Game Overview ::
By MJohnson86 >>
- A lot has changed for these teams since they faced in Week 1 where the Dolphins won a tight 17-16 game.
- New England has a chance to win the division with a win and a loss by the Bills.
- Miami has a chance to have back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since 2002-2003.
- New England has a balanced, methodical attack while Miami has a pass-heavy attack that is likely to put a lot on Tua’s plate this week.
How New ENgland Will Try To Win ::
The Patriots have established themselves as a balanced and dangerous offense, ranking top-10 in the league by most metrics in both rushing and passing efficiency. They have a dominant offensive line and use a high rate of heavy personnel with multiple tight ends and/or a fullback. The Dolphins run defense has improved significantly from the poor unit we saw in 2020 and early in this season but is still the easier path to attack them. Mac Jones has been surgical this season with a 67% completion percentage and a solid 7.2 yards per pass attempt. It has been extremely impressive to see him pick up a complex Patriots offense so quickly and make the reads to get the ball to the right spot regularly. The Patriots deploy a diverse set of personnel groups and formations, forcing defenses to adjust and stay on their toes. This makes things easier on both the running game and passing game, as teams are unable to load the box against the run and also forced to respect the two-headed backfield of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson, which gives Jones some easier reads when he drops back.
New England is likely to approach this game with their usual balanced approach and personnel groupings, exploiting weaknesses in the Dolphins (including a run defense that the Titans gashed last week). They also operate at the 5th slowest situation-neutral pace in the league and are unlikely to push the tempo in this game.
How Miami Will Try to win ::
Miami does not own their 1st round pick and has a chance to finish the year with a winning record with a win this week. Head coach Brian Flores is a Patriots disciple so this game will mean something extra to him as well, so we should expect a full effort from Miami (who beat New England in Week 1). The Dolphins are eliminated from the playoffs because of tiebreakers, but this game will still mean something to them. Tua Tagovailoa is not in the clear to be the Dolphins starting quarterback next season, with one last audition to prove himself and keep them from pursuing quarterback replacements via trades and free agency.
Miami is middle of the pack in situation-neutral pace of play and ranks 8th in the league in pass rate. Given all of the rumors around Tua this season and his miserable performance in Week 17, I would not be surprised to see the Dolphins put a lot on his plate and give him one last chance to show what he can do, for better or worse. The Patriots have one of the top pass defenses in the league, which would usually be something that would push the Dolphins to a more run-focused attack, but Week 18 is a different animal and long-term evaluations and plans will likely take precedent over just what may be slightly more +EV for them in the context of this week. While I don’t think the Dolphins will just abandon the run and throw every play, I do think that a more aggressive passing attack that asks Tua to push the ball down the field and make more plays is highly likely.
Likeliest Game flow ::
This game is likely to stay close early on, as the Patriots are the better team and have a balanced and methodical offense while the Dolphins are a respectable team who won’t just let them march down the field repeatedly like the Jaguars allowed last week. As noted previously, the Dolphins may become more aggressive in this game but as long as the Patriots are still playing to win and have all their guys on the field it is unlikely that Miami would be able to turn this game’s tempo up significantly. We should expect another competitive game between these teams, who have both changed and improved in the 16 weeks since they last faced each other. However, there is a chance that the “likeliest game flow” gets disrupted by external influences – that scenario is outlined below….
- The Patriots are currently the 5-seed in the AFC but can win the AFC East and move up as high as the 2-seed if they win and the Bills lose to the Jets.
- If the Bills beat the Jets, the Patriots will be locked into either the 5-seed or 6-seed.
- The Bills are 17-point home favorites and beat the Jets 45-17 a few weeks ago.
- If the Patriots don’t see a difference between the 5-seed and 6-seed, this game may actually mean more to the Dolphins than it does to the Patriots. Bill Belichick has lost key players in meaningless games before, I wouldn’t be surprised with him treating this as a glorified preseason game once the Bills take control of the Jets.
- The Patriots will approach this game like normal, as they can’t let a chance to win the division get away. However, if the Bills perform as expected we can reasonably expect the Patriots to switch gears mid-game with a trip to Cincinnati or Buffalo likely on the horizon for the Wild Card round of the playoffs in just six or seven days.
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