By Jeremiah Thermidor
The Dolphins at 7-8 are trying to avoid ending the season below .500 and a victory versus the Patriots on Sunday would help them towards their cause. "There's a difference between 8-8 and 7-9," said Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin regarding his team finishing the season with a somewhat respectable record. Miami, though, will be looking to earn the win on the road against a very solid New England team amped up about heading into the postseason.
The Patriots have come out on top in eight of their last nine contests. Their only loss during that stretch was a 41-34 defeat at the hands of the 49ers in a highly competitive matchup. "They have a lot of confidence," Philbin said Thursday. "We're playing our division champs, and again I've said it before, this team has set the bar in this division for a long time." Still, the Dolphins are satisfied about how they've been performing as of late and are sure they'll be able to even up the regular-season series against this powerhouse Patriots squad.
New England topped the Dolphins 23-16 in early December. Patriots slot receiver Wes Welker had 12 receptions for 103 yards and a touchdown against a shaky Miami secondary, and he's sure to cause some more trouble this time around. Welker will be entering this weekend's matchup with a little pep in his step as he's nabbed a fifth Pro Bowl appearance. The 31-year-old caught 110 passes for 1,260 yards and five touchdowns this season. It's the fifth time Welker has had more than 100 receptions in a single year.
Another Patriots star selected to the 2013 Pro Bowl who would be sure to give the Dolphins a bit more than they could handle is tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski hasn't played since Week 11 with a forearm injury and may see some action this weekend. The Patriots, though, may choose to rest him considering they wouldn't want to rush him back so soon and risk further injury, especially since he'd be healthier and more valuable to them in the playoffs. He was limited in practice on Thursday, along with a slew of other New England players. So, it's a strong possibility Gronkowski may sit this one out.
As for the Dolphins, starting tailback Reggie Bush is just 40 yards shy of reaching 1,000 rushing yards for the second straight season and can do so against a Pats defense which has allowed an average of 105.5 yards on the ground per game this year. He picked up 104 against the Bills and 65 versus the Jaguars in Miami's last two contests towards getting to that number but could fall short against New England. Bush has certainly had an up-and-down season as he's put forth some standout performances but has also struggled with injuries and really didn't contribute his best from Weeks Five through 11. He has sort of bounced back these last few games but he needs to have a solid performance against the Patriots to close out the season on a high note, considering he'll be a free agent after this year.
The New England Patriots (11-4) will play host to the Miami Dolphins (7-8) on Sunday at 4:25 p.m. eastern. You can watch full coverage of the game right here on CBS 4.
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Jeremiah Thermidor is a freelance writer covering all things Miami Dolphins. His work can be found on Examiner.com.
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