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Setting the scene: Patriots-Dolphins 12.02.12 at 10:39 am ET
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Rob Ninkovich and the Patriots look to lock up another AFC East title today in South Florida. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

Rain and temperatures in the mid-70s are expected for the 1 p.m. kickoff as the Patriots look to clinch their 10th AFC East title in 12 seasons with a win over the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.

The Patriots head into the game with three players already ruled out, as Rob Gronkowski (forearm), Chandler Jones (ankle) and Logan Mankins (ankle) will all miss the game.

Julian Edelman did practice this week after suffering a concussion in the team’s last game, 11 days ago on Thanksgiving night. But he was limited and was officially questionable for the game. Edelman was one of 15 players listed as questionable on the team’s official injury report as of Friday afternoon.

The Dolphins, by contrast, are relatively healthy, listing only nine players on their entire report, with eight probable and one questionable.

Much has been made of the fact this week – and rightfully so – that the Patriots have been become automatic in the second half of seasons under Bill Belichick.

They are 19-0 in the second half of seasons, dating to their last loss, Jan. 3, 2010, which marked the 2009 season finale. That was the game in which Wes Welker blew out his knee in Houston and the Patriots lost a double-digit lead and fell to the Texans, 34-27.

They are also an NFL-best 41-5 in the month of December since 2001, a record that includes seven perfect Decembers. Belichick is 43-7 in December with the Patriots, the best record in the month for one coach with one team in NFL history. George Seifert (49ers) is second at 27-6.

A win today would also ensure New England its 12th consecutive winning season. Only San Francisco (1983-98) and Dallas (1970-85) with 16 straight winning campaigns have better in NFL history.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Dallas Cowboys, George Seifert, Miami Dolphins
Bill Belichick wins AP Coach of the Year honors 02.02.11 at 8:07 pm ET
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Bill Belichick won his third Coach of the Year award on Wednesday. (AP)

Patriots coach Bill Belichick was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year Wednesday night. It is the third time Belichick has been honored as a head coach — he also won the award in 2003 and 2007.

“It’s a tribute to our ownership, our assistant coaches and certainly the players,” Belichick said in an interview with the NFL Network after he won the award. “They’re the ones who’ve stepped up and made the plays this year. We had a lot of new people on the team, young players that contributed, and it’s certainly an honor to receive this award on behalf of our performance in the regular season. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to carry that over into the playoffs.”

Belichick guided the Patriots to an NFL-best 14-2 record in 2010. He became the first head coach ever to win at least 14 regular-season games in four separate seasons (2003: 14-2, 2004: 14-2, 2007: 16-0 and 2010: 14-2). Only four other coaches — San Francisco’s George Seifert (3), Washington’s Joe Gibbs (2), Chicago’s Mike Ditka (2) and Miami’s Don Shula (2) — have more than one 14-win season.

Belichick received 30 votes, while Tampa Bay’s Raheem Morris and Kansas City’s Todd Haley got 11½ votes each. Meanwhile, Atlanta’s Mike Smith, Philadelphia’s Andy Reid, Chicago’s Lovie Smith and St. Louis’ Steve Spagnuolo all got one vote each.

Under Belichick, the 2010 Patriots set and tied numerous NFL records. They set a league mark for fewest turnovers in a 16-game season with 10, set an NFL record by playing seven straight games without a turnover, set an NFL record with seven straight games with 30 points and no turnovers, tied an NFL record with eight straight games of 30 points or more and tied an NFL record for fewest interceptions in a season with five. The 2010 team also set a franchise record by finishing the season with a turnover differential of +28, forcing 38 turnovers while allowing just 10 turnovers. The turnover differential of +28 is the second-best since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, trailing only the +43 posted by the 1983 Washington Redskins.

In addition, the 2010 Patriots finished first in the NFL in scoring (518 points for a 32.4 average) and eighth in the NFL in fewest points allowed (313 points for a 19.6 average).

“We had a lot of different challenges this year,” Belichick said. “I just have to give a lot of credit to the players. They adapted. They adjusted. We had some tough weather conditions, like the snow out in Chicago for example, but the players did a good job of staying focused and playing through those conditions. And we were able to get a lot of turnovers defensively at the end of the year, and offensively, we had a lot of points and special teams was good for us early in the year, so it all kind of balanced itself out one way or another during the course of the season.”

Read More: Andy Reid, Bill Belichick, Don Shula, George Seifert
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