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Dolphins at Patriots preview: Patrick Chung New England’s x-factor

Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

The New England Patriots will look to lock up the AFC’s second-seed in the NFL playoffs with a win over the Miami Dolphins this afternoon. The Patriots demolished the Dolphins back in Week 2, but will they be able to do the same thing 15 weeks later?

The Patriots, 12-3 on the year, are clearly the better team ahead of the game, with Miami just 4-11 on the season and in contention for a top-five draft pick in 2020. The Dolphins will come into this game looking for revenge following that Week 2 loss, as well as looking to play spoilers, forcing the Patriots to play next weekend, rather than clinch a bye to start the playoffs. Who is New England’s x-factor for this game to keep Miami from scoring the upset win? Pats Pulpit managing editor Bernd Buchmasser points to the defensive secondary, but maybe not the expected name. Rather than looking toward cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Buchmasser believes safety Patrick Chung could be the guy to watch.

DeVante Parker is the Dolphins’ most potent offensive weapon, but I trust Stephon Gilmore to at least limit his impact enough to help New England come away victoriously. Mike Gesicki, on the other hand, might be more of a problem even though his raw numbers are less impressive than Parker’s. He is certainly capable of making big plays for this offense — just ask the Cincinnati Bengals — and changing momentum quickly.

As usual, the Patriots will use veteran strong safety Chung as the primary matchup for the opposing tight ends. He has had his ups but certainly also his downs as the team’s top anti-tight end weapon so far this season, and if the latter category wins out and he cannot consistently win his one-on-ones the day could be a comparatively long one for the Patriots defense.

Gesicki has looked more and more like the prospect Miami wanted when they selected him in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft. His pass catching ability was expected to turn him into a seam-threat, red-zone touchdown machine. It took a little while for the former Penn State player to find his footing in the NFL, but he has seen his targets, receptions, and yards increase in the second half of this season, and he has made some big plays. His first multiple score game came last week against the Bengals - to which Buchmasser alluded - when he scored two touchdowns. He has 47 receptions this year for 536 yards with four touchdowns.

Could Chung shut down Gesicki? Will the second-year tight end be able to beat the 11th year safety?

Come back later for Buchmasser’s thoughts on Tom Brady’s 2019 season. You can also head over to Pats Pulpit for more on New England ahead of Sunday’s game.