In what could be the last regular season game of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady's career with the New England Patriots, the Miami Dolphins come to Foxboro looking to spoil the defending Super Bowl champions' chance to secure a first-round bye in the AFC playoffs. Despite the fact that in their first meeting of the season, way back in Week 2, the Pats whitewashed Miami by 43-0, New England players say that they are taking Sunday's matchup as seriously as if it were a playoff game.
"If we don't win we've gotta play an extra game," New England safety Patrick Chung said, as quoted by MassLive. "So we're going to lock in here and focus and see if we can get this."
If the 4-11 Dolphins pull off the improbable upset over the 12-3 Patriots — who have already clinched the AFC East division championship for a record 11th straight season — they could fall to the third seed in the AFC. That would happen if the 11-4 Kansas City Chiefs defeat the disappointing 5-10 Los Angeles Chargers in another 1 p.m. EST game on Sunday.
An ESPN panel previews the surprisingly meaningful Dolphins-Patriots clash, in the video below.The 42-year-old Brady played one of his sharpest games of the season last week when the Patriots needed it most, in what turned out to be a division-clinching, 33-26 win over the second-place Buffalo Bills. Brady completed 78.79 percent of his passes, his highest rate this year. He also threw for 271 yards and a touchdown without an interception for a passer rating of 111.0, his highest since that Week 2 win over the Dolphins when Brady compiled a 124.7 rating, per Pro Football Reference.
The Dolphins are also coming off a rare win, however — a narrow, 38-35 escape against the Cincinnati Bengals, who have won only one game this season.
Nonetheless, the Patriots are unsurprisingly favored by a spread of 15 1/2 points against their struggling divisional rivals, according to USA Today. The gaping point spread comes in spite of the fact that the Patriots have topped 30 points of offense only once since Week 7 against the New York Jets.
That 34-point performance came against the hapless Bengals, two weeks ago.
In the last five meetings between New England and Miami, the Dolphins have won twice, and both times in December. But both wins also came with Miami playing at home, which will not be the case on Sunday, with gametime temperatures for the 1 p.m. start expected to hover in the low 40s at Gillette Stadium.
Brady becomes a free agent after this season, and his future in New England remains uncertain, with rumors connecting him to a move back to his native California, possibly in Los Angeles with the Chargers.