New England Patriots (13-2) @ Miami Dolphins (10-5)
Sunday January 1, 2017, 1:00 EST – Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, FL
Betting Line: Patriots -10
Despite everything Adam Gase is saying, the book makers in Las Vegas aren’t buying what the coach of the year candidate is selling. The mantra all year has been for this team to go 1-0 every week and that hasn’t changed.
Regardless, this is a defense that just registered a season high 90 defensive snaps and got its ass kicked by speedsters at both the running back and quarterback positions. For the Dolphins to be effective, they need to create turnovers. In order to create turnovers, they need the defensive front playing at its peak.
This did not happen on Christmas Eve in Buffalo and, thus, the defense was shredded to the tune of over 500 total yards and 31 points. It would behoove the Dolphins to rest players that have been such dependable stalwarts like Ndamukong Suh, veterans with a lot of tread worn off the tires like Cameron Wake, and the guys that have been mainstays on the injury report like Kiko Alonso and Branden Albert.
I get that it’s a culture thing and I’m all for approaching this week with that mentality. But once the ball is teed up on Sunday, I’d much more prefer that a bevy of backups and youngsters saw the majority of the reps.
Guys like Xavien Howard, Tony Lippett, Neville Hewitt and Laremy Tunsil may be starters, but their limited NFL action should be taken into account and they should be considered full boar to play.
I just don’t see the benefit in playing the veterans who don’t need the extended game reps.
The only way this game makes a difference for Miami is if the Chiefs drop a game to San Diego. Kansas City is heavily favored just as the Patriots are in Miami.
New England needs a win or an Oakland loss to secure the one seed, and with the Raiders playing at 4:25 eastern standard time, the Pats would just as soon lock up home field advantage before the Silver and Black even kickoff.
Because of the uncertainty of what this game will look like, we will eschew the normal preview format this week. Frankly, I have no idea what the Dolphins or Patriots will do. Both teams put together new game plans on a weekly basis and that’s before we even factor in the reserves and their potentially elevated snap counts.
I would look for a few things, however:
1.) Give Kenyan Drake a starter’s workload:
If you’ve been with me the whole year, you know I’ve been singing this guy’s praises. As great as Jay Ajayi has been, he has earned a week off. I think you’re looking at the NFL’s most dynamic tandem in 2017. Put Drake on display, feed him 20 carries and watch him rip off some lengthy runs.
2.) Shuffle the secondary deck early and often:
Can Howard or Lippett play inside? What does A.J. Hendy look like filling in for Michael Thomas? With both starting safeties out, the Pats are likely to shred the Miami defense anyhow, and they can only benefit from trying some new things. I love Bobby McCain inside, but with him, Lippett, Howard and Byron Maxwell all likely back for next year, it would be nice to have a quality backup option inside.
3.) Leonte Carroo, Jakeem Grant and Rashawn Scott:
If they are intent on playing Jarvis Landry, Devante Parker and Kenny Stills, I would active all six and give the backups a healthy workload. I’ve been pining to see what Grant can do all year and I certainly want to see a lot more out of Carroo. Scott was activated over Carroo last week because he’s been a better practice performer and I want to see if he can translate that to Sundays.
This game would normally have been the game of the week. Hell, if Miami had survived in Seattle and mounted the comeback in Foxboro the first time these two teams met, this game would be for the AFC East crown, the number one seed and home field advantage.
But, they did not, and now it’s the most irrelevant game between a 13-2 and 10-5 team in league history.
The one thing that I have quite enjoyed being able to say is that the Pats haven’t won in Miami since 2012.
That’s going to change Sunday.