The Miami Dolphins will finish an up-and-down 2012 season with a trip to New England to face the rival Patriots on Sunday. New England has already wrapped up a fourth straight AFC East title, while the Dolphins can lock in a second place finish with a win or a New York Jets loss.
Having been eliminated from playoff contention last week thanks to a Pittsburgh loss to Cincinnati, the Dolphins have little on the line this week. But a number of players will be looking to make a good last impression before the team enters an offseason that is sure to include some significant roster turnover.
"They've dominated this division for over a decade," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Friday. "So if you can't get excited about playing the best in your division to close out your season, then you're not a professional football player."
When the Dolphins have the ball: Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill could end the season with a bang against New England's suspect pass defense. The Pats are giving up more yards through the air than all but three teams, although their 19 interceptions are fourth in the NFL.
The Pats are much better on run defense, though that is largely because so many teams give up early leads to New England's offense, necessitating more passes to catch up. The Pats only give up 4.0 yards per carry, though, so rush yards from Reggie Bush could be hard to come by.
Bush only needs 40 yards on the ground to surpass 1,000 for the second straight year. He said this week that he would like to return to Miami in 2013 (he'll be a free agent this spring), but he may have played himself out of the Dolphins' price range.
When the Patriots have the ball: The Pats lead the NFL in yards and points, though Miami held New England to its second-lowest point total in Week 13. Tom Brady has already passed for 4,543 yards and 32 touchdowns this season, with just 8 interceptions.
The Pats offense has been bolstered by the emergence of RB Stevan Ridley, who has 1,189 yards on the ground and 10 touchdowns. New England's dynamic TE duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski has been slowed by injuries, but WRs Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd have combined for 2,162 yards receiving with 9 touchdowns.
Though Miami has given up the sixth fewest points in the NFL, its pass defense has once again been spotty at best. Opponents average 264 yards passing per game, and Miami's 16 turnovers are 27th in the NFL.
Who has the edge? If New England were to rest its starters for large stretches Sunday, Miami would have a much better shot at an upset. But the Pats have a chance to secure a first round bye on Sunday, meaning it will be all systems go for Tom Brady, who has put up spectacular numbers against the Dolphins over the past four seasons. This one could get ugly.
The pick: New England 31-Miami 17
Details: Miami Dolphins (7-8) at New England Patriots (11-4)
TV: CBS, 4:25, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Line: Patriots by 10.5
Previously: New England won 23-16 in Week 13