Folks, this is not a column that we're particularly pleased to be writing, but it's our job to report, predict and prognosticate as presciently and objectively as we can, without allowing our unabashed fervor for the team in aqua and white to color our thinking or cloud our judgement. And so, we must tell you now that the New England Patriots are favored by ten points for Sunday's game at Hard Rock Stadium against the Dolphins. What's more, the Pats will almost certainly have home field advantage throughout the playoffs - which for a division winner amounts to two games - and are heavily favored to represent the American Football Conference in the Super Bowl five weeks from now.
That's the bad news. The good news is that when the Patriots take the field at NRG Stadium in Houston on February 5th, they will, in all likelihood, be facing a Dallas Cowboys team that has been red hot all season long, and would seem to have the requisite fire power to send New England limping back to Boston with a loss.
So, where do the Dolphins figure in all of this ? Well . . .Since Miami has beaten New England at home the past three seasons, that means they're going to make it four in a row on Sunday, right ? Don't bet on it. Already the proud owners of the third worst defense in the NFL, the Dolphins could have as many as five defensive starters sidelined for this game. New England has no such problems. Not only will they be relatively healthy on Sunday, the Patriots, year after year, make it a point of emphasis to take defensive players early in the draft; that's why they're ranked eighth in the league in total defense while the Dolphins are thirtieth.
But, there's more. The Dolphins have broken one of Bill Belichick's most dearly held commandments: "Thou shalt not embarrass the New England Patriots". That is an egregious offense. In 2008, an 0-2 Dolphins team traveled to Foxboro and shocked the football world, albeit against a Brady less Patriots lineup. The 'Wildcat' game was the talk of the league for months afterwards. Unfortunately, it also gave Dolphin fans the occasion to watch the team blow a second round pick on Pat White the following Spring. It has been said that revenge is a dish best served cold, and although it would take two years, the Hoodie Boy eventually exacted his retribution in kind. In week four of the 2010 season, the Patriots arrived at Sun Life Stadium for a Mondaynight game against the Dolphins, and blew Miami out 41-14 in front of a national television audience. New England scored three touchdowns on returns: one on a kickoff, another on a blocked field goal and a third as a result of a Chad Henne interception. Miami special teams coach John Bonamego was fired the next day.
Word out of New England is that the Patriots are incensed at having lost to the Dolphins three consecutive years in South Florida, and have had this date circled on their calendar for the past twelve months. Former New England outside linebacker Willie McGinest, now a commentator for NFL.com, says the Patriots have prepared exhaustively for this game, and plan on putting the proverbial wood to the Fins on Sunday. The Las Vegas line is ten points, and we look for New England to win, as well as to cover. But, hey, it could always be worse; at least we've got 'em losing the Super Bowl to Dallas.