Bill Belichick's Patriots have been through a lot over the course of the season.
Getting to the point where they are in the driver's seat for the No. 1 seed in the AFC and the once-again favorite for Super Bowl LI was not a simple road.
But this Sunday's opponent, the playoff-bound Dolphins, has also come a long way over the course of the last few months.
Way back in Week 2 Jimmy Garoppolo's hot first half – before he left to a shoulder injury – and the defense holding on were the story of the Patriots 31-24 victory.
Now, the two AFC East rivals are two of the hottest teams in football having won a combined nine straight games and 19 of 21 contests.
Each has something to play for Sunday afternoon but also reason to be cautious heading into the postseason.
And, Miami has been a place where the Patriots have lost three straight games, while Tom Brady has often had his struggled in the South Florida sun over the years.
Forget about resting players, Belichick sounds like a guy preparing for a fight to the season's finish on Sunday.
Belichick's scouting report on the Dolphins, as well as a lot of talk about the resurgent fullback position in the NFL are two of the highlight's from the coach's big Wednesday morning press conference with the media.
1. Miami "a lot different than the team we saw earlier":Adam Gase has the Dolphins peaking at the right time. Miami is in the postseason for the first time since 2008, despite a knee injury to quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Belichick has clearly been impressed with the way the Dolphins have evolved since the coach last saw them in Week 2.
"It seems like last year that we played the Dolphins, but it really was this year. This is a team that's a lot different than the team we saw earlier in the season – not just their record, but I'd say overall the way that they play, the way they do things," Belichick said to open his presser. "They've been very impressive. They're strong in all three phases of the game. Their defensive line is a huge force, got a lot of turnovers, a lot of interceptions. They've really improved in the red area and on third down, obviously; very good in that area and particularly in some of the shorter distances which are usually the easier ones to convert, but not against them.
"Offensively, it's a very explosive unit. A lot of big plays; running game, passing game; the receivers are all big-play players. Obviously, [Jarvis] Landry had a big day against us; [Kenny] Stills, [DeVante] Parker, those guys are – Parker had a big day against us, too. Parker, Stills, all those guys are tough to handle, plus all the running backs. [Jay] Ajayi gets a lot of credit and he deserves it. [Kenyan] Drake, [Damien] Williams, they've got a lot of depth at that position. The quarterbacks have played well. They've kind of juggled things around a little bit on the offensive line, and that group seems to have come together and solidified. [Dion] Sims has given them some solid play at tight end as he did before. It's a good football team. [They do] a lot of things well. They have good field position because of the kicking game, good on defense and very explosive on offensive. We've got a lot of work to do.
"Hopefully we can go down there and play more competitively than we have in some more recent trips."
2. James Develin "built to last": Belichick was asked five questions about the fullback position in the middle of his press conference. Once seen as a dying position in the NFL, many teams now count on the spot as a key part of their team. That's true in New England where James Develin has seen his playing time increase dramatically in recent weeks for a Patriots offense that's as balanced and diverse as it's been in quite some time. The guy both Josh McDaniels and Tom Brady have called the best fullback in the NFL has apparently handled the increased workload well.
"He loves to play. Yeah, he's happy to go in there," Belichick said of Develin with a smile. "He's done a good job for us on the punt team, the kickoff return team, he's played for us in the kicking game, a very dependable player. James is strong. He's not big like a lineman but he's got very good playing strength for his size. I'd say he's built to last. He's got a strong body and he can take contact and he can give it out, too. He's tough. He's got a good mentality. He likes contact. He seeks it out, but he's changed up his techniques and as he's played more guys have kind of played him differently. There are some things he's had to deal with this year that maybe he didn't have to deal with – he didn't play too much last year – but two years ago from a technique standpoint. He's adjusted and adapted to that. He's done a good job."
3. Know your role!: In his comments about finding fullbacks for NFL action, Belichick noted that not a lot of guys are destined for the spot based on their high school and college experience. They are usually converted from other roles that they played at those levels. In a follow-up question about some guys playing the same position their entire life, Belichick had a humorous and interesting comment about the differences between offensive and defensive prospects.
"I think most of the defensive players need to understand that the reason they don't play offense is because they're not good enough to play offense," Belichick declared, drawing laugh from the gathered media.