The Patriots will wrap up the AFC East with a win on Monday.
The New England Patriots are on a roll, shaking off their 2-2 start to win eight straight games and march back into the playoffs. They can clinch the AFC East title with a win over the Miami Dolphins Monday night, with the game starting at 8:30 p.m. ET on ESPN (live stream at WatchESPN).
These teams met only two weeks ago, with the Patriots crushing the Dolphins, 35-17. Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes, two of them going to Rob Gronkowski. However, Gronk won’t be available this week thanks to committing a blatant cheap shot on the Buffalo Bills’ Tre’Davious White in Week 13, earning himself a one-game suspension.
Still, even without Gronk, the Patriots are heavy favorites here. The Dolphins started off the year at a surprising 4-2, but it’s been all downhill from there. They lost five straight games to fall out of the playoff picture, only snapping the losing streak last week with a 35-9 win over the Denver Broncos.
The Dolphins’ season went off the rails before it really began, when Ryan Tannehill aggravated his ACL injury and was lost for the year. They brought Jay Cutler back from retirement to fill in, but it hasn’t gone well, to say the least. Through 10 starts, he has just 15 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, with the Dolphins’ offense often disappearing for long stretches. The good news is that Kenyan Drake looks like a keeper, emerging as the new starting running back after Miami traded away Jay Ajayi.
Meanwhile, Brady is having yet another MVP-caliber year, with 26 touchdowns to four interceptions. His excellence is almost mundane at this point, even at 40 years old. With Brady doing his thing and the defense vastly improving after a rough start, the Patriots have the look of a Super Bowl contender once again.
- Bill Belichick isn’t known for being talkative, but he loves breaking down tape. Enjoy him geeking out about special teams here.
- There are a lot of reasons why the Patriots are 10-2. Having one of the league’s best turnover ratios is a major component.
Despite Tom Brady’s back probably being tired from having to carry the whole dang team for the first, oh, I don’t know, half of the season, he’s still amazingly only thrown 4 interceptions while simultaneously taking more shots 20 yards down the field than ever. Yes, more than 2007. We did the math. So did Pro Football Focus. Everybody relax.
New England’s skill position dudes are also holding onto the ball to an extent that might drive some other AFC fans to start theorizing about deflated balls again – they’ve only coughed the ball up on fumbles that were recovered by the opposing team 4 times all year.
- The Phinsider questions whether Drake is the Dolphins’ running back of the future.
Last week, when I wrote about the top three needs for the Dolphins in the 2018 NFL Draft, I wrote running back as one of those needs. I explained, “The Jay Ajayi trade has made running back jump up the needs list for this upcoming Draft. Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams could be an effective pairing for the team, but Senorise Perry and De’Veon Smith as the depth options behind them leave some question marks. Grabbing a mid-round running back to either challenge for a starting role or provide depth behind Drake and Williams seems to be a requirement.”
Could Drake’s breakout game push running back off the top three list? Does Miami have a running back that can carry the load throughout the remainder of this season and during the 2018 season?
- It’s been a disappointing second season for Adam Gase, but this could be a good thing in the long run.
The other silver lining that comes from having a season like this one is that there will be substantial changes going forward, particularly on offense. Gase is finding out that if you wear too many hats, your head starts to get heavy after a while. I doubt whether he’ll be calling the offensive plays next year; the front office must decide whether to let Clyde Christensen do the job they hired him for or if they’ll have to try and find someone better. In sum, the team wasn’t as good as their record would indicate in 2016 but they’re also not as bad as they’ve looked this year, and with a few reinforcements at key positions, I think we’ll see a much improved Miami Dolphins franchise, on and off the field, in 2018.