Miami Sports Day

NFL: Patriots Appear Ready for Playoffs While Dolphins Face Questions

MIAMI GARDENS — The New England Patriots are ready for the playoffs, and Sunday made that seem like a fact even if it’s more of an observation.

The Patriots didn’t turn the ball over in Sunday’s methodical 35-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.

New England’s win was joyless and coldly efficient, much like the public persona of its coach, Bill Belichick. The Patriots (14-2) dinked and dunked their way to a 20-0 lead, and they did not punt until 3:03 remained in the third quarter.

Miami made a brief run, getting to within 20-14, but the Patriots dismissed them with a couple of big plays — a 77-yard pass from Tom Brady to Julian Edelman and a 69-yard fumble recovery and return by backup linebacker Shea McClellin.

“I thought it was a good, strong effort by our team today,” Belichick said. “We got off to a good start. We got contributions from all three phases.  “A lot of guys stepped up — 14 wins is a pretty good effort this year. I’m proud of what these guys did.”

It’s interesting to note that Belichick said he thought that 14 wins was a good effort “this year.”  When is 14 wins not a good effort?

New England — and this should come as no surprise — owns the best odds of any team to win the Super Bowl at 7-5, according to Las Vegas Westgate.

Here’s one major reason they are favored: Brady has made 31 playoff starts. The rest of the starting QBs for AFC playoff teams have a combined 22 career playoff starts.

The only AFC teams the Patriots could face who have quarterbacks with even one playoff start are the Pittsburgh Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger (17) and the Kansas City Chiefs with Alex Smith (five).

In contrast, the Dolphins (10-6) are 80-1 to win the Super Bowl, which ties them with the Houston Texans as the tournament long-shots.

Dolphins coach Adam Gase offered praise of the Patriots on Sunday, saying, in essence, that Miami would have to play nearly perfect to beat New England. The Dolphins, in other words, would have to out-Patriot the Patriots.

“We didn’t stay ahead of the (first-down markers),” Gase said. “You can’t play that way against these guys (New England). You can’t leave yourself in third-and-long and expect to consistently move the chains.

“It’s disappointing. We didn’t play as well as we needed to against these guys.”

While the Patriots get a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, the Dolphins have a difficult challenge, traveling next week to face the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5).

The Steelers lost to Miami 30-15 on Oct. 16, but a lot has changed since then. Pittsburgh lost its quarterback in that game when Roethlisberger got hurt. He’s back now, but Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is now out, with backup Matt Moore taking his place.

“They’re a different team now,” said Gase when asked about the Steelers, who are riding a seven-game winning streak. “We’re a different team (too). Both of us have different players. That’s what makes this part of the season interesting.

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