The Miami Dolphins get riled up for division meetings, but nothing feels sweeter than spoiling the New England Patriots’ postseason positions. Miami has had New England’s number more times than not in recent years when the two face off in the final weeks of the regular season.
What’s at stake for New England
On Sunday the Patriots (12-3) are playing for a first round bye. They already cannot clinch the number one seed, as the Baltimore Ravens (13-2) have clinched and hold the tiebreaker. New England needs a win and it’ll be in, but a loss and a Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) win will bump the Patriots into playing in Wildcard Weekend as the third seed. In a season full of struggles and injuries for the Dolphins, a sneaky sly smile will likely be seen on player’s faces on Sunday.
Miami upsets in recent seasons
The Miami Miracle likely comes to mind as Miami’s (4-11) most recent upset of New England. Scoring the game winning touchdown, on the play heard around the world according to commentators, with no time remaining on the clock to win 34-33 last season still has fans buzzing one year later.
In December 2017, the Dolphins won the second meeting of the two that season in upset fashion on Monday Night Football. Cornerback Xavien Howard had two interceptions that game, so Patriots quarterback Tom Brady will find a small sigh of relief knowing Howard won’t play due to being on season-ending injured reserve.
January of 2016 also delivered a Miami upset over New England in week 17. The Patriots were set to lock up the number one seed playing an “easy matchup” against a “depleted Dolphins team” that week, according to commentators, but that depleted Dolphins team had other ideas. Miami held New England to just 10 points in the 20-10 upset in yet another statement NFL upset in the team’s rivalry.
Dolphins’ draft pick is on the line
After starting 0-7, the Dolphins are playing for something on the complete opposite side of the spectrum than New England. Miami currently holds the fifth selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, and could climb as high as second and fall as low as ninth depending on the results of multiple games in the NFL on Sunday. But, as head coach Brian Flores has said all season, the Dolphins are out on the field to win games.
“My thoughts (are) on the tough opponent we have this weekend,” Flores said. “Offensively – being efficient offensively, running the football and trying to move it against what’s a very, very good defense. Defensively, obviously it’s a great quarterback, good backs, good o-line, good receivers, so just how we’re going to handle those guys and then obviously the kicking game; this is one of the best special teams units in the league, so that’s where my thoughts were.”
MVP Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead Dolphins in finale
Voted the Most Valuable Player for Miami this season, QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will lead the Dolphins in the final game of his 15th season. With many thinking Miami will select a QB with one of their three first round picks in 2020, his time as the Dolphins’ starter could be numbered.
“I’m humbled by it,” Fitzpatrick said. “It’s awesome. I think again, it’s something that we’ve worked through a lot of adversity this year and to be a guy regarded as that by whoever it was that voted for it, I’m proud.”
With that being said, Fitzpatrick’s completion percentage this season (61.4-percent) is higher than his career average (60.2-percent) and he has 19 TDs on 3,209 yards. He has six more scores than interceptions this season and has been the starting QB in each of the Dolphins’ four wins so far this season.
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“Obviously it’s (New England) a very good team. It’s a good atmosphere. They really know and love their football up there. It’s a place where you’re going to have to be at your very best. You’re going to have to deal with all of the elements of playing on the road. There is going to be plenty of adversity,” Fitzpatrick said.
DeVante Parker eyeing double-digit TDs in record season
He will be looking for wide receiver DeVante Parker again in the team’s attempt to foil New England. Parker already has his first 1,000-yard season this season, currently sitting at 1,065, and is one TD away from double digit scores for the first time in his career. Parker’s pairing with Fitzpatrick has increased his season-high TD total from four to nine and he already has more than 200 more career yards on the season with still one game remaining.
Miami adds yet another player to IR
Running back Myles Gaskin outperformed Patrick Laird last week and was slated to be the starter for the season finale until the team placed him on IR earlier this week. The team signed former Washington Redskins and Cincinnati Bengals RB, Samaje Perine, and he will be active for the team on Sunday. Laird will start with Perine and De’Lance Turner as the backups.
All eyes on New England
Miami has hosted the second meeting between the two teams in its recent upsets, but New England will play host this time. A change of scenery might result in a change of result for the Patriots who have rarely lost at home in December since 2000. New England also won the first meeting this season between the two teams in week two in shut-out fashion, 43-0.
“Right now it’s about the Patriots. It’s about going up to a tough environment and hopefully laying enough foundation to play a good game this weekend; but I think every week, we’ve tried to build and compete and improve from foundationally how we prepare, how our process – it’s never perfect, but hopefully we’ve taken some steps to get better and hopefully we see some more success,” Flores said.
Flores is looking for his first win against his former team after leaving New England in the offseason to take Miami’s head coaching vacancy. Having worked for the Patriots, we’ll see if his behind-the-scenes knowledge and experience helps him get more than a statement win on Sunday and add to the Dolphins’ upset history.
“I think this year kind of proves a lot to everybody – from the beginning of everyone saying we were going to tank and not win a game to getting some wins. They were hard, they were tough, but we got it done. After this whole year, it’s hard not to be confident in this group,” linebacker Jerome Baker said.