4 things to know before the Patriots season finale against the Dolphins

Patriot

A win against the Dolphins could be a tremendous help to the Patriots’ playoff outlook. But Miami hasn’t been kind to the Patriots lately.

Mack Jones looks to pass against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The Patriots don’t have to worry about fighting for their playoff lives on the road against Miami in Week 18 after making the playoffs last week. The Dolphins, on the other hand, will surely be watching the playoffs from their couches.

But Miami could still play a sort of spoiler on Sunday if the Patriots allow them. The loss of the road to New England, which currently own the AFC’s first wild card spot, could tarnish their playoff outlook even before they take the field in two weeks.

A win, however, could make life a little easier and perhaps give people more confidence in rookie Mac Jones as he leads his first excursion to the NFL playoffs.

What fans need to know about this week’s “meaningless” yet important Patriots season-finale.

The Patriots have a lot to play for and lose.

New England would have to kick themselves at giving up control of both the AFC East and the conference’s top seed, with serious losses to Indianapolis and Buffalo.

The dreams of achieving both are not dead yet, but they are long shots.

A victory for the Patriots and Buffalo’s loss to the New York Jets would secure AFC East for New England, guaranteeing it was no worse than a top-four seed. Don’t hold your breath on that, though: The Bills trounced the Jets 45-17 earlier this season and got to play the game at home.

Still, if those scenarios passed, the Patriots could somehow steal back the AFC’s top seed if the Titans lost to the Houston Texans and Kansas City fell to the Denver Broncos. Again, good luck getting all that help.

Winning can be the difference between playing against the Chiefs on a wild card weekend against a team like the Bills, Colts or Los Angeles Chargers.

Suffice it to say that the Patriots definitely want to win on Sunday.

New England must stop Jaylen Waddell.

The Patriots aren’t the only team that has outstanding players outperforming Alabama.

Waddle is easily leading all the rookies in 2021 with 99 catches, and his pace and versatility have converted those grabs into 988 yards. Even if their numbers go up due to extra games on the schedule, it’s a very productive first year.

Tua Tagovailoa’s limited arm strength means that Waddell’s insane speed down the field has not been used as a weapon this year. Somehow, the mega-explosive receiver averages 7.1 yards of depth on each target. If anything, it reveals what a terrifying threat he is at every touch. waddle Raises up 437 yards after catchwhich is good for 11th place in football.

The Patriots need to sidestep issues last time against Miami, in which they allowed too many catches and yards on slant and bubble screens. Waddle should be the first person he has his eye on, whether it’s wide, in the slot, or in the backfield. They don’t want to see him jet off the grass in front of them.

Mack Jones might have to win the game.

The Patriots rookie had a solid start to the season (281 yards, a TD) and did enough to help the team win. It’s not his fault Damien Harris stumbled when New England was about to take the lead.

But the offense’s inability to score those game-cleaning points in Weeks 1 and 4 against Miami and Tampa Bay has directly raised questions about Jones’ ability to “win” the Patriots a game. (The drive to win the Houston game is rarely talked about.)

Jones certainly may need to reverse that narrative if his team wants to play last wild card weekend.

The Colts and Bills provided two sides of the same blueprint opponents would hope to use against Jones and the Patriots’ offense: stop the run and throw the rookie to defeat them (the Colts) and Jones the ball. Force the throw down and out of the field. number (bill).

The Dolphins did a fine job in addition to Harris’ two chunk plays against the Patriots’ run game in Week 1, so expect him to see Jones in action again this Sunday.

It’s time for the rookie to show the teams that they can’t do it without consequences.

The Patriots have the misfortune of turning up in Miami.

Even as the Patriots were in the middle of their seven-game winning streak, the unease among fans about that Week 18 game against the Dolphins was evident.

It’s a cause for concern: The Patriots have lost six of their last eight games in Miami.

The infamous 2018 “Miami Miracles” game, in which Kenyan Drake escaped a stumble Rob Gronkowski to sneak into the end zone, stands out as the most recent example. The Patriots also lost to Cam Newton in Miami last year and were on top of the Dolphins in the first week.

The Patriots may be the better team, but divisional competitions don’t always work out the way people expect them to. Miami would happily sweep New England’s season out of reach of the playoffs.

But while the Dolphins are only playing for pride, there is much more at stake for the Patriots. Besides, limping in the playoffs isn’t a good feeling.