Chance For The Division Hat & Shirt: Patriots @ Dolphins
This Sunday the Patriots have a chance to clinch the division they have seemingly dominated since Bill Belichick took over as head coach, the AFC East. With a with in Miami the Patriots will clinch the division and try to move closer to pushing for a first round bye. The Patriots must beat the Texans to even have a chance for the bye and have some help from teams playing the Ravens but, lets not get ahead of ourselves.
After the smack down on Thanksgiving night the Patriots got nine days off to prepare for the Dolphins. With extra time to prepare the Patriots always seem to have an advantage. Now the Dolphins always seem to get up for games against the Patriots and they are not in the state of flux that the Jets are. This game might not be as easy as some think. Miami does have some explosiveness on offense and defense than can hold their own. They have beaten Cincinnati and last week had a nice victory over the Seattle Seahawks, who beat the Patriots in Seattle.
First year coach Joe Philbin will have this team ready to play and rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be ready to face a Patriots defense that has improved the last two weeks but now they need to kick it into gear. Take a look at my three keys to victory this Sunday in South Beach:
1) Protect Brady: This may seem like an obvious statement as they need to do this on a weekly basis, but the offensive line has suffered through their share of injuries this season. Logan Mankins has been ruled out again this Sunday and that has the Dolphins defensive line licking their chops. Cameron Wake can get after it and hits hard. Dan Connolly and Sebastian Vollmer also did not practice which could spell a problem for the Patriots. Look for the Patriots to use a lot of quick passes and draw plays to try and open up the field.
2) Keep Blitzing: The Patriots have been blitzing a lot more since the game against the Rams. If they get after the quarterback good things will happen. The game against the Colts they had two interceptions for touchdowns. Pressure on the quarterback will help disguise defensive weakness. The team did not blitz as often early in the season when they were susceptible to deep passing plays which many teams took advantage of including the Jets when the Patriots made Sanchez look like he was still as USC. Brandon Spikes hitting somebody seems to pump up the defense and the move of Devin McCourty to safety seems like the right one. Blitz, and good things will happen.
3) Score Early and Often: In a perfect world the Patriots will score on their opening drive and continue to get great defensive stops. Every team in football is good for a good run. Leaving a team in the game is not what the Patriots need as seen in the loses this season especially to Seattle and Arizona. The Patriots cannot leave points on the board. Kick the field goal if the game is close. Risky play calling is not what this team needs. Let the players make plays and take the points.
The game against the Jets was the perfect example of keeping your foot on the other teams neck. This Sunday if the Patriots score early look for them to continue to try and put the pressure on the Dolphins to make mistakes. Teams down early and down big early will make poor decisions to try and come back and are even more likely to, with a rookie quarterback.
I believe the Patriots will wrap up the division this week with a win against Miami but it will be close for most of the game. Reggie Bush will pull off an explosive play against the Patriots defense and they will buckle down and make a big stop.
Prediction: Patriots 38 Dolphins 27