New England Patriots (10-6, 10-6 ATS) at Miami Dolphins (8-8, 8-7-1), 4:25 p.m.
Brolley’s Patriots Stats and Trends
The Patriots are back in the playoffs after missing the postseason in their first campaign without Tom Brady last season.
The Patriots hung a 50-burger on the lowly Jaguars in Week 17, which tied Bill Belichick with Don Shula for the most 10+ win seasons in NFL history with 20 overall.
These teams have played under the total in three straight games in this series.
New England is 8-2 ATS in its last 10 games.
The Patriots are 4-1 toward overs in their last five games as a favorite.
Damien Harris left early with a hamstring injury last week for the second time in his last three games. He scored two touchdowns before he left against the Jaguars, which gives him 13 TDs in his 10 games. The Patriots appear headed for the #5 seed unless the Jets pull off one of the biggest upsets of the season, so they could give Harris a week to heal before the playoffs. Rhamondre Stevenson filled in last week and delivered 19/107/2 rushing, and he would be the top runner if Harris rests against Miami. The Titans steamrolled the Dolphins for 40/198/2 rushing in a 31-point victory last week.
Mac Jones rebounded from his worst showing of the season in Week 16 with his best fantasy performance of the year against the lowly Jaguars. He completed 22/30 passes for 227 yards (7.6 YPA) and three touchdowns for 22.3 FP in just 48 minutes of action in a 50-10 victory. Mac posted 281/1 passing for 15.2 FP in a loss to Miami in the season opener.
Jakobi Meyers is heating up a bit with 11+ FP and 5+ catches in four straight games in which the Patriots have actually thrown the ball in. He posted a season-best 21.3 FP last week by catching all eight of his targets for 73 yards and his second touchdown of the season. Meyers posted 6/44 receiving on nine targets when these teams met back in mid-September.
The Patriots elevated Kristian Wilkerson from their practice squad to play over N’Keal Harry in Week 17, who the team made a healthy scratch against the Jaguars. The move paid off with Wilkerson posting 4/42/2 receiving on a team-high eight targets. Kendrick Bourne chipped in with 5/76 receiving on six targets with Nelson Agholor missing a second game with a concussion. Both Wilkerson and Bourne could be viable low-end options if Agholor is unable to play against the Dolphins in the season finale, but it appears he’ll be back after returning to practice this week.
Hunter Henry managed 3/37 receiving on five targets against the Jaguars in Week 17, which means he’s fallen below seven FP in five of his last six games. He’s at least scored nine times in his last 13 games but he’s hit 42 or fewer yards 14 times this season. Henry caught all three of his targets for 31 yards when these teams met back in Week 1.
Brolley’s Dolphins Stats and Trends
The Dolphins beat the Patriots 17-16 as 3.5-point road underdogs in a game totaled at 43 points back in the season opener.
The Dolphins became the first team to win seven straight games and miss the playoffs since Washington did it back in 1996 — 79 teams won 7+ games and made the playoffs in between.
Miami is 6-2-1 ATS in its last nine games.
The Dolphins are 4-1 ATS in their last five home games.
Miami is 7-2 toward unders in its last nine games.
Tua Tagovailoa has thrown for fewer than 210 yards in three straight games after completing 18/38 passes (47.4%) for 205 yards (5.5 YPA) and one INT against the Titans. The Dolphins failed to score a touchdown last week and he’s thrown four INTs since the Dolphins came out of their Week 14 bye. Tua completed 16/27 passes for 202 yards (7.5 YPA), one TD, and one INT when these teams met all the way back in the season opener.
Jaylen Waddle is a catch away from hitting 100 catches and he needs three catches to break Anquan Boldin’s rookie record of 101 catches. He also needs just 12 yards to reach 1000 yards for the season. He had his worst performance since Week 8 with just 3/47 receiving on seven targets against the Titans last week. Waddle opened his career with 4/61/1 receiving on five targets against the Patriots in the season opener.
DeVante Parker had a tough day at the office against the Titans, catching just four of his 13 targets for 46 yards. At least he went from seeing no targets against the Saints in Week 16 to seeing a 34% target share last week. Parker posted 4/81 receiving on five targets when these teams squared off in the season opener.
Mike Gesicki finished with 4/51 receiving on seven targets last week, which was the seventh time he’s finished with fewer than 10 FP in his last 10 contests. He’s scored just two touchdowns this season and he hasn’t found paydirt since Week 7. The Patriots are giving up a league-low 6.9 FPG to TEs this season and Gesicki already has a goose egg against New England.
