In terms of playoff scenarios, week 12’s game is absolutely critical for the Patriots to make the playoffs. A loss would drop the Patriots to 6-5, and they would be sitting alone at third place in the AFC East (or possibly tied for last). In essence, this is a playoff game.
Sunday’s game certainly won’t be an easy one, either. The Pats are coming off a 38-13 week three loss to the Dolphins, as well as a loss last week, and the Dolphins, at 6-4, are riding a little three game win streak of their own.
Keys to the Game
1. Contain the Wildcat – Last time the Patriots played the Dolphins, the Fins not only introduced, but perfectly executed the Wildcat formation, a formation where they line up Chad Pennington on the outside, leave Ronnie Brown behind center to take the direct snap, put Ricky Williams as the left wing-back (where he can make plays in motion), and stack the tight end to the right side. This play works to perfection due to the mismatches the can cause in the box. However, people are making too big a deal of this. The Dolphins only run it about 5% of the time, and the Patriots have had months to prepare for it. Still, the Dolphins do have the confidence to run this formation, so it will be interesting to see what happens.
2. Keep the Pass Rush Going – Chad Pennington is not the best at avoiding the rush, so if the Patriots can get a steady pass rush from Mike Vrabel and Pierre Woods, they may be able to stop the pass. Keep in mind, the Patriots didn’t exhibit much of a rush in week three, and it cost them. Chad Pennington was able to pick the Pats secondary apart with intermediate and crossing routes.
3. Don’t Become One Dimesional – While it was nice to see the Patriots could fall back on Matt Cassel, the Patriots still need to set up the pass with the run. With Lamont Jordan likely out again, Sammy Morris and BenJarvus Green-Ellis will once again be called upon to carry the load of the rushing attack. If they can set the tempo for the game, then the Pats can open up the playbook.
Players to Watch – Dolphins
1. Ted Ginn Jr., WR, #19 – Ginn has been coming on strong as of late, and is becoming the Dolphins biggest threat in the passing game. He is showcasing improving hands, excellent route running, as well as great after the catch ability.
2. Anthony Fasano, TE, #80 – After a quick start, he hasn’t been part of much of the offense lately, and looks to get back on track this week.
3. Vernon Carey, RT, #72 – Carey is one of the most durable members of the Dolphins offensive line, and has been very key in the Fins’ successful rushing attack this year. Will go against Ty Warren.
4. Channing Chrowder, ILB, #52 – Chrowder has really helped the Dolphins make the transition from a 4-3 to a 3-4 team, and has 75 stops on the year already. Future Patriot? God I hope so (he will be a free agent).
5. Joey Porter, OLB, #55 – Unfortunately, it’s hard to write a Dolphins preview without mentioning Porter. In week three, he had four sacks against us. He has recorded at least a half sack in all but one game this season. Matt Light will have to elevate his game if he’s gonna stop Porter.
Players to Watch – Patriots
1. Matt Cassel, QB, #16 – Cassel will be looking to build upon his best pro game against the Jets. However, for Cassel, he just needs to win the Pats the game.
2. Sammy Morris, RB, #34 – Morris will be looking to make a big impact this week against his former team. He hasn’t been listed on the injury report all week.
3. Jason Webster, CB, #23 – The Patriots will look for Webster to provide a spark for the Patriots over the slot. With Terrence Wheatley out for the season and Jonathan Wilhite banged up, Webster will get a continued look.
4. Mike Vrabel, OLB, #50 – Vrabel had a great game last week against the Jets, he was getting a significant rush all night. While you may not have noticed it, he really is back, and he will be looking to finally record another sack this week against the Dolphins.
5. Ben Watson, TE, #84 – Watson had one of the most up and down games I’ve ever seen against the Jets. He had a couple of nice plays, dropped a pass, and forced his own fumble (wow). However, his stats did look nice, and it will be interesting to see if he gets continued looks from Cassel,
Greg’s Prediction: Patriots 27 Dolphins 21
I think that the Patriots will barely edge this one out. It will be close all day, and I think the Pats will move the ball well. This is a must win game, and the Patriots had the entire weekend off and should be rested and prepared, so I’m thinking this one tilts in the Patriots’ favor.