-3 in their last four road trips to play the Dolphins. Playing at home has been a clear advantage in their series recent history, with the host team having covered in ten of their last eleven games, though the teams have had opposite success playing on Monday night as while New England has gone 6-2-1 versus the number in their last nine the Dolphins havent covered on the first day of the week since the beginning of the 2009 season with a bankrupt 0-8 record in their last eight.
Losing Rob Gronkowski for a game is never a good thing, but the Patriots have proven they can win without him in the past and despite lacking their star tight end should have little issue getting past the Dolphins on Sunday. With the 11 point spread they are the only team this weekend laying a double-digit number, which is a scenario that has spelled success for them of late with a 9-2 versus the number in their eleven games when favored by ten or more, including just two weeks away against Miami at home when they were favored by 17. I expect that domination to continue this weekend and am picking the Patriots to get their 15th consecutive road win and cover the 11 point line in front of a dejected crowd in Miami still reeling from their Hurricanes getting crushed by Clemson in the ACC Championship game and now having gone back to being the least knowledgeable pro sports fan base in the country.
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