New England Patriots (12-3 SU, 7-5-3 ATS) vs. Miami Dolphins (5-10 SU, 4-11 ATS)
Pro Football Week 17
Date/Time: Sunday, January 3rd, 1:00 PM EST
Where: Sun Life Stadium
By Mike M., NFL Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: NE-10 / MIA +10
Over/Under Total: 47.5
The Patriots and Dolphins will face off in Florida for a final week of the season showdown of two teams having near opposite seasons., as with a win the Patriots will secure the number one seed and home field advantage for the playoffs while a loss for Miami would end their season at 5-10 and more than likely secure a top five selection in the upcoming NFL draft.
The 2015 season can not end quick enough for Dolphins fans, their seventh straight year without a winning a record. Offensively they never found their identity or any sort of consistency and even after a coaching change still couldnt find a way to utilize their best offensive weapon, running back Lamar Miller, who still managed to gain 1,200 yards of total offense and score eleven touchdowns despite never getting more than twenty carries in a game once all season. The team ranks 27th in the NFL in yards per game and points per game, and the latter certainly isnt surprising considering they only scored over 20 points three times this season.
While Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been given a lot of the blame for the offenses lack of fluency, his stats on the year say otherwise. He will eclipse the 4,000 yard passing mark against New England on Sunday and though his 22 to 12 touchdown-to-interception ratio doesnt raise many eyebrows for greatness, he has played his best inside the red zone (13/3 TD-INT ratio) and has improved his accuracy significantly in the second half the season (9/3 TD-INT ratio). He will hope to continue to build upon the growing rapport with second year wide receiver and burgeoning superstar Jarvis Landry, who last week set an NFL record for most receptions through a players first two seasons with 188. This year Landry has 104 catches on the season for 1,085 yards and five total touchdowns and became the youngest Dolphin since Mark Clayton (not his fellow Marks Brother Duper) in 1984 to gain 1,000 yards receiving in season. If rookie receiver DeVante Parker can continue to improve as he has throughout this season, Miami could have a decent set of skill position players with Miler/Landry/Parker/Tannehill to build around for some much needed success in the near future.
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The defense for the Dolphins was expected to be one of the leagues better in 2015, but instead didnt come close to meeting expectations as they ranked 27th in yards allowed and a horrendous 30th against the run, which is all the more glaring considering what they gave Ndamukong Suh to be their anchor (6 years/114 million, 60 million guaranteed) and what little he has given them in terms of leadership and on the field production. This contractual blunder will only hurt worse next season, as Suhs hit against the salary cap goes from 6.1 million in 2015 to 23.5 million in 2016. Investing heavily long-term on a player known for having character issues is never a good solution to fixing recent issues with winning, and that sort of logic is one of the focal reasons why the team is missing out on the playoffs this season for the 14th time in the past 15 years.
Whereas the Dolphins have struggled to get into the postseason of late, the Patriots have had no such issue. This is the sixth straight season that New England has earned a playoff bye (NFL record) and if they secure the number one seed on Sunday it will be the sixth time since the current playoff format began in 1990 that they will head to the postseason tops in their division (also an NFL record).
The Patriots will be looking to rebound from a tough 26-20 overtime loss to the Jets, thanks in part to already beaten into the ground coin toss mishap in which they won the toss but elected to kickoff. While much has been made about Belichicks decision to rely on his defense to start overtime, since the new OT rules began in 2012 teams that receive the ball to start overtime have won just 51.5 percent of the time, not nearly the overwhelming advantage that many proclaimed it to be. What matters more is how lethargic the offense looked throughout most of the game as they never found much fluency, whether due to some questionable play calling that included three trick plays in a row that stalled a drive at midfield or another disastrous injury to their offensive line, this time to Sebastian Vollmer who was filling in at left tackle for starter Nate Solder.
No matter how many injuries they suffer, the Patriots will need to find a way to overcome that adversity and get settled in time for the playoffs. After a 10-0 start to the season they have gone just 2-3 since, and despite having a near league leading 30.2 points per game average, they have scored over 30 points just once in their last eight games as the multitude of injuries has clearly affected their once potent offense. They will need to gameplan accordingly to work around their inadequacies if they hope to get back to their prolific point scoring ways from September and October. With Edelman and Amendola still expected out with injuries, Tom Brady will have to be at the top of his game and will be hoping to avoid a continued struggle when playing in Miami, as Brady and the Patriots have lost their last two road games against their divisional rival and while Brady does have a decent overall record against the Dolphins (19-8), seven of those losses have been away from the friendly confines of Foxboro Stadium.
With Denver and Cincinnati both favored to win this week, the Patriots know they have little margin of error when it comes to getting a victory in Miami to close out the seaoson and there isnt much reason to think they wont get that done in convincing fashion against a Dolphins team that has only gotten worse as the season has progressed, having won just one time in their last six games. They also went 0-6 against the spread during that span, which should come as no surprise to gamblers who have seen them sport a versus-the-line record of 5-16 in their last 21 games overall, 3-13 in their last 16 against the AFC and in terms of this weeks game against the Patriots, 0-10 against the AFC East in their last ten divisional matchups. The Dolphins collapse will continue on this week, as Belichick, Brady and the Patriots get a win and cover on the road to put them in a great position for a strong run at their second straight Super Bowl title.
Mikes Pick to Cover the Point Spread: New England -10
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