|Rob Gronkowski is expected to return today for the Patriots.|
No matter the result of today's game, there will be a welcome sight at Foxboro as the New England Patriots expect to welcome back Rob Gronkowski. The tight end hasn't featured for the Patriots since their Week 11 home victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Late in that game Gronkowski broke his arm on an extra point and has missed the five weeks since recovering. Along with Gronkowski, the Patriots will also be welcoming Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots already beat the Dolphins a matter of weeks ago without Gronkowski, so any contribution he makes today will be beneficial, but not necessary. The Dolphins did relatively well against the Patriots in Miami eventually losing out 23-16 in a tighter affair than most expected. Another unexpected 23-16 victory for the Patriots came last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. The Patriots weren't close to their best against the Jaguars, as they fell behind early to one of the worst teams in the league, so they should be determined this week to finish the regular season with a spark that could light the flames of victory for the playoffs.
At the very least, the Patriots' defense should rebound this week because the Dolphins don't have the big play threats of the Jaguars. The Jaguars were able to rip off chunks of yardage at a time with receptions of 36, 18, 53, 18 and 17 yards coming from their wide receivers. When the Dolphins last played the Patriots, they did have a handful of receptions over 20 yards, but never eclipsed 30. Tannehill doesn't have any real big play receiver to throw to and his best possession receiver, Davone Bess, has been ruled out for the game through injury. Containing Brian Hartline will be the Patriots' secondary's biggest challenge as they focus in on the running game.
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Running-back Reggie Bush is coming off his most productive game in a Dolphins' uniform as he scored three touchdowns last week against the Buffalo Bills. Two of those touchdowns came as a receiver, as he somewhat struggled to run the ball effectively, but that didn't mean the Dolphins were ineffective on the ground. Rookie LaMar Miller has been emerging gradually all season long and exploded last week with a 73 yard performance on just 10 carries. His presence will allow the Dolphins to split Bush wide more often and use his dynamism in the open field, while still having a big play threat in the backfield. Bush has big play ability no matter where he is on the field. The Dolphins only problem is that they are heavily reliant on him.
Offensively the Patriots could struggle again. Last week Tom Brady threw two interceptions to go along with just two touchdowns and 260 odd yards on over 40 attempts. Notably, Aaron Hernandez had just one reception as Mike Hoomanawanui offered the only big plays from the tight end position. The Patriots will be hoping Gronkowski can fix that this week, but it's still a lot to ask from a player coming off of injury. At the very least, Brandon Lloyd was involved last week catching six passes for 62 yards, while Wes Welker had his typical 10 reception day with a touchdown.
Defensively, the Dolphins are a bit of a mixed bag of talent that comes in all different sizes. Players such as Cameron Wake, Randy Starks and Reshad Jones could be all-pro players on any given Sunday, but the defense as a unit has had days when it has looked particularly bad. They do rank sixth overall in points allowed per game, giving up just under 20 points per game, but have also had days such as that in Tennessee when the Titans scored 37. The Dolphins will look to get pressure on Tom Brady to contain the Patriots offense, however they will likely need to eclipse their four sack tally from the two teams' last meeting if they are to effectively manage that.