Patriots go for AFC East clincher vs. Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins will try to delay what has become a rite of passage in the AFC East when they host the New England Patriots on Sunday afternoon.
Tom Brady and the Patriots (9-3) can extend their own NFL record and wrap up their 10th consecutive division title by completing a season sweep of the Dolphins -- a team they ran roughshod over in a 38-7 romp in Week 4.
Still, despite New England's overwhelming dominance over the AFC East for the past decade, the road to the titles has been a bit bumpy when the Patriots take their talents to South Florida. Miami (6-6) has won four of the past five at home in the series.
"I think the climate plays some role and they always seem to play well when they play us down there," said Brady. "We are not going to get beat by the weather, we're going to get beat by the Dolphins. That is what we realize. We're going up against a good opponent that plays us very well at home. We play them very well at home. It is just one of those series where it is kind of like that."
The Patriots have struggled away from home, splitting six road games and suffering double-digit defeats at Jacksonville, Detroit and Tennessee. Conversely, Miami is 5-1 at home this season and is among four teams sitting one game behind Baltimore for the final playoff spot in the AFC.
The Dolphins entered the first match unbeaten at 3-0, but Brady threw two of his three touchdown passes during a 21-point second quarter as New England bolted to a 24-0 halftime lead and coasted to victory.
"It's not an easy task," Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said of facing Brady. "Our guys have to do a great job of understanding how they're being attacked."
Miami's chances of slowing New England's offense took a hit due to a knee injury to cornerback Xavien Howard, the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week, who is expected to be sidelined for Sunday's game because of a knee injury.
Howard leads the NFL with seven interceptions, including four in the past two weeks. He also picked off Brady twice last December in the Dolphins' 27-20 victory.
"(Howard) is one of our best players if not our best player on defense," Gase said. "If he can't go, we have to make some adjustments."
Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill returned to the lineup on Nov. 25 after missing five games with a shoulder injury. He has five touchdown passes against only one interception in the past two weeks, although he threw for only 137 yards in last weekend's 21-17 home win over Buffalo.
"I feel good. I got hit a few times, but I didn't get dinged up or anything like that," said Tannehill. "My shoulder is not 100 percent, but it is trending in the right direction."
Tannehill hopes wide receiver Danny Amendola will be back in the lineup after sitting out last week's game due to a knee injury. Amendola, who leads the Dolphins with 48 receptions and 469 yards, spent his previous five seasons with New England.
"He wants to play in this game as bad any anybody," said Gase. "I am just trying to make sure we go through the week in the right way where he doesn't put himself in a worse position."
Brady threw for 311 yards in last week's 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings. His lone touchdown pass went to Josh Gordon, who has 30 receptions over the past seven games. Running back James White remains Brady's top target -- he had seven catches for 92 yards against Minnesota to boost his team-high total to 74 receptions.
Brady needs one touchdown pass to break a tie with Peyton Manning (579) for the most in league history, playoffs included. He will need to be wary of Miami defensive end Cameron Wake, who has registered 10.5 sacks in 18 games against New England.
Rookie running back Sony Michel could see a heavy workload against a Miami run defense that ranks 30th in the league with an average of 144.7 yards allowed per game. He had his first 100-yard game in the NFL in Week 4 against the Dolphins, rushing for 112 yards on a season-high 25 carries.
"This is a lot different team than we saw eight weeks ago," said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick. "They've done a good job of playing good situational football. Obviously, well-coached."
Updated December 6, 2018