As difficult as it may seem at this point, take the potential 15 inches of snowfall out of the equation for this weekend's matchup between the 8-4 Dolphins and 10-2 Patriots at Gillette Stadium and you still have the makings for one heck of a memorable game. Between the potential division and playoff ramifications, the recently hard-fought battles in the series and the little bit of trash talking that has gone on between the two teams, this game may not have needed the extra hype of a blizzard-like conditions to make it an instant classic.
"Looking at Miami, I think that right now they are probably playing as well as any team in the league," Patriots Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "They have won the last three. They went into Dallas and scored 40 points on the top-ranked defense in the league. They are 5-1 on the road this year.
"I am not really that worried about the weather. I am worried about the Dolphins. That is who we are playing. Whatever the conditions are, they will be the same for both teams. It looks like we will probably have a little dogfight on our hands on Sunday, whatever it is like. Whether it is 80 degrees or it is not."
Offensively the Dolphins have a consistent quarterback in Jay Fiedler and numerous weapons such as Ricky Williams, Randy McMichael and Chris Chambers. Miami's defense gets more press, but this offensive group certainly doesn't lack talent and all Fiedler seems to do is win games.
"I think he is an efficient quarterback and he is a winning quarterback," Belichick said. "I remember two years ago in the 2000 season at the end, he played well, he threw the ball well at the end of the year when they beat us. I think that he is a very capable quarterback and a good quarterback. He knows how to make the plays to make that team win. That is what quarterbacking is about. It is about winning games. It is not all about stats and interception rating and all of that. It is about winning games."
And Belichick doesn't expect Williams, who had 185 yards on 31 carries against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium last December, to be adversely effected by any potential weather conditions.
"It is not like the guy is a rookie," Belichick said. "He has been in the league. He has played in it. He plays up in Buffalo every year. He plays in New York every year. He plays in New England every year and of course whatever other away games they have up here. The guy is a pro. I think a pro player goes out there and competes whatever the conditions are. I don't think a good competitive player gets psyched out just because it is windy or there is some snow on the ground or the crowd boos or whatever. A good player doesn't get bothered by any of that stuff. He just goes out there and plays and plays through it."
Defensively the Dolphins are as stacked with talent and playing as well as they ever have. From the corners to the linebackers to the defensive line, Miami is simply getting it done of late. Nowhere is that more evident than at defensive end where Jason Taylor and Adewale Ogunleye have combine for 18.5 sacks on the season.
"I would say that, combined, they are as good as anybody we have faced," Belichick said. "They are both very explosive, fast guys. They can bring power. They are very athletic. [Dwight] Freeney and Taylor, there are a lot of similarities. They are both fast. They are up-field rushers. Taylor is kind of a tall, lanky guy who has a long of reach. Freeney is more of an explosive, shorter guy, better initial quickness. Yeah there are some similarities. I think just in terms of body type and frame and a little bit of technique there are some differences. These two guys are really good edge rushers, 18 sacks or whatever it is. There is a lot of pressures to go with it, believe me. It is not just the sacks. I am not going to hang it on the sacks. There are plenty of plays where they are closing in on the quarterback, they are hitting him when he throws. It does not show up on the stats, but they are there."
And in the end Belichick expects as close a battle as has become commonplace in the series. The last two meetings have gone into overtime and a third straight would probably not surprise anyone on either snow covered sideline.
"This is a game that both teams are pretty familiar with each other," Belichick said. "We have had a lot of tough games against the Dolphins and I am sure that this one will be no exception. It will come down to the team that plays the best on Sunday and is able to take advantage of the opportunities, not what happened last week, last year or last month or last anything else."
Game notes and numbers
Despite being added to the injury report as questionable on Thursday with the flu, linebacker Mike Vrabel was feeling better in the locker room on Friday and should play on Sunday. … The Dolphins added linebacker Zach Thomas (hip) to the injury report on Thursday, listing the Pro Bowl middle backer as questionable. … Willie McGinest's goal-line tackle of Colts running back Edgerrin James was voted the NFL Play of the Week, presented by LEVITRA. … The Patriots can clinch their seventh division title with a win on Sunday. It would be the earliest point in the season at which the team clinched the division. In fact four of the team's previous six division titles were clinched on the final day of the season. … The Patriots have only clinched one division title at home, a 26-24 win over the Bills on Dec. 10, 1978. … Since 1993 New England is 11-2 when it's 35 degrees or colder. … New England is 4-0 in games in which snow has been a factor in Foxborough, including the 2001 AFC Divisional Playoff win over the Raiders and the win in the "Snow Plow Game" over the Dolphins in 1982. … Five of the Patriots last six wins have come by six points or fewer. Three of their last four wins were by four points or fewer. … With a win this week the Patriots would tie a club record with nine consecutive regular season wins. … This will be the 74th meeting between the two franchises with Miami holding a 44-29 advantage in the series. The Patriots have won five of the last seven meetings in New England and are 21-15 all-time at home. … Bill Belichick has a 3-6 record against the Dolphins, 3-4 as the head coach of the Patriots. … Dave Wannstedt is 4-5 lifetime against New England, 4-3 with Miami. … The Patriots have the NFL's 16th ranked offense and 8th ranked defense. Miami has the 26th ranked offense and 13th ranked defense. … The Dolphins are tied for the NFL lead (Tampa Bay) giving up just 15.9 point per game. … The Patriots have recorded an interception in each of the last 8 games and in 11 of 12 games this season. … The Patriots are 23-1 under Belichick when scoring 24 points or more. … Roman Phifer leads the Patriots with 106 tackles. He led the team with 109 tackles a year ago. In three years with the Patriots Phifer has recorded 307 tackles, more than any other player. Tedy Bruschi is second in that time with 240. … New England leads the NFL with 94 passes defensed. … Tom Brady needs just two touchdown passes to move past Jim Plunkett (62) on the Patriots all-time list for touchdown passes. … New England has given up just 10 touchdown passes this season, tied with the Jets and Dolphins for the fewest in the NFL. … The cumulative quarterback rating of Patriots opposing quarterbacks is 61.7, best in the league. … New England has won 18 consecutive games when leading at halftime, 23 when after three quarters. … New England ranks third in the AFC with a plus-seven turnover ratio. … Jay Fiedler completed 16-of-20 passes for 239 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions for a 156.0 rating last week against the Cowboys. … The team that has held the advantage in third down conversions has won each of the last 10 games in the series. … Chris Chambers caught five passes for 96 yards with three touchdowns in Miami's win at Dallas. ... Defensive end Adewale Ogunleye is tied for the NFL lead with 12.0 sacks. … Ogunleye and Jason Taylor are the NFL's most productive sack combination with 18.5. … Patrick Surtain is first in the AFC and tied for second in the NFL with seven interceptions. … Ricky Williams is sixth in the AFC and 11th in the NFL with 1,013 yards. He leads the league with 300 rushing attempts. … Olindo Mare leads the NFL with 18 touchbacks on kickoffs. … Brady (.714) and Fiedler (.694) have the first and third best winning percentages of active quarterbacks with at least 25 starts. … Chambers leads the Dolphins with 45 receptions for 669 yards and nine touchdowns. … Despite missing more than four games with an injury, Fiedler has completed 116-of-197 passes for 1,413 yards and nine touchdowns with seven interceptions. … Zach Thomas leads Miami with 135 tackles. … Miami is 6-0 when scoring 21 points or more this year.