The Miami Dolphins conclude their 2012 season this Sunday with an away game against the team that has dominated the AFC East over the past decade, the New England Patriots. Miami has not beat the Patriots since 2009, losing the last five contests, including earlier this year in Miami. The Dolphins always play the Patriots tough, and, though unlikely, could come out of this game with a streak-breaking win.
The story of the game may come down to the Dolphins offensive line handling the Patriots defensive line, and more specifically, the battle of Miami center Mike Pouncey versus New England defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.
Whenever asked, Pouncey calls Wilfork the toughest match up he has had in his two year NFL career. Wilfork respects Pouncey's athleticism, amazed that a center can pull and move better than most guards or tackles in the league. Pouncey can limit Wilfork's effectiveness, but even then, Wilfork can still collapse the pocket. In the Dolphins Week 13 loss to the Patriots, Wilfork recorded three tackles, one tackle for loss, and recovered a Ryan Tannehill fumble.
Despite facing his biggest personal rival, Pouncey will have something to motivate him even more than Wilfork - and given Wilfork is 6',2", 325 pounds, that's saying something. Pouncey was left off the AFC's Pro Bowl roster this week, being listed as a "first alternate" for the game.
This was the second time in Pouncey's two year career that he was an alternate for the game. He did not make it to the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Pouncey has been rated as the top AFC center for most of the season, according to Pro Football Focus, which breaks down every play every week, grading each individual player's performance. But, Pouncey was skipped for PFF's fifteenth ranked center in the league, Pouncey's younger twin brother Maurkice.
Mike has clearly outplayed Maurkice this year. It's not even a contest. But, Maurkice came out of the University of Florida in 2010, while Mike stayed one more season, being drafted fifteenth overall by the Dolphins in 2011. The name recognition, the extra year in the league, and playing for the Pittsburgh Steelers rather than Miami, gave the younger Pouncey the advantage in Pro Bowl voting - among fans, players, and coaches.
Now, with one game left, the Dolphins' Pouncey will be facing off against one of the top defensive tackles in the league, and will be looking to prove, he should be headed to Hawaii in February. Whatever happen this weekend will not have any bearing on Mike ultimately being a Pro Bowler this year, but that does not mean the extremely competitive Pouncey will not be looking to make a statement.
Add in Wilfork, and this will be a match up to watch on Sunday.