1. Match the Dolphins intensityThis is going to be tough. The Dolphins come in winners of five in a row and need a victory to finish with a winning record. That would be a heck of an accomplishment in Nick Saban's first season. The Patriots, on the other hand, may decide to rest some starters in the second half. That hasn't been set in stone because the team can still grab the No. 3 seed in the AFC with a victory and a Bengals loss. If the Patriots come to play like they did against the Jets, they have a very good chance of ending the season with a five-game winning streak. If they don't take this game as seriously as the Dolphins do, they are going to have a tough time winning. Miami wants to come in here and set a tone for next season by defeating the Patriots on their home field. That alone should have New England ready to play against one of their most hated rivals.
2. Can the Patriots stop the run without Tedy Bruschi?While we aren't sure how long the starters will play for, we can be pretty sure that one player who won't see the field is Tedy Bruschi. Bruschi is nursing a calf injury and he probably won't be back in the lineup until the first playoff game. The Patriots have been amazing against the run over the last month. In their last four games, the most yards a running back has rushed for against the Patriots is 29 by Curtis Martin. It will be interesting to see how the rush defense plays with Monty Beisel in the middle instead of Bruschi. Beisel played well when he came in against the Jets but he had some trouble getting adjusted to the Patriots scheme early in the year. It's important for Beisel to play well because Bruschi's health for the playoffs is up in the air right now and the former Chief could see significant playing time in New England's upcoming games. Ronnie Brown is banged up but Ricky Williams has found his old form, rushing for 272 yards and two touchdowns in his last two games. If Beisel and the Patriots defense gets pushed around by Miami and gives up a lot of yards on the ground, it won't be a good sign heading into the playoffs with an injured Bruschi.
3. Pressure the quarterbackThe last time these two teams played, the Patriots defense made Gus Frerotte look like Peyton Manning. That was before the Patriots started playing more aggressively on defense so Frerotte had all day to stand in the pocket and find his receivers. Don't expect to see the same thing this time around. Frerotte is still the starting quarterback in Miami but Sage Rosenfels has been seeing time as well. Whichever quarterback is in the game; they can expect to see a lot of blitzes. The Patriots can't afford to sit back and let the Dolphin quarterbacks get comfortable because they do have a lot of explosive weapons in the passing game. Chris Chambers is one of the hottest receivers in the NFL, Randy McMichael is one of the leagues top tight ends and Marty Booker killed the Patriots the first time they played. Frerotte threw for 360 yards when the teams met back in November. If he approaches anywhere near that number this Sunday, either New England has a bunch of backups in the game or the team isn't ready to play because their defense is playing too well right now to let a quarterback of Frerotte's caliber light them up again.
4. Keep working on the running gameThe biggest weakness the Patriots have heading into the playoffs is still not being able to run the ball consistently. Last week against the Jets, they ran the ball 50 times but only averaged 3.0 yards per carry and that was against a Jets defense playing without Shaun Ellis andDewayne Robertson. The Patriots tried a lot of different things last week like lining Tom Ashworth up at tight end and fullback. Look for them to continue to try and fine-tune the running game this week against Miami. The Dolphins rank 19th in rush defense and the last time the two teams played, Heath Evans ripped them for 84 yards. Corey Dillon may not play the whole game but he can expect to see plenty of carries while he's on the field. Running the football isn't only a good idea because New England has struggled in that department this season, it also means Tom Brady won't be throwing the ball very often. The fewer hits Brady takes in the season finale, the better.
5. Stay Healthy
Speaking of Brady, the biggest goal for the Patriots in this game is to stay healthy. Sure, this team wants to win every game they play but with a playoff spot and division title all wrapped up, their worst fear is losing a starter in the final game of the season. Other than Bruschi and Asante Samuel getting banged up last week, the Patriots are as healthy as they've been all season long. Having said that, they really can't afford to lose any more players this year. They are playing shorthanded as it is and to lose a Mike Vrabel or a Deion Branch right now would be devastating. Whether they have the most points at the end of the day or not - if the Patriots come out of this game with no injuries - it will be a win for them.
Belichick hired Saban as his defensive coordinator when he was named head coach of the Cleveland Browns is 1991. The two worked together until 1994…Saban coached three Patriots players while at LSU: Jarvis Green, Randall Gay and Marquise Hill…Wide receivers coach Brian Daboll, quarterbacks coach Josh McDaniels and linebackers coach Dean Pees were all on Saban's staff when he was the head coach at Michigan State…Larry Izzo was originally signed by the Dolphins as a rookie free agent…Heath Evans played in the first six games of the 2005 season with the Dolphins, earning two starts…Miami Defensive tackle Keith Traylor played for the Patriots in 2004, starting 10 of 16 games at nose tackle.