A struggling Miami Dolphins team is traveling North to attempt to hold on to their slim playoff chances against the division rival New England Patriots. The Dolphins currently hold a two-game winning streak in this series, but both of those games were in Miami.
On Miami's last visit to Foxborough, in October of 2013, the Dolphins blew a 14-point lead and ended up losing the game 27-17. The Dolphins couldn't stop the rushing attack of the Patriots and were unable to move the ball offensively in the second half (a performance they repeated in last Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens).
However, both of Miami's last two visits to New England in December have resulted in games with only one-score difference in the final outcome. The Dolphins have played the Patriots tough down the stretch of the season.
But there is reasonable doubt that the Dolphins will be able to do that this year.
The Dolphins have been decimated by injuries. The Dolphins have been without cornerbacks Jamar Taylor and Cortland Finnegan for weeks and lost both safety Louis Delmas, who had been performing at a high level, and cornerback Will Davis to season-ending ACL tears.
As these Taylor and Finnegan prepare to make their respective returns, participating in practice on a limited basis this week, the Dolphins defense must face the possibility of being without their top two linebackers, Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins against the Patriots. Both Misi and Jenkins have missed practice all week and their status for Sunday's game is questionable at best.
The Dolphins defense could possibly be without four regular starters Sunday, but the injuries aren't limited to the defensive side of the ball. The Dolphins will also be without running back Knowshon Moreno, who was a key part of the Dolphins victory when these two teams met in Week 1.
Losing lynchpin left tackle Branden Albert to a torn ACL, which he suffered against the Detroit Lions, has left the Dolphins offensive line in shambles. The Dolphins makeshift line held up well for a few games, but was exposed against the Baltimore Ravens to the tune of six sacks.
The Dolphins are currently struggling, playing two underwhelming December games in a row. The bulk of those struggles have come in the trenches. The Dolphins have allowed a mind-boggling 661 rushing yards the past three games. The Dolphins have also failed to rush for over 100 yards in these three games.
The Patriots have a way of exposing teams, especially late in December. It's likely that the Patriots will unleash a power running game and utilize tight ends plenty against the Dolphins backup linebackers.
Will the Dolphins be able to stack up the line and play power? Will the Dolphins play good enough coverage on the short throws to allow the pass rush that dominated Tom Brady in the season opener to take control of the game once again?
Cameron Wake has 8.5 career sacks in 11 games against these Patriots. If the Dolphins want a shot at winning this game, Wake and the Dolphins defensive line will need to terrorize the line of scrimmage and harass Brady.
While neither luck nor match-ups are in Miami's favor this week, the Dolphins will be playing tough. Besides the fact that the Dolphins always play tough against New England, this is Miami's last shot at the playoffs and last shot to prove they are more than just a pretender in this league.
Playoffs are on the line. Pride is on the line. Jobs are likely on the line.
So I ask you, who will win this divisional match-up? Who will win this contest between a determined 10-3 team and a limping 7-6 squad?