The New England Patriots should have a pretty good idea whether
their regular-season finale has any significance in the AFC playoff
picture before the opening kickoff.
Either way, it may mean something to their confidence heading
into the postseason.
After a pair of uninspiring starts, the Patriots look to produce
a better first half of football Sunday when they host the Miami
New England (11-4) fell behind lowly Jacksonville 10-0 in the
first 10 minutes last weekend. Although the AFC East champions
recovered for a 23-16 victory, their slow start the previous week
may have cost them a bye in the playoffs.
The Patriots trailed San Francisco 31-3 at home Dec. 16,
rallying to tie the score but eventually losing 41-34. That leaves
them one game behind both Houston and Denver going into Week
“We’ve got to do a better job,” Tom Brady said Monday during his
weekly appearance on WEEI radio. “We’ve got some pretty important
weeks of football ahead, and that’s when we really need to play our
The Patriots, who hold tiebreakers over the Texans and Broncos
after beating both, could still claim one of the top two seeds in
the AFC if one of those teams loses Sunday. Houston plays at
Indianapolis early in the afternoon.
That result won’t affect the Colts, who are locked into the No.
5 seed, but New England will still be watching the scoreboard.
Denver is heavily favored at home against Kansas City, with that
game happening at the same time the Patriots face Miami.
Even if the chance of a bye is remote, New England may need a
win to secure the AFC’s No. 3 spot if Baltimore beats Cincinnati
early. The third-place team will host the Bengals next weekend,
while the No. 4 seed faces Indianapolis.
All of those scenarios, including the chance of a short week
before a Saturday wild-card game, could affect coach Bill
Belichick’s personnel decisions Sunday.
“You can’t be totally oblivious to the possibilities that exist
out there,” Belichick said. “There are quite a few possibilities.
It’s really hard to be specific on something like that when there
are so many possibilities.”
There’s a possibility New England could have one of its most
important offensive weapons back Sunday. Rob Gronkowski hasn’t
played since breaking his arm late in a 59-24 win over the Colts on
Nov. 18, although he still has twice as many receiving touchdowns
(10) as any teammate.
The Patriots’ top-ranked offense looked sluggish in
Jacksonville, with Brady throwing a pair of interceptions and the
team converting a season-low 23 first downs. New England has gone 6
for 27 on third down over the last two weeks.
Brady blamed the performance against the Jaguars largely on
“self-inflicted errors,” and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels
seemed to agree.
“Certainly, (we) never really got into the game where we felt
like we were going to string together a bunch of drives,” McDaniels
Even though the Patriots have won five straight against the
Dolphins, it’s far from certain that they’ll be able to dominate
Sunday. They gained a season-low 321 yards in a 23-16 win at Miami
on Dec. 2, and they trailed 17-0 at halftime against the Dolphins
at home last season before rallying to win 27-24.
Miami (7-8) would love to avoid a fourth straight losing season
and finish with a third consecutive victory. Coach Joe Philbin’s
team has allowed 13 total points in its last two games, home
victories over Jacksonville and Buffalo.
“We’re building a foundation that is going to deliver excellent
football teams here in the future,” Philbin said. “And it takes
Rookie Ryan Tannehill has gone four straight games without an
interception and has thrown four TD passes over the last two weeks.
The Dolphins also totaled 362 rushing yards in their back-to-back
wins, and Reggie Bush needs only 40 more for his second straight
“Our offense is really getting into a rhythm,” Bush said. “We
hit a low point midway through the season where we were kind of
struggling to run that ball, and I think that really hurt us. I
feel like now we’ve kind of hit that stride where everybody is on
the same page, our chemistry is good, our defense is playing well,
and it feels good.”
The Patriots may want to get a few key defensive players some
rest for the playoffs. Linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee, ankle)
missed last week’s game and cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) was