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Dolphins look to slow down Patriots on Sunday
By: Brian Graham - StatFox
Published: 12/15/2013  at  4:07:00 AM
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Kickoff: Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Line: New England -2, Total: 45.5

The Patriots have to deal with yet another key injury when they try to wrap up their 10th AFC East title in 11 years on Sunday visiting the Dolphins.

Last week, New England pulled off an incredible comeback with 13 points in the final 1:01 to defeat the Browns 27-26, but lost All-Pro TE Rob Gronkowski to a torn ACL. Miami also suffered a key loss last week with top RB Lamar Miller suffering a concussion, but he is expected to return for Sunday's game. If Miller cannot play, backup RB Daniel Thomas proved more than capable of handling the workload with 105 rushing yards in his teamís 34-28 win in the Pittsburgh snow. Despite gaining just 252 total yards in their last meeting, the Patriots were still able to beat the Dolphins for the seventh straight time with a 27-17 victory in Week 8, erasing a 17-3 halftime deficit. New England is 22-5 ATS (82%) versus teams with a win pct. of 51% to 60% in the second half of the season since 1992, but Miami falls into the category of underdogs (or pick) in a game involving two average teams (+/- 0.4 YPP) after 8+ games, after allowing 400+ total yards in their previous game, who are 110-66 ATS (63%) since 1983. In addition to losing Gronkowski, the Patriots have five other key players considered questionable for this game in CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee), OT Marcus Cannon (ankle), TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) and WRs Aaron Dobson (foot) and Kenbrell Thompkins (hip). Miami just placed CBs Dimitri Patterson (groin) and R.J. Stanford (leg) on injured reserve this week, and another cornerback, Jamar Taylor, is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Can the Patriots wrap up another division title on Sunday? For the answer, connect to NFL Best Bets for all the StatFox Experts picks throughout the 2013 season and playoffs. The experts continue to flourish, combining for a 56% ATS record (53-41-6) over the past seven weeks. StatFox Brian has a 65% ATS (22-12-2) mark in Best Bets since Week 7, and is 56% ATS (30-24-4) this season. StatFox Scott is 9-5 ATS in the past three weeks of Best Bets, and is 54% ATS (27-23-2) this season, including 62% ATS (24-15-1) in Best Bets since Week 4. StatFox Gary has six perfect weeks in Best Bets since Week 4, and is 5-2 ATS in the past three weeks.

The Patriots offense ranks fifth in the league in scoring (26.8 PPG) and eighth in total offense (386 YPG). However, starting with the win over Miami in Week 8, they are averaging 32.8 PPG on 438 total YPG in the past six games. QB Tom Brady has led this resurgence with 1,977 passing yards (330 YPG), 13 TD and 4 INT during this stretch. Brady has also had great success against the Dolphins in his Hall of Fame career, posting a 17-6 record with 4,942 passing yards (215 YPG), 40 TD and 19 INT in 23 starts versus his AFC East foe. When Brady was held to 116 passing yards in the win over Miami on Oct. 27, he did not have the services of RB Shane Vereen, who has become Brady's favorite target in the passing game. Vereen has 40 receptions for 373 yards in his five games this season, including a dozen catches for 153 yards in last week's win. With TE Rob Gronkowski out and WRs Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins both questionable, Brady will lean more heavily on possession receivers Julian Edelman (775 rec. yards, 5 TD) and Danny Amendola (448 rec. yards, 2 TD). New England's rushing offense has been pretty average this year (4.2 YPC, 15th in NFL), but was able to grind up 152 yards on 4.1 YPC in the Week 8 win over Miami. RB Stevan Ridley (611 rush yards, 7 TD) led the way that day with 79 yards on 5.6 YPC and a touchdown, but his role has been reduced due to fumble problems, as he's now splitting carries with RB LeGarrette Blount (460 rush yards, 3 TD). Defensively, the rash of season-ending injuries the Patriots have suffered (LB Jerod Mayo and DTs Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly) are a big reason why the team ranks 24th in total defense (372 YPG) and 31st in rushing defense (136 YPG). They are also 31st in third-down defense (44%) and subpar in the red zone (58% touchdown rate, 20th in NFL). But New England has allowed only 22.1 PPG (10th in league), and a lot of that has to do with its 24 takeaways which rank second in the AFC.

Miami's offense has struggled for most of the season, ranking 24th in total offense (325 YPG) and 21st in scoring offense (22.0 PPG). Its red-zone efficiency (55% touchdown rate, 17th in league) and third-down offense (36%, 22nd in NFL) are both below average as well. QB Ryan Tannehill (3,315 pass yards, 6.8 YPA, 20 TD, 14 INT) threw a pair of touchdown passes within the first 20 minutes of the Week 8 matchup in Foxboro, but he was atrocious the rest of the way, finishing 22-of-42 (52%) for 192 yards (4.6 YPA) with two interceptions and six sacks taken. But he has been much better since that game, completing 67% of his passes for 258 YPG (6.9 YPA), 9 TD and 5 INT. He's done this by spreading the wealth mainly to WR Brian Hartline (team-best 67 catches and 855 yards), TE Charles Clay (team-high 6 TD) and WR Mike Wallace (762 rec. yards, 3 TD). Miami's rushing offense has just 96 YPG this year (23rd in NFL), but is gaining a solid 4.3 yards per carry (14th in league) thanks in large part to Tannehill's 6.0 YPC average on his 37 rushing attempts. Defensively, this club allows only 21.2 PPG (9th in NFL) thanks to a strong red-zone defense (51% touchdown rate, 10th in league). The rushing defense has struggled with 119 YPG allowed (23rd in NFL), but the pass rush has been fierce all season with 40 sacks (5th in NFL). Miami has also been opportunistic with 22 takeaways, forcing at least one turnover in all 13 games.

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