FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The final week of the regular season won’t be one of rest for the New England Patriots.
The AFC East champions did everything they could last week to try to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 41-3 dismantling of the New York Jets. But the Raiders’ victory over the Colts denied New England a chance to take things easy this week at Miami. It will still need a victory or a loss by Oakland to secure the AFC’s top seed.
The Patriots will have at least a first-round bye, but with home-field still in limbo coach Bill Belichick grizzled at the notion that he might have preferred being able sit some of starters this week.
“This isn’t like a preseason game where you have 75 guys on your roster. This is a regular season game. I don’t really understand that whole line of questioning,” Belichick said. “I’m not saying I’m a great mathematician or anything but the numbers just don’t add up for that type of conversation so there’s no point in even getting involved in it.”
One of the reasons is that the Patriots are facing a Dolphins team that has won nine of its last 10. New England also lost at Miami in last season’s regular-season finale, leading to the Patriots having to play on the road in last year’s AFC title game. They lost that game 20-18 at Denver.
If that’s not enough, the Patriots have lost in each of their last three visits to Miami, with their last victory there coming in 2012.
“I don’t know what it is,” special teams captain Matt Slater said. “They don’t care who we are or what we’ve accomplished, they always play us tough.”
The closest New England has been to victory during its current three-game losing streak in Miami was a 24-20 loss in 2013. The most recent visits were both double-digit losses — 33-20 in 2014 and the 20-10 loss last January.
A lot has changed for both teams since New England posted a 31-24 home win over Miami back in Week 2. With quarterback Tom Brady serving his four-game “Deflategate” suspension, Jimmy Garoppolo started and had three touchdown passes before leaving late in the second quarter with a right shoulder injury and a 24-3 lead.
Rookie Jacoby Brissett came on and led New England to a touchdown on its first possession of the second half to help the Patriots hang on for the win.
Since then, Brady came back and has played at an MVP level despite seeing two of his favorite targets in Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola go down to injury in recent weeks.
Matt Lengel, who caught his first career reception and touchdown last week against the Jets, has been added to help the Patriots fill the voids.
“They’ve been playing really well the last nine or 10 games,” Lengel said. “We just have to prepare like we always do and go down there ready to try and win a football game.”
Defensively, one of the keys to slowing down the Dolphins this week will be trying to contain running back Jay Ajayi, who is coming off his third 200-yard rushing game of the season.
Part of that duty will fall on Patriots defensive tackle Alan Branch (47 tackles, 1½ sacks). He said he always expects the best from Dolphins because of their familiarity with them.
“There’s no team in this league that’s just gonna lay down for us, especially them,” Branch said. “We just gotta go out there and be on our game.”
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