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Scouting the Matchup: No Gronk, no problem

Pats still have the edge without Rob Gronkowski against the struggling Dolphins.


New England gashed Miami for a season-high 196 total rushing yards in Week 12, led by the red-hot Dion Lewis with 112 on only 15 carries. Over the past month and a half, Lewis has become New England's clear-cut No. 1 running back, with 50 or more yards in six of his last seven games, including his first career 100-yard game against Miami. The Dolphins have had trouble stopping the run all year, ranking among the bottom quarter in run defense, thanks in large part to a total meltdown against Carolina, which rushed for a total of 294 yards as a team. Even with center David Andrews missing two games due to an illness, the Patriots haven't missed a beat running the football, particularly up the middle, where Lewis has been at his best in recent weeks. It's hard to envision anything changing in this week's rematch. Advantage: Patriots


The Dolphins are already without Jay Ajayi, whom they traded to Philadelphia in October, and they may be without one of their top backups, Damien Williams, who dislocated his shoulder in the Week 12 loss to New England. Kenyan Drake, the next man in line, didn't do much in Williams' absence two weeks ago, fumbling in his first carry following his teammate's injury. Williams and Drake basically split time in the aftermath of the Ajayi trade, so Drake will now shoulder more of the burden until Williams returns. Drake had a big game in last week's win over Denver, and the Patriots allowed 100 or more rushing yards in four consecutive weeks until they faced Miami in Week 12. Williams was effective that day before the injury, although the score may also play a factor in the number of times Miami runs the ball, much like it did the first time around. Advantage: Dolphins


Tom Brady threw four touchdown passes in the first game against Miami this year despite a heavy pass rush that resulted in eight quarterback hits, one of which played a role in Brady rushing a throw that led to an interception. Brady remains upright despite the constant pressure and nagging injuries, but the line needs to do a better job against edge rusher Cameron Wake and linebacker Kiko Alonso. The two combined for six hits with Wake doing most of the damage, but Alonso is a notorious hard-hitter who forced former Patriot Jimmy Garoppolo out of the lineup last season. Even under duress, Brady is tough to stop, so if he gets better protection Monday, he'll have his way even without Rob Gronkowski against a defense ranked surprisingly low in sacks and interceptions despite the Pro Bowl talent on that side of the ball. Advantage: Patriots


Jay Cutler will likely get the start Monday after returning from a concussion last weekend. Matt Moore got the nod in Week 12 against New England and finished with only 215 yards and two interceptions. No matter who starts, it's tough to pick against a New England defense that has gone from one of the worst in the league to the hottest in the NFL over the last two months. After getting torched for 33 points in a loss to Carolina, the Patriots held each of their next eight opponents to 17 points or fewer. Stephon Gilmore has played well in recent weeks, while Duron Harmon and Jonathan Jones and newcomer Eric Lee have taken on more responsibility due to injuries. The biggest threat in Miami's passing attack is Jarvis Landry. He gets the bulk of the targets, so expect him to be double-teamed in big spots. Advantage: Patriots


The Patriots faked a punt on their first offensive series in Week 12 against Miami, a key turning point as they scored the game's first 14 points. They also blocked a field goal, returned a kickoff for a touchdown and recovered a fumble on a punt return in a win over Denver. They recorded a safety on a punt return against the Chargers earlier this season and took advantage of a career-long 62-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski in Mexico City against the Raiders. The Dolphins need much more help moving the ball than New England does but don't generate enough yardage in the return game to help their offense, which is ranked among the bottom of the league in scoring. The Patriots are almost impossible to beat if they're creating turnovers in the kicking game. Advantage: Patriots


The Patriots are tremendous on the road - arguably more consistent than they are at home - but they've struggled in Miami in recent years. The Dolphins have won three of their last four at home against New England and 36 of 52 overall dating back to the infant stages of this longtime rivalry. New England's struggles in Miami are well documented, and it's perhaps the only intangible the Dolphins have in their favor. The Patriots are neck and neck with Pittsburgh for the No. 1 seed in the AFC, so every game is a must win. The Dolphins are winding down another disappointing season after making the playoffs a year ago but can still play spoiler. "Monday Night Football" on the road against a division rival is always a tall order. Home-field advantage ultimately might not be enough for Miami, but it's all it has to cling to this week. Advantage: Dolphins

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