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Who has the edge? Dolphins (8-8) vs. Patriots (10-6), to wrap up a season that fell short

Here’s a look at how the Miami Dolphins (8-8) and New England Patriots (10-6) match up in six key areas ahead of Sunday’s Week 18 game at Hard Rock Stadium (4:25 p.m., CBS):

When the Dolphins run: The Dolphins did not utilize the run game nearly enough in the cold, rainy conditions of Nashville in last Sunday’s loss to the Tennessee Titans, dropping quarterback Tua Tagovailoa back 42 times compared 16 runs. That should be on Miami’s mind going into the finale against the Patriots, who are No. 22 in run defense, allowing 119.3 yards per game on the ground.

Duke Johnson has taken the lead in the Miami backfield in the final stretch of the season. He went for 7 yards per carry on his seven attempts in Tennessee. Myles Gaskin and Phillip Lindsay should also get sprinkled in, and we know Malcolm Brown now won’t return in the finale for this run game that ranks 31st in the league.

New England has been very up and down in run defense. You thought it was bad when the Dolphins gave up 198 to the Titans? The Patriots allowed those same Derrick Henry-less Titans to run for 270. Three weeks ago, the Colts, behind Jonathan Taylor, went for 226 on them. Strong safety Kyle Dugger being the team’s leading tackler (92) tells you plenty of runs get to the second level, but it would still take a lot of trust in the Dolphins’ ground game to give them an edge. Edge: Patriots

When the Patriots run: The Patriots can win a game on the strength of their run game alone, as evidenced by the Dec. 6 win they got at Buffalo in brutally windy conditions. New England is eighth in the NFL with 126.1 rushing yards per game with that especially powerful right side of the line with guard Shaq Mason and tackle Trent Brown.

Damien Harris is 108 yards from a 1,000-yard season and has punched in 14 touchdowns on the ground. Rookie Rhamondre Stevenson behind him has been impressive and has run for 4.4 yards per carry spelling Harris’ 4.7 clip.

The Dolphins were on a strong stretch in run defense before allowing a season-worst 198 on the ground to Tennessee last Sunday. The Titans piled onto that total late in that game, and it also came as the Dolphins offense didn’t do much in support of the defense. I expect them to emphasize stopping the run against New England and come out motivated to prove last Sunday’s effort isn’t the norm. Christian Wilkins leads the NFL in tackles by a defensive lineman with 83. Edge: Even

When the Dolphins pass: Tagovailoa has hit a rough patch and it found a low point in Sunday’s loss in Nashville. The wet ball combined with the cold contributed to probably his worst start of the season at the worst time. He fumbled three times, lost one of them, threw an interception, had other passes that could’ve been picked off and was sacked four times — all while completing under 50 percent of his passes.

Tagovailoa had a strong run over three and a half games when he came back from the finger injury, but he hasn’t found himself back over a 100.0 quarterback rating in the three games since. The 53.1 figure on Sunday was a season worst outside of the first start against the Bills, when he exited after two possessions with fractured ribs. Rookie wide receiver Jaylen Waddle is three receptions shy of breaking Anquan Boldin’s rookie receptions record.

The Patriots have Pro Bowl cornerback J.C. Jackson with eight interceptions and Pro Bowl pass rusher Matt Judon with 12 1/2 sacks, plus veteran former Pro Bowler Devin McCourty at free safety. New England ranks fourth in the NFL in pass defense and third-down defense, tied for third in takeaways and leads the league in scoring defense. Edge: Patriots

When the Patriots pass: The last time the Dolphins saw Patriots quarterback Mac Jones was the first time any NFL team had seen Jones. In that opener, he was 29 of 39 for 281 yards, a touchdown and no interceptions. He was in position to earn a win in his first game against what could be a longtime rival in the Dolphins, but Harris fumbled in the red zone, allowing Miami to run out the clock.

Since that game, Jones has posted a 67.6 completion percentage for 3,540 yards, 21 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. His top pass catchers have been receivers Jakobi Meyers (79 receptions for 796 yards) and Kendrick Bourne (52-776) and tight end Hunter Henry, who leads the team with nine touchdown catches.

The Dolphins’ lone Pro Bowl selection, cornerback Xavien Howard, who forced and recovered that game-winning fumble in Week 1, will look to add to his four interceptions before season’s end. Miami may try to bring its blitzes vs. Jones, but he handled them well in the first meeting. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is one sack away from 10 on the season, which would be a big number for him going into offseason contract negotiations. Edge: Dolphins

Special teams: With kicker Jason Sanders 21 of 29 on field goals, the Dolphins actually have a league-worst field goal percentage of 72.4. Not all of it is on Sanders as some of the recent misses have been long ones right before a half and/or following an ill-timed third-down sack that pushed the attempt either to the brink or just outside of his true range.

Patriots kicker Nick Folk, on the other hand, has made 35 of his 38 field goal tries with all three misses from beyond 50 yards. New England also has special teams ace Matthew Slater, but Dolphins gunner Mack Hollins is also one of the best, especially tracking down Michael Palardy’s punts inside the 10-yard line. Edge: Patriots

Intangibles: The Dolphins are coming off a loss for the first time in two months, and they no longer have anything on the line after their elimination from playoff contention last Sunday. The Patriots, who have clinched a playoff berth, can still overtake the Bills for the AFC East title, which means home-field advantage in the wild-card round, but it will also take a New York Jets upset of the Bills. New England can finish as low as No. 7 in the AFC with a loss and can actually finish as high as No. 1, but that scenario that involves four other upsets is likely to be squashed by the 4:25 p.m. kickoff on Sunday. Miami hasn’t swept New England since 2000, Bill Belichick’s first year leading New England. Edge: Patriots

PREDICTION: Patriots 23, Dolphins 17


Source: Berkshire mont

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