The New England Patriots will close out the 2021 regular season against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. The Patriots (10-6) have already clinched a playoff berth. Last weekend, the Dolphins (8-8) lost to the Tennessee Titans 34-3, eliminating them from the postseason. That loss also ended their seven-game winning streak.
The Patriots are currently the fifth seed in the conference and still can win the AFC East. They would need a win against the Dolphins, and then have the Buffalo Bills lose at home to the New York Jets. That seems unlikely, but the Patriots would host a playoff game at Gillette Stadium if it happens. Back to this game on Sunday, let’s look at the keys to a victory over the Dolphins.
Mac versus Tua
The quarterback match-up in this one will be interesting to watch. Mac Jones and Tua Tagovailoa know each other well due to their time together at Alabama. Both won national championships in Tuscaloosa, and Jones was Tua’s backup who took over for him when he left to enter the 2020 NFL Draft. They were both taken in the first round and hope to be their teams’ long-term solution at the quarterback position.
Everyone knows about Bill Belichick’s 24-6 record against rookie quarterbacks in his time at New England. Tua is the last rookie quarterback to beat him as he led the Dolphins to a 22-12 victory last December in Miami. He was 20 of 26 for 145 yards and one interception. However, he rushed for two touchdowns, which was the difference in the game. This season he has passed for 2,544 yards with 15 touchdowns and ten interceptions. However, he has struggled at times, and the Dolphins could look to go in another direction under center.
Jones has had an excellent rookie season as he has passed for 3,540 yards with 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while leading the Patriots back to the postseason. If this game comes down to the quarterbacks, I give Jones and the Patriots the edge. That is not a knock on Tua either (I was high on him when he declared for the draft.) He has just struggled this season, and against the Titans, he was 18 of 38 for 205 yards with an interception and four sacks.
Establish The Run
It is no secret that the Patriots like to run the ball. They are averaging 126.1 rushing yards per game, which is sixth in the NFL. The Patriots will try to run the ball with their one-two punch of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson. Harris has rushed for 892 yards and 14 touchdowns, while Stevenson has added 572 yards and five more scores. Brandon Bolden has also rushed for 180 yards as well.
The Dolphins defense is ranked number 15th in total defense and is tenth against the run allowing 108.3 yards per game. Last week the Dolphins gave up a season-high 198 yards rushing to the Titans. D’Onta Foreman accounted for 132 yards and a touchdown, while Ryan Tannehill attempted only 18 passes and threw for 120 yards.
I look for the Patriots to try a game plan similar to the Titans and establish the run early. That could be a problem if Harris is limited this week. He left the game against the Jaguars with a hamstring injury. That was more a precaution as the Patriots had that game pretty much in hand from the onset. Stevenson and Bolden will get most of the carries if he is limited.
Belichick versus Flores
Bill Belichick has won six Super Bowl Championships as a head coach, the most in NFL history. Because of that success, many of his assistant coaches have left to become head coaches. This list includes Nick Saban, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Josh McDaniels, Bill O’Brien, Matt Patricia, Joe Judge, and Brian Flores. Unfortunately, most of his assistants, minus Saban, have struggled as head coaches.
Belichick is 14-12 (including playoffs) against his former assistant coaches/players as a head coach. Brian Flores has fared well against his former boss as he is 3-2 against him. Other than his first game against the Patriots in 2019, in which they were shutout 43-0, they have played them well. They did, however, lose by ten points in the season opener last season in Foxborough.
This game should be a close one as well. With the Patriots still having a chance to win the division, I think Belichick may have something up his sleeve that Flores has not seen before. I will give him the edge to here.
Forget About Past Struggles in Miami
It is no secret that the Patriots have struggled in Miami throughout the years. That includes the years where they won the Super Bowl, and Tom Brady was also under center. In the Belichick era, the Dolphins are the only AFC East team to have a winning record against them, as they are 12-9. They also are seeking their third straight win in the series after winning last December 22-12 in Miami and in Week One at Foxborough 17-16. The Patriots last won in Miami 43-0 in 2019.
The Patriots will need to play well and not let their past struggles in Miami affect them. They still have a chance to win the division with a win and a Bills loss. The Dolphins deserve credit for the season they have had. They won their first game of the season in New England. They then went on a seven-game losing streak and stood at 1-7. Then they reeled off seven consecutive victories to get back in the playoffs conversation until their loss last week to the Titans. They will want to win this game to finish with a winning record and end the season on a high note.
Patriots 27 Dolphins 21
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