The Miami Dolphins will try to keep their playoff hopes alive this weekend when they host the New England Patriots. Kickoff is scheduled for 1:00 EST on Sunday, December 9, at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. The game can be seen in local markets on CBS.
Based on the Week 14 NFL betting odds, the Patriots are 7.5-point favorites on the road. The over/under for the game is set at 47 points.
The Dolphins are virtually playing must-win games the rest of the season. They survived a game with the Bills last week to get themselves to 6-6 and remain in the hunt. However, Miami is still one game out of the last playoff spot in the AFC. There are also three other teams tied with the Dolphins at 6-6. Needless to say, it’s a tight race for the final wild-card spot and the Dolphins need to be perfect the rest of the season to get it.
Unfortunately for the Dolphins, they face a challenging schedule down the stretch. In addition to playing the Patriots this week, Miami will visit the Vikings next week. Even if the Dolphins can stay in the race after those two games, they’ll finish the season with games against the Jaguars and Bills, two teams that would love to play the role of spoiler against the Fish.
Naturally, the Patriots are also playing meaningful games in December. After getting blown out by the Titans a few weeks ago, New England has responded with back-to-back wins over the Jets and Vikings, both by comfortable margins. The Patriots are now 9-3 and can clinch the AFC East with a win on Sunday. However, they are tied with the Texans for a first-round bye and a game behind the Chiefs for the best record in the AFC. The good news is that New England owns a head-to-head tiebreaker with both teams.
Of course, New England will probably have to win out in order to get home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. This week’s trip to Miami and next week’s road game against the Steelers are the biggest stumbling blocks the Patriots will face.
When these two teams met in Week 4, the Patriots won 38-7 while out-gaining the Dolphins by over 250 yards. For what it’s worth, the Patriots have only one win in Miami over the last five seasons. For whatever reason, they’ve struggled when playing the Dolphins away from home. That could indicate that this may not be an easy game for Tom Brady and company.
My gut says to eat the points and pick the Patriots to cover. However, I’m going to side with history in this game. As mentioned, the Dolphins seem to play the Patriots tough at home. Miami also has everything to play for in this game, so I think they’ll play above themselves and at least beat the spread.
While it hasn’t always been aesthetically pleasing to watch, the Dolphins are 5-1 at home this season. To be fair, some of those wins are against teams like the Bills, Jets, and Raiders. However, Miami also has a home win over the Bears, so they’ve proven capable of beating good teams at home.
On a similar note, the Patriots have been decidedly less dominant on the road this year. Obviously, that big loss to the Titans a few weeks ago stands out. But they were also a little slow to get going against the Jets a couple weeks ago. The same is true of away games against the Bills and Bears before that. Another slow start by New England could make it a little easier for the Dolphins to stay within striking distance and beat the spread.
Naturally, Miami’s defense holds the key to the Dolphins having a chance in this game. Statistically, the Miami defense is average at best. However, the Dolphins have forced 11 turnovers over their last four games. If that trend continues, it will surely help the Dolphins stick around. Brady, meanwhile, has already matched his interception total from last season, so he could be a little vulnerable against a ball-hawking defense.
On the other side of the ball, the return of Ryan Tannehill seems to have provided the Miami offense with a little bit of a spark. The numbers aren’t eye-popping by any stretch. But he’s been efficient, completing a high percentage of his passes while throwing five touchdowns in his two games back. The key will be getting more out of Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore on the ground. The Patriots are yielding 4.6 yards per carry this season, so the Dolphins will have a chance to run the ball and control the clock, especially if they can prevent New England from taking an early lead.
Admittedly, there is some risk in going against the Patriots in this game. Miami has been up and down all year whereas New England has won eight of their last nine. But the Dolphins have been good at home this year and will be desperate for a win. That’s enough to make me think Miami can keep this game close and beat the 7.5-point spread.