New England enters the matchup 7-8 but is still alive for a playoff spot. A loss would essentially end the Patriots' season but a win would give them control of their own playoff destiny entering the final week of the regular season.
Here are four bold predictions for Sunday's showdown.
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4. Mac Jones will throw for at least two touchdowns and won't be intercepted
The Patriots second-year quarterback played well in the team's comeback bid against the Cincinnati Bengals last week, completing 21-of-33 passes for 240 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions, good for a 105.6 passer rating.
I'd expect Jones to carry the momentum from that game into Week 17.
Miami holds one of the league's worst pass defenses. It's 28th in passing yards allowed and 25th in passing defensive DVOA. Sure, Jones was underwhelming in the Week 1 performance against the Dolphins, completing 21-of-30 passes for 213 yards with a touchdown and an interception, but he's been a better quarterback since the Week 10 bye.
In the last six games, Jones has had a passer rating of at least 100 in three of them. He's thrown for 235 yards per game and a total of five touchdowns to an interception during that stretch, too. They aren't the sexiest numbers for sure, but they're decent enough and if look further into the situation, Jones hasn't had much to work with this season.
There are some other reasons for optimism though for Jones on Sunday. DeVante Parker's continued absence will likely, or at least should, allow Kendrick Bourne to get an ample amount of playing time against the Dolphins. Bourne went off last week in his first meaningful action in quite some time, catching six passes for 100 yards with a touchdown in the Patriots' comeback attempt against the Bengals.
And if you recall, Bourne made a big impact in his very limited action against the Dolphins in Week 1. He only played two snaps in that game for seasons that remain unclear, but he recorded a reception for 41 yards in one of those two snaps.
Was just reminded Kendrick Bourne's first catch of the year was a pretty effortless bomb from Mac Jones that traveled 52 yards pic.twitter.com/laYyNXyLug
— Taylor Kyles (@tkyles39) December 27, 2022
With the Patriots' playoff hopes on the line on Sunday, the smart thing would be to break out all the stops and play the most talented group of players. That should mean playing Bourne, which would in turn help Jones significantly.
3. Hunter Henry has his best game of the season
The Patriots won't have Jonnu Smith on Sunday due to a concussion, but they should have their most dependable tight end – and that's a major benefit for them.
The Dolphins rank 30th in DVOA in guarding tight ends, allowing roughly 60 receiving yards on 7.5 targets per game.
That's certainly great news for Henry, who was limited at practice this week due to an injury he suffered early in the loss against the Bengals but was reportedly day-to-day.
The 2022 season hasn't been the kindest to Henry, but he's had some better performances in the back half of the season, especially against teams that struggle against tight ends. He put up a 50-yard game against the Indianapolis Colts. He had three receptions for 63 yards and a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings, and depending on who you ask, he should've had another reception for a touchdown in that game. Henry also had three receptions for 70 yards against the Arizona Cardinals a few weeks back.
Mac Jones finds a wide open Hunter Henry down the seam to put New England inside the five!
— NFL (@NFL) December 13, 2022
New England's utilized Henry a fair amount running down the seam over that stretch. That could possibly be a ploy it uses in order to either open up the field or find the tight end open down the field on Sunday.
2. New England struggles to stop Miami's passing attack
Teddy Bridgewater is in for the Dolphins this week with Tua Tagovailoa out due to a concussion. While the Patriots have feasted on lesser and backup quarterbacks so far this season, I wouldn't expect the same on Sunday.
Bridgewater enters as good of a situation as possible for a backup quarterback. Tyreek Hill's been one of the best receivers in football again as he's second in receptions and receiving yards. Jaylen Waddle hasn't been too far behind, ranking seventh in receiving yards and tied for fifth in receiving touchdowns.
Even though Bridgewater hasn't performed too well in a full-time starting role over the last two seasons, he performed well in a similar situation for the Saints in 2019. After Drew Brees went down for five games due to an injury, Bridgewater stepped up and threw for 1,384 yards with nine touchdowns and two interceptions and led New Orleans to a 5-0 record during that stretch. This Dolphins team has comparable talent compared to that Saints team, so this isn't new ground for Bridgewater.
To make matters a bit better for Miami, New England's secondary is dealing with injuries at the moment. Rookie corners Jack Jones and Marcus Jones have already been ruled out. Jalen Mills is questionable due to a groin injury that's cost him the last four games. That leaves Jonathan Jones as the Patriots' only top four corner that's expected to play entering Sunday's game.
New England's also struggled against top receivers for much of the season. Justin Jefferson, Stefon Diggs, and Tee Higgins have all had big performances against this Patriots squad over the past month. Earlier this season, Hill had an eight-catch game for 94 yards while Waddle had four receptions for 69 yards and a touchdown against the Patriots.
So yeah, not the walk in the park many Patriots fans might think it'll be.
1. The Patriots win at the buzzer
Both teams are probably catching each other at a good point in the season. The Dolphins are on a four-game losing streak and will be without their starting quarterback. The Patriots have lost four of five and have lost their last two games in devastating fashion and are dealing injuries at key areas, too.
So, despite what's on the line, the quality of the game might not match the stakes. In fact, it likely won't as both teams have just been uninspiring over the last few weeks.
That's probably where home field would come into play. It actually is expected to be above 50 degrees in Foxborough, surprisingly warm for New Year's Day. But just like the Dolphins, the Patriots' passing game could use the advantage, too.
Somehow, someway, this Patriots team will still keep their playoff hopes alive for another week and win a tight what that ends up being determined on the last play.