The streak is officially done. No not the playoff streak, but the AFC division streak. The Patriots will not be division champions for the first time since 2008. They also will not be tied for the lead in wins in the division for the first time since 2002. That of course was clinched when the Buffalo Bills won another game putting them at 10-3 with three games remaining.
That was far from the only problem with the Pats though. New England’s chances of making the playoffs tumbled from unlikely to virtually non-existent with their 24-3 drubbing at the hand of the Rams. Moreover, the score was somehow not indicative of the beating they actually took as Los Angeles dominated throughout.
As it sits now the best record the Patriots can hope for is 9-7. Unfortunately, even with the extra playoff team, that is unlikely to be enough. And that is assuming they can win the rest of their games. The final three games are: at Miami, home versus the Bills, and then wrap up their season against the potentially winless Jets.
Not impossible to win out, but certainly not the cakewalk they really would like in a dire situation like the one they find themselves in.
Here is what’s happening in week fifteen:
First Down: One area where the Dolphins are sure to challenge the Pats is in the turnover department. The Dolphins are currently tied for second in the NFL with a +10 turnover margin, collecting an outstanding 16 interceptions, also good for second in the NFL. Moreover, they have just nine interceptions. A number that doesn’t seem too noteworthy, but is very solid considering they have a rookie quarterback and Ryan Fitzpatrick behind center.
On the other side, New England currently sits in the middle of the pack with a +1 differential. That number is good for 15th in the NFL. But looking closer at the turnover margin, it is important to note the Patriots are tied for the second fewest fumbles with just four. The margin gets skewed because they currently have the fourth-most interceptions with 14. That ties them with the likes of the Jaguars, one above the Bears, and one fewer than the 49ers. Not exactly elite quarterbacking groups.
Second Down: A lot has been made of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert. And rightfully so. I mean the guy is lighting the league up and making all the throws. He is making the game look easy in a not so easy situation.
One thing that shouldn’t be lost is the play of Tua Tagovailoa. As mentioned above, Tua has done a great job managing turnovers with just one interception and one fumble in six starts. Two turnovers for a rookie is great when you consider the pace would put him at five turnovers over a sixteen game schedule. Moreover, he has nine passing touchdowns and one rushing touchdown to go against those turnovers.
One interesting thing about Tua though is that his rushing yards haven’t been as prevalent as you might expect. Sure he isn’t Deshaun Watson or Lamar Jackson, but he has some mobility to his game. Despite that he has just 61 rushing yards over those six games.
I am curious if he gets more opportunities to run coming up or if he will be more hesitant with his injury history.
Third Down: One thing that shouldn’t surprise anyone is the amount of ties the Dolphins have to the Patriots, or more specifically the New England area.
In the offseason, Miami signed Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts to their team, but they also have some other players you may recognize. They also have Ted Karras, Eric Rowe, Kamu Grugier-Hill, and Calvin Munson. The first two who played bigger roles with the Pats, while the latter two spent training camp in Foxborough.
Additionally the New England ties run deep with: Ryan Fitzpatrick (Harvard), Byron Jones (UConn), and Christian Wilkins (from Massachusetts).
Fourth Down: With Davante Adams surging to arguably the top receiver in the league, it is important to remember not every receiver has bursts onto the scene right away. Adams was one player who struggled and took a while to get going.
Why is this important? Well because to give up on N’Keal Harry would be a little early at this point. Has his production been good? No. It is has been awful. Has he shown flashes of being the guy they drafted? Not really. But that doesn’t mean it won’t come.
Compare these first two seasons:
Adams: 29 games, 88 receptions, 929 yards, 4 TD’s 0 rushes
Harry: 18 games, 41 receptions, 382 yards 4 TD’s 7 rushes, 49 yards
Was Adams better? Undeniably. He has double the catches and more than three times the yards. This wasn’t to say that Harry is better or will be better. It is to show that Adams, who has 1144 yards and 14 touchdowns with three games to go this year, flourished after his first two years.
Adams is an elite receiver, one who had many reporters and fans calling for him to be traded or for the Packers to move on from him after his early struggles.
Simply put, give Harry one more offseason and another year in the system. He still has barely played an equivalent of one year in the NFL thus far. He is still very gifted physically and has the tools to be a solid player.
Prediction: Dolphins 24, Patriots 16
This is a big game for both teams. The Patriots need to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, while the Dolphins still have dreams of securing a playoff berth and can’t afford a slip-up. This game has all the makings of a solid football game. I think New England comes out with high intensity to make up for last week’s flop, along with the extra time to prepare. Unfortunately, I think Miami is just the better team. I think the defense forces Tua into a couple turnovers, but in the end the offense just doesn’t win the field position battle enough and the Dolphins split the season series and put the final nail in the coffin for the Pats’ playoff hopes.
–David Albiani is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @david_albiani