The Patriots wrapped up a playoff berth on Sunday and a significant portion of the credit has to go to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and the job he has done melding a group of free agents and veterans with a rookie quarterback and winning double-digit games.
Football Outsiders ranks the Patriots offense 10th overall, coming in at ninth both passing and running the ball. They're eighth in points, 16th in total yards and seventh on third down while working their way up to 13th in red zone after spending most of the season near the bottom of the league.
While they can look forward to their Wild Card matchup there's still one regular-season game to go and it comes against a divisional rival who knocked off New England in a one-point game to start the season. As much as the season is about playoff success, the Patriots have the chance to create a fitting end to their regular season by reestablishing themselves above the Dolphins in the final standings.
Even with Miami out of the playoff hunt, McDaniels still expected a tough battle.
"The first thing you see is they've got the players at all three levels and they have a great blend of youth and experience," said McDaniels of the Dolphins. "They've definitely gotten faster over the course of time, they've brought in some guys that can really run and help on defense. The scheme is very multiple as everyone knows and has been widely reported about. They give you a lot of different looks, they're not afraid to pressure, including max pressure to see if you're able to handle those types of things...They're not going to show you their hand before the ball is snapped. They do a really good job of disguising. There's always going to be some element of new to the game plan when you're preparing for them."
What will be new this week could be anyone's guess, and likewise the Dolphins can expect something new from the Patriots, although McDaniels said he's not one to sit on any new twists for very long.
"I would say that we never wait, I know that," said McDaniels when asked by CLNS' Evan Lazar about how trick plays are generated. "You always think at this time of year if you're able to find something a little different that maybe hasn't been scouted forever, somebody could use against you or you use against them to potentially give yourself an advantage. That's always something you're looking for but it's not always easy to find."
But in a game against a former Patriots coach, it's less about the twists and more about which team plays tougher and avoids the critical mistakes. In Week 1, that team was the Dolphins, as the Patriots coughed up a critical fumble as they were poised to take the lead and then were unable to get a stop to give themselves another chance.
Having played Flores' Dolphins five times already, they know this game will unfold in a similar fashion even if the Dolphins have one eye on the offseason already.
"In many ways, it reminds me of a training camp practice where you have to follow your rules, trust yourself and your teammates," said McDaniels. "That will be a big part of our week, we've got to see it for what it is and we've got to be able to do what our rules tell us to do, run or pass and we're going to handle the volume, handle the pressure that they bring to us and handle all the different coverage variations that they play off of it."