The banged up Patriots take what’s left of their talents to South Beach this weekend for an all-important game against the Dolphins (1 p.m., CBS). Yes, the same Dolphins that some NFL pundits picked to win the AFC East (that New England can clinch with a win). The same Dolphins that were involved in allegedly “bullying” teammates. And finally, the same Dolphins that are now fighting for their playoff lives.
That last point is the only one that really matters anymore. The Pats want that No. 1 or No. 2 seed, and a loss in Miami would put both in jeopardy. The 7-6 ‘Fins are simply trying to get in, and with that on the line, you can expect their best. Here are three things to look for:
Life without Gronk – again
It won’t be all that strange to see the Patriots playing without Rob Gronkowski. He’s missed a total of 12 games dating back to his initial broken forearm last season, and he’ll miss the rest of this season and presumably much of 2014. But the show must go on, so who will star in it? Well, none other than backup tight end Matthew Mulligan! Kidding. But the Patriots could make up for the loss by utilizing the run game. With the return of Shane Vereen, the Patriots have a lethal weapon out of the backfield that they didn’t have for much of this season. Last week’s line of 12 catches for 153 receiving yards and a rushing touchdown may be a preview of things to come. And if Stevan Ridley can get over his “fumbleitis” – a big if, it seems – the Patriots have two extremely talented running backs.
Dolphins seek payback
The last time the Pats and Dolphins played on Oct. 27, the Dolphins left as losers. But if you shut the game off after the first half, you’d be shocked to find that out. Miami held a 17-3 advantage in the first half over the lifeless Patriots. But in the second half, a Dolphins missed field goal sparked a Patriots rally, as New England scored 17 unanswered in the third quarter, and seven more in the fourth Miami doesn’t expect to let up this time.
“If you’re not going to play your best football this time of the year in the position we’re in, what are you waiting for?” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “There’s not going to be any other times.”
Out of the elements
Eighty-four degrees sounds pretty good right about now. That’s what the game-time temperature should hover around Sunday in Miami. New England has been practicing indoors with the heat cranked up to try to simulate that weather. We’ll see if it has any effect.