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Unfiltered Notebook 12/24: Playoff focus for Patriots against Dolphins

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Twas the night before Christmas and all through Gillette Stadium players and coaches were underway with their preparations for the Miami Dolphins. Despite Miami's lackluster record this season, this is still a very meaningful and important Week 17 game for the Patriots.

With a bye week on the line New England is treating this one like a playoff game.

"This is a playoff game," Bill Belichick told WEEI on Monday. "If we beat Miami we don't have to play in the first round of the playoffs. That's a playoff game. If we don't, we'll be playing a game next week."

When pressed if players could really fool themselves into believing a game against a 4-11 team headed for the golf course next week was a playoff game, Belichick put it in convincing terms.

"If we win, then it's the same as winning a playoff game next week," continued the coach. "Other teams are going to have to win a playoff game next week to continue. If we win this week we don't have to do that. It is a playoff game that's the way we're going to treat it and I don't see it any other way."

Miami is 4-4 in their last eight games, including their best offensive performance of the season coming last week against the Bengals. With a coaching staff filled with respected former Patriots coaches, as well as some players, the current Patriots are expecting the Dolphins to come out and play hard.

"These guys are definitely a group that we've got to prepare well for," said outside linebackers coach Demarcus Covington. "They've played in a lot of close football games, and they compete very, very hard and that really starts from their head coach [Brian Flores]. You know, he was in our building, so I know what type of guy he is, so I know the type of football team that they have."

Belichick echoed his assistant coach's feelings about the Dolphins.

"They've been very competitive," said Belichick. "They've won four of their last eight games and have been in a lot of close games in addition to that. So, I think you can see a lot of confidence there, a lot of improvement in the overall understanding and execution of what they're trying to do in all three phases of the game. They've got a lot of tough, hard-nosed, competitive players that compete hard for 60 minutes."

James White said his team will be ready to counter with their own 60-minute effort.

"It's an important game for us, just got to go out and compete from the first snap to the last," said White. "Those guys are going to come out ready to play.

"It's a division game. No matter what their record is, these games are never easy to play in, teams are going to come out and compete. They're a well-coached team. You know, Flo [Brian Flores] is coaching those guys, they're not going to come in here and just lay down, and we've got to come out here and compete from the first snap, like I said, to the last one."

Practice & Injury Report

The Patriots held a walk through on Tuesday with all players present, including Jonathan Jones, who missed the Bills game, and Marcus Cannon, who left the Bills game with an ankle injury and did not return. It's a good sign for the health of those two important players, along with Julian Edelman.

Stat Check

Table inside Article
Stat Patriots (12-3) Dolphins (4-11)
Offensive Points 26.4 (6th) 18.6 (25th)
Offensive Third Down 38.5 percent (15th) 33.9 percent (27th)
Offensive DVOA 11th 28th
Offensive Passing DVOA 14th 27th
Offensive Rushing DVOA 17th 32nd
Offensive Red Zone 49.1 percent (27th) 56.8 percent (18th)
Turnover Ratio +23 (1st) -12 (29th)
Defensive Points 13.2 (1st) 31.3 (32nd)
Defensive Third Down 23.0 percent (1st) 42.2 percent (25th)
Defensive DVOA 1st 32nd
Defensive Passing DVOA 1st 32nd
Defensive Rushing DVOA 7th 27th
Defensive Red Zone 48.0 percent (5th) 62.5 percent (28th)
Special Teams DVOA 12th 22nd

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