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Patriots Preview - Pedal to metal, or play another day?

Friday, December 28, 2012

 

To play, or not to play? That's not the only question facing the Patriots this Sunday.

Perhaps the real question should be - should the Patriots play to win, or rest their starters in advance of the playoffs? It's a question that is often asked at this time of year, especially of playoff-bound teams that don't have the luxury of a playoff bye.

But the New England Patriots might still have that week off from Wild Card play. It depends on the outcome of two other games Sunday, one of which won't be over until around the same time as the Pats and Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. So, what to do? Play it straight, or rest a few regulars knowing you've got a win-or-else game to play next week...and try to keep your main guys healthy?

Considering the struggles in a closer-than-it-should-have-been 23-16 win at Jacksonville last week, the Patriots should choose to play this one straight, and get after the Miami Dolphins as if the game were played in mid-season. After all, with a break or two, they could still earn a week off if either Houston loses at Indianapolis, or if Kansas City defeats Denver. And as the game with Jacksonville should indicate, there's still some room to improve for a Patriots team that fancies itself a Super Bowl contender.

Since the stunning 42-14 romp over Houston, New England gave up 41 points in a loss to San Francisco and could have easily lost a stunner to the Jaguars. Adding a loss at home (which would be their third at Gillette this season) would leave the Pats as no one's favorite to advance...and plenty of doubts clouding a season once full of sunshine and promise. So this match-up with Miami is all about the Pats getting back on a roll, playing with confidence and control heading into the post-season, bye or no bye.

Health-wise, other than the requisite bumps and bruises, the Patriots might be in their best shape in more than a month...especially if TE Rob Gronkowski (broken forearm) returns for some reps against the Dolphins. While that's doubtful, CB Aqib Talib's nagging hip injury is also a concern, especially if the Dolphins bring their "A" game to Foxboro...rather than just go through the motions. Miami - just like New England - must decide to play (with no playoffs to prepare for)...or not play.

A question facing both teams, come Sunday.

Play it Straight

There are varying opinions as to how New England's real approach should be for Sunday. With so much up in the air, and out of their control, the only real approach should be to play Miami like there's no tomorrow. Control what you can. Win now, and sort it all out later. Plus, winning with a little bit of swagger can't hurt playoff momentum and confidence, no matter when you actually play next.

Forget the (recent) Past

With an admittedly lousy performance in Jacksonville behind them, the Patriots must push forward with a purpose. Whether they play next week in the Wild Card round at home against Cincinnati, or get a week off and await the survivors of the first round, they can't ignore Miami. This is a team that played them close in South Florida four weeks ago, losing by just seven. Cameron Wake can put supreme pressure on a suddenly shaky offensive line. Reggie Bush, Brian Hartline and Ryan Tannehill are competent enough to put points on the board against the "D." If Miami becomes an afterthought, the Patriots could find themselves regretting it afterward.

All's well that ends Wel-ker

Wes Welker continues to defy logic, as well as any critics he might have, with another 100+ catch, 1000+ yard receiving season. He's been so good, and meant so much to the Patriots offense, that he simply gets overlooked as an afterthought because it's assumed he'll play well. Miami will assume nothing with Welker, since he came to New England from Miami. And with Welker about to enter an off-season of contract uncertainty, his buddy Tom Brady is bound to look for "83" early, and often...

Projection: Patriots 27, Dolphins 26

 

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