Patriots vs. Dolphins 2013 game preview: AFC East matchup with playoff implications

The AFC East is still up for grabs and the Dolphins will need to win Sunday to improve their odds of making the playoffs.

The rivalry between the Miami Dolphins and New England Patriots will be renewed Sunday. The Dolphins have a slim chance at winning the division, but a victory over the Patriots at home would help. Miami is also in the thick of the wild card race and could ease their odds in that competition with a win. The Patriots will lock up the division and a playoff spot with a win in Miami.

Meet the Dolphins

Miami is among the handful of teams still fighting for the AFC wild card. The Baltimore Ravens currently hold a tiebreaker over the Dolphins with both teams at 7-6 overall. If the Ravens lose, the Dolphins will be able to control their own destiny to playoffs, assuming they keep winning. Miami's 21st-ranked scoring offense has been enough to keep the Dolphins with a winning record. The Dolphins are 24th in the league in terms of yards per game.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill has improved immensely over last season, and has developed chemistry with Brian Hartline and tight end Charles Clay. He still needs to find his groove with Mike Wallace. The defense has managed well enough to keep the Dolphins in games. Defensive ends Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake have combined for 19 sacks this season.

Meet the Patriots

The Patriots are currently 10-3 and on top of the AFC East. New England has the fifth-ranked scoring offense in the league and the eighth-highest yards per game average in the NFL. Quarterback Tom Brady has carried an offense that has suffered several injuries throughout the season. The Patriots recently lost Rob Gronkowski to ACL and MCL tears.

Beyond the secondary, the Patriots' defense is a bit of a mess. Luckily the Patriots' offense has been able to outscore opponents when it counts.

Local Takes: Dolphins

Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider is optimistic about the Dolphins' playoff potential:

If Miami were to finish the season 10-6, winning their last three games, the team could finish as the AFC East Champion and with the second seed in the AFC Playoffs. It's not likely, but it could happen.

Currently, the New England Patriots have a 10-3 record and are three games ahead of Miami for that division title. However, Tom Brady just lost his top receiver when a low tackle tore the ACL and MCL in Rob Gronkowski's knee. Add in two straight road games for the Patriots, starting this weekend in Miami, followed by a visit to the Ravens, before ending the season at home against the Buffalo Bills, and New England is facing a tough schedule. Will they actually go on a three game losing streak? Probably not. But could they? It's not out of the realm of possibility.

Local Takes: Patriots

Kevin O'Connor of Pats Pulpit believes in the Patriots, and Boston sports in general:

Take a deep breath. Relax. I mean it! Breath! There you go...feel better? I hope so. I know it took me a minute to gather myself after Rob Gronkowski lay on the ground, howling in pain after taking a hit to the knee, tearing his ACL and MCL.

I thought to myself, "Gronk's done. Season over. Another year without a Super Bowl for the New England Patriots."

But we all know that's not true. How did I even let the thought cross my mind? I took a breath and moved on, just like the Patriots did.

Time and time again I have been surprised by what Boston sports teams are capable of. And yet, I have also been let down when expectations were sky high, back when "we were supposed to win."

Follow the Fun

Be sure to check out SB Nation's team blogs, The Phinsider and Pats Pulpit, for more analysis and highlights from the game.

Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:

@thephinsider

@PatsPulpitSBN

Prediction

From the Week 15 picks:

The Patriots won three of their last four games. They failed to cover the spread in all but one of those games, a reminder about the importance of being good and lucky. New England is 7-3 in games decided by seven points or less. On the other hand, one of the teams the Patriots did manage to beat by more than a touchdown was the Dolphins. Miami's had its fair share of luck too, winning three of its last five games by a touchdown or less.

The pick: Patriots

Odds

The Patriots are considered a 1-point road favorite against the Dolphins, according to Odds Shark.

Next Week

The Dolphins will travel to Buffalo to face the Bills in Week 16. The Patriots will be on the road against the Ravens.

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