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Nuggetpalooza’s Patriots vs. Dolphins Preview!

12.31.10 at 9:35 am ET
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As far as the standings are concerned, Sunday’s final game of the regular season against the Dolphins is meaningless. However, there will still be football played in Foxboro and the stats still count. Here are a few things to keep an eye on:

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* – The Patriots won last Sunday by 31 points despite Buffalo taking an early 3-0 lead. It tied their largest winning margin ever in a game in which their opponent scored first:

31 – at Buffalo, 12/26/2010
31 – vs Miami, 10/15/1967
28 – vs Denver, 9/16/1961
28 – vs Buffalo, 11/11/1984
27 – at Miami, 10/4/2010

Note this: It was the largest winning margin ever by New England in a road game where their opponent scored first.

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* – Despite Miami having almost as many drives of 10 or more plays this season as the Patriots (NE has 27 to Miami’s 26), the Pats have been MUCH more efficient, averaging 4.78 points (ranked first) compared to just 3.15 points for the Dolphins (24th).

Note this: Despite allowing an NFL high 33 drives of 10 or more plays this year, the Pats’ defense has allowed 3.94 points on those drives, the eighth highest average allowed in the league.

And this: If New England allows one drive of 10+ plays this Sunday, they will have allowed more such drives in 2010 than in any season since 2004.

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* – Miami’s defense has been VERY good recently at limiting opponents on first down, allowing four or more yards only 38.5 percent of the time over the last five games, second best in the league in that span. Of course, the Patriots offense will provide a stern test, as they have been successful on 53.3 percent of their first down plays over the last five games (also ranked second).

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* – Despite limiting the Bills to 3-for-10 last week on third downs, the Patriots are still on pace to allow the highest third down conversion percentage in the NFL in the last 15 years:

48.2% – Patriots, 2010
47.4% – Raiders, 2004
47.4% – Colts, 2008
47.4% – Chiefs, 2008

Since they began tracking the stat in 1992, the Patriots’ previous worst such season was 2008, when they allowed 44.4 percent conversions.

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* – Both offenses have been quite good right out of the gate as both rank in the league’s top five in points scored on their first possession of the game:

49 – Eagles
48 – Saints
40 – Dolphins
38 – Patriots
38 – Falcons

The Patriots and Dolphins are also two of just five teams that have not committed a turnover on their first possession of a game this season. Miami is the ONLY team that has not committed a turnover on their first possession of EITHER half of a game this year.

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* – New England has scored 134 points off opponent turnovers this season (five defensive touchdowns along with 12 touchdowns and five field goals on drives following takeaways) while allowing just 24 points following Patriots’ turnovers, a net of +110 points, by far the highest in the league:

+110 – Patriots
+ 72 – Packers
+ 59 – Chiefs

Note this: Miami’s net is -39 points, the fourth worst mark in the NFL.

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* – Despite their struggles, the Dolphins have allowed just 16.0 first downs per game, second fewest in the league. They are averaging net +2.9 first downs per game, sixth in the NFL. Compare those figures to the Patriots, who are allowing 22.1 first downs per game (tied with Tennessee for the most in the league) and a net -1.4 per game, ranked 22nd.

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* – Unless New England fumbles six or more times on Sunday, they will set a new club record for fewest fumbles in a season:

8 – 2010
14 – 2007
15 – 1969
16 – 1982

Note this: With just eight fumbles so far, the Patriots have a great chance to finish with the second fewest fumbles by any team since 1960:

7 – Chiefs, 2002
8 – Patriots, 2010 (one game to go)
10 – Colts, 1998
10 – Vikings, 1998
10 – Falcons, 2010 (one game to go)

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* – The Patriots have been in goal-to-go 31 times this season, fourth most in the league, and averaged 6.26 points, the best in the league:

6.26 – Patriots
6.15 – Chargers
6.10 – Broncos

Note this: Miami’s defense has allowed opponents into just 15 goal-to-go drives, tied for the second fewest in the league. What’s more, their opponents have averaged just 4.47 points on those 15 drives, also ranked second.

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* – It’s not that Miami’s offense hasn’t had their scoring chances in 2010. They’ve been inside their opponent’s 30-yard-line 63 times, which ranks 12th in the league. But they’ve managed an average of just 3.71 points on those opportunities (22 touchdowns, 27 field goals, 14 empty trips), which is the fourth lowest/worst mark in the NFL:

2.69 – Panthers
3.57 – Cardinals
3.59 – Rams
3.71 – Dolphins

Compare that to the Patriots’ league high average of 5.09 points when they get inside their opponents’ 30 (45 touchdowns, 21 field goals, 8 empty trips).

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* – Much has been written and said about the insanely low total of interceptions thrown by Tom Brady this season. However, you don’t hear nearly as much about the 24 picks by the Patriots’ much maligned defense. With one interception this Sunday, it would give them the second most interceptions by a New England defense since 1964. The only Pats team with more in the last 46 years would have been the 2003 squad, with 29.

Note this: With one game left, they’ve allowed 24 touchdown passes to go with their 24 interceptions. New England has a chance to become just the fourth NFL defense in the last 20 years to allow at least 24 touchdown passes and still have more picks than TD passes allowed. And 184 teams have allowed 24 or more touchdown passes in that span.

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* – Miami has been penalized a league low 555 yards this season, leaving the Dolphins with a very good chance to have their lowest penalty yardage total since 1991:

555 – 2010 Dolphins
640 – 2009 Dolphins
656 – 1992 Dolphins

In the last 20 years, the Dolphins have never finished a season with the fewest penalty yards.

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* – The Patriots need 130 rushing yards on Sunday to post their third highest rushing total in the last 22 seasons. Here are their highest totals since 1989:

2,278 – 2008 Patriots
2,134 – 2004 Patriots
1,969 – 2006 Patriots
1,921 – 2009 Patriots
1,866 – 1995 Patriots
1,849 – 2007 Patriots
1,793 – 2001 Patriots
1,792 – 2010 Patriots

What’s more, the Patriots’ 4.38 average per rush this season has a chance to be their highest since they put up a 4.84 average in 1983. However, to do that, they’ll need to pass the 4.44 average from 2008. They will need to average slightly more than five yards per carry to pass that mark.

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* – The Patriots had two scoring drives last Sunday of less than 30 yards, giving them 10 such drives this season. It’s just the second time that they’ve reached had more than eight such drives since they began tracking the stat in 1995. They had 11 such scoring drives in 2006.

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