Foxborough, MA - The New England Patriots had a lot to celebrate recently when their arch rivals, the New York Jets, were eliminated from post-season contention. Obviously, the Patriots have not played a meaningful game against the Jets in what feels like a long while, but the two still maintain the divisional rivalry that always permeates the games between the two.
The Miami Dolphins, on the other hand, are another divisional rival of the Patriots, but they have not been eliminated from the playoffs yet. Instead, they have hung around and have played much more competitively than any NFL insiders would have expected. The Patriots seem like they have clinched the AFC East by now and they seem like they've had it sewn up for many weeks, especially since winning their first two games after the BYE week against the Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. And now they have a chance for their third win in a row against the Dolphins in a game that could clinch the division for New England.
I think the Patriots have a distinct advantage in the game by existing as a much more competent team than the Dolphins have been despite the latter's mysterious 6-6 record, but another advantage comes in the health of their defenses. One of Miami's top cornerbacks, Xavien Howard, has officially been ruled out of Sunday's game between Miami and New England, providing a distinct advantage for Tom Brady and the Patriots' receiving corps. This advantage extends to the defense, as well, because one of New England's top cornerbacks, Stephon Gilmore, was listed on the team's injury reports throughout the week of practice, but he made the trip to Miami and is likely to play.
I don't think the Patriots will lose to Miami, but I will say that this game is far from a guarantee. The Dolphins are known for their ability to play the Patriots tough at home late in the season. Those warm weather games in December just end up being a weak spot for a quarterback who doesn't have many in Brady. Look for a close game that will be decided by the defenses.