Duke Johnson was the clear top option in Miami’s backfield last week with a 58% snap share compared to a 24% share for Myles Gaskin and an 11% share for Phillip Lindsay. Dookie has shown some fresh legs in recent weeks and he led the Dolphins with 7/49 rushing and 2/16 receiving on three targets in a lopsided loss to the Titans in Week 17. The Patriots are giving up a generous 4.6 YPC and the fourth-most receiving yards per game (51.5) to RBs this season.
Barfield’s Pace and Tendencies
Pace (seconds in between plays): 33.5 (32nd)
Plays per game: 60.4 (26th)
Pass: 50.6% (29th) | Run: 49.4% (4th)
Pace: 28.3 (13th)
Plays per game: 65.3 (9th)
Pass: 56.2% (26th) | Run: 43.8% (7th)
All pace / play data is from the last eight weeks.
Over the last eight weeks, the Patriots have morphed into one of the NFL’s most run-heavy and slowest offenses. OC Josh McDaniels is calling a run on a whopping 59.4% of the team’s plays in close games, which is by far the highest rate in the league.
Even though the Dolphins are eliminated from the postseason, they have every incentive to play this game full-go – especially Tua. However, this game environment is not at all conducive to scoring points. This matchup is the third-worst game in the pace / plays model this week and the last three meetings between Patriots-Dolphins have underwhelmed in the box score (32, 34, and 33 total points scored).
Huber’s Key Matchup Notes
In Miami’s Week 1 victory over the Patriots, Jaylen Waddle created a 4/61/1 receiving line on five targets. He connected with Tua from three yards out to account for the TD. He also added a 17-yard hook-up inside the coverage of J.C. Jackson. It was an impressive debut for a rookie destined to overtake Anquan Boldin for the most receptions in NFL history from a rookie WR. Waddle only needs two to tie and three receptions to break the record set by Boldin 18 seasons ago. If he manages to collect at least 12 receiving yards, Waddle will be the 24th rookie WR in history to post 1,000 receiving yards.
New England will be dealing with a considerable issue in their attempt to prevent Waddle from rewriting the record books. Myles Bryant, their starter in nickel sets, tested positive for COVID as an unvaccinated player. With Jonathan Jones already out for the season, Belichick will either be forced to put Joejuan Williams on the field – something he has avoided doing on anything other than a couple reps since Week 12 — or his options will be down to getting creative in shifting a defensive back inside from another group or adding an untested practice squadder to the fold. In addition, the Pats may also be without breakout strong safety Kyle Dugger. It’s a lot to process, especially for New England. All told, the setup for Waddle’s attempts at history – as well as in our investment in his output – could not be playing out any better.
If the Dolphins intend to throw Cover Free after Cover Free at Mac Jones like they did with Ryan Tannehill last week, this game will get out of hand before it even begins. However, it’s extremely unlikely they use the same approach since it was like a direct attempt to attack a porous Tennessee O-line, and Brian Flores is fully aware of the elite O-line his former team is blessed to roster. And the reality of D'Onta Foreman and Dontrell Hilliard decimating the Dolphins’ for 177 combined rushing yards – many of which were collected against those Cover Free looks, the number Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson would post would boggle the mind.
Dolan’s Vantage Points
The Patriots have an outside shot to win the AFC East — they need to win and the Bills need to lose to the Jets — and they actually have a super outside shot to get the #1 seed in the AFC. The Chiefs (who play Saturday), Bills, and Titans all need to lose and the Patriots need to win. That doesn’t seem likely to happen, but they do play at the same time as the Bills, so there’s incentive for the Pats to go all out.
The question is if going “all out” will include RB Damien Harris. Harris sat out the second half of last week’s game against the Jaguars with a hamstring injury, but it’s been bothering him for a while and the Patriots were absolutely cruising. Given he’s practiced this week, I would think holding Harris out in the second half was precautionary. But Rhamondre Stevenson ran well enough that this situation is still murky enough.
The Pats will run the ball, but when Mac Jones throws it, it’ll be to Jakobi Meyers in the slot in a good matchup.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, have every incentive to win this game. They’re not going to the playoffs, but Philadelphia has their 2022 first-round pick. And QB Tua Tagovailoa knows that QB trade rumors have swirled for a long time.
ICYMI: Tua Tagovailoa not worried about Dolphins’ offseason trade possibilities, looks to rebound in finale. https://t.co/K1d9Trpj0b— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) January 6, 2022
So Tua has plenty to play for, and it’s incredibly likely he’ll pepper rookie WR Jaylen Waddle with targets. Three catches and 12 yards will get Waddle — #1, and most importantly — the rookie reception record, and 1000 yards on the season. Both of those seem like fait accompli.