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Five things you have to know about the Dolphins

12.10.13 at 3:43 pm ET

The Patriots travel to South Florida Sunday for a date with the Dolphins. Here are five things you have to know about Miami, which is 7-6 and in the hunt for the last playoff spot in the AFC.

1. They have done well to ignore the noise over the last month.

There were several people — myself included — who believed the Dolphins wouldn’t be able to withstand the clamor that arose in the wake of the Jonathan MartinRichie Incoginto mess, but they’ve managed to keep their eyes on the prize and remain in the playoff chase. The Dolphins have won three of their last four, with the only loss in that period coming at home to the suddenly surging Panthers. What might even be more impressive that they’ve won games in different fashions — they won blowouts, shootouts, grinders. And they have some impressive victories on their resume to this point in the season, including a 22-20 win over the Bengals and a 24-20 victory against the Colts. Sure, there have been some ugly losses — including a 22-19 defeat to the Bucs that gave Tampa its first victory of the season — but all in all, they deserve to be commended for keeping a difficult situation together.

2. If form holds, both the Patriots and Dolphins offenses should struggle early, but New England should have some chances against Miami late.

The Patriots and Dolphins are two of the most punchless teams in the league when it comes to first-quarter scoring — New England has 51 first-quarter points on the season (including just two first-quarter touchdowns over the last six games), while Miami isn’t much better with 43 first-quarter points through the first 13 games. However, while the Dolphins have also struggled late (their 53 fourth-quarter points is fourth-lowest in the league), New England has managed to light it up over the course of the final quarter. The Patriots have 129 fourth-quarter points on the year, second only to Denver’s 149. (For New England, that includes 84 fourth-quarter points in the last six games.)

3. When it comes to close games, they have almost as much experience as the Patriots.

For New England, 10 of their 13 games have been decided by seven points or less. (The Patriots are 7-3 in those close games, which included Sunday’s comeback win over the Browns.) But the Dolphins also have to feel pretty good about things down the stretch — Miami has had nine of its 13 games decided by a touchdown or less, including Sunday’s 34-28 win over the Steelers in Pittsburgh. (Overall, the Dolphins are 5-4 in games decided by seven points or less.)

4. They have run the ball well as of late, but there are some question marks in the backfield because of injury.

Because of the snow — as well as the fact that they were taking advantage of a suspect Steelers’ run defense — the Dolphins were very impressive on the ground Sunday against Pittsburgh, rushing for 181 yards as a team. However, starting running back Lamar Miller suffered a concussion in the third quarter of that one, and as a result, his status for this week’s game against the Patriots is up in the air. Tailback Daniel Thomas (who has been dealing with an ankle injury as of late) ran well against Pittsburgh, finishing with a game-high 105 yards and a touchdown on just 16 carries. The Patriots were able to have some success slowing the Cleveland running game last Sunday, but regardless of who’s in the backfield for the Dolphins Sunday, it figures to be something of a sterner test for New England — Miami is averaging 95.8 yards per game. A little better than the Browns, but not much.

5. Charles Clay has become an absolutely integral part of their offense.

This past offseason, the Dolphins made some high profile pickups on offense with the acquisition of wide receiver Mike Wallace and tight end Dustin Keller, but it has been the relatively anonymous Clay who has proven to be one of the most important pieces of the Miami offense. Clay, who caught 34 passes in his first two seasons with the Dolphins, has really clicked with quarterback Ryan Tannehill this year, hauling in 60 passes for 678 yards and six touchdowns. The Patriots have struggled to contain tight ends over the course of the season — Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron had nine catches for 121 yards and one touchdown on Sunday — and so it would make sense for the Dolphins to feature Clay as a big part of their passing attack come Sunday.



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