New England Patriots (-9.5, 44 o/u) at Miami Dolphins
The New England Patriots (13-2, 12-3 ATS) have needed a Week 17 win against the Miami Dolphins (10-5, 9-5-1 ATS) to secure homefield advantage before. In fact, it was just last season. And the Pats failed to get it. Three weeks later, they lost the AFC Championship in Denver. So they understand how they can’t let this Sunday’s game slip through their fingers (1:00 PM Eastern at Hard Rock Stadium).
This year’s clash in Miami represents more than just another trap game for New England though. The Dolphins have already established themselves as a legitimate team, securing a playoff berth last weekend. They’re currently slated to visit Pittsburgh at frosty Heinz Field on Wild Card Weekend, but now, a win coupled with a Chiefs loss would send Miami to warm Houston to play the uninspiring Texans. Its been 16 years since Dolphin fans have seen a playoff win, and head coach Adam Gase will want his team in the best position to get one, so it’ll be all hands on deck for Miami.
New England has lost three straight games in Miami, and failed to score more than 20 points in those outings. But this Pats offense shouldn’t be worrying too much after watching the Dolphins surrender 589 yards to Buffalo last week, including 272 on the ground. Tom Brady has looked unstoppable this year, partly because he’s been able to rely on a very productive run game; the kind New England had lacked in previous years. So look for a steady dose of LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis as Bill Belichick tries to keep his starting QB clean.
Despite bleeding yards, Miami has been able to win their last two games with backup Matt Moore under center. Moore has led the Dolphins to 34 points in consecutive games, leaning on Jay Ajayi and then hitting downfield passes in the play action game. Working with a talented – if not underappreciated – group of wideouts in Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker, this Miami offense can still flourish without Ryan Tannehill.
The Patriots defense has allowed only six points over the past two weeks, but before you hurt your hands applauding them, keep in mind those performances came against the lowly Jets and a stagnant Broncos offense.
New England has given no reason to doubt them against the spread all season, and that’s likely why this line is so high. The Pats have destroyed the spread, particularly on the road (6-1), and this game is the over-correction.
To put this line in perspective, the only other road team favored by 9.5 points this week is Seattle, who are visiting the pitiful, potentially-worst-team-of-all-time-if-they-didn’t-play-the-Rams-twice San Francisco 49ers. The gap in skill between New England and Miami is not equivalent to the one between the Seahawks and Niners. You know what the right call is here.
Pick: Miami (+9.5).
Photo credit: Coalman767 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons