New England Patriots (13-2 SU, 12-3 ATS) vs. Miami Dolphins (10-5 SU, 9-6 ATS)
Week 17 NFL
Date/Time: Sunday, January 1, 2017 at 1PM EST
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, Florida
By Loot, NFL Football Handicapper, Lootmeister.com
Betting Odds: NE -9.5/MIA +9.5
Over/Under Total: 44.5
In AFC East action on week 17, the New England Patriots come to the Hard Rock Stadium to face the Miami Dolphins. Both teams took care of business last week. The Patriots smashed the Jets, 41-3, to go to 13-2, right on the cusp of taking down the top-seed in the AFC heading into the postseason. The Dolphins, meanwhile, scored a 34-31 overtime win over the Bills to notch their tenth win of the season. With Denver losing on Sunday, Miami clinched a wild card playoff slot.
These teams already played this season and it's iffy if that game even matters with it coming back in week two, when the Pats beat the 'Fins, 31-24. It was a different time for both teams. New England was still without Tom Brady, while Miami was in the midst of a 1-4 start to the season. They have since won 9 of ten games. They're a different team now. And so are the Pats. As far as urgency heading into this week's matchup, the arrow points toward New England. If they lose and Oakland wins, the Raiders can still take the top-seed in the conference.
Miami looked pretty good on Sunday and are now 2-0 without Ryan Tannehill behind center, as Matt Moore has taken over and led Miami's offense to a pair of 34-point games. He has thrown six touchdowns in two games and has shown an ability to get this offense cooking. They also are getting a big boost from Jay Ajayi, who ran for 206 yards against Buffalo last week. With other parts of the team chipping in for the big team effort, maybe things won't be so bad for the Dolphins without Tannehill. Nine wins in ten games is nothing to scoff at.
What will the state of urgency be with Miami for this game? There is nothing that can be gained or lost, as they will be on the road for the first playoff game. Still, with the way they're playing; don't expect anything resembling a total week off. They might be a little careful with certain players, such as Ajayi, who was really a workhorse last week. And they might not push the envelope in some cases. Moore has also been making nice connections with some of Miami's aerial weaponry, led by Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills, emerging DeVante Parker, and TE Dion Sims. Speedy Kenyan Drake has been a useful weapon as a rookie. There are weapons for Moore to use. On offense, they can use another week of getting Moore ready, but how far will they take it? First-year head coach Adam Gase says he will not rest starters and will continue the approach that got the Dolphins here.
Miami's defense is one of those groups that isn't terribly stout, but makes up for it in other ways. When a team goes on a run like the Dolphins did this season, the defense can't be that bad. While ranked 30th as a total defense and pretty leaky against the run, they play in rhythm with the offense, giving them enough room to do their thing. And they have a playmaking ability, with a nice pass-rush and an ability to get turnovers, while also playing at their best late in games. With 11.5 sacks, Cameron Wake can still wreak havoc against quarterbacks. Tony Lippett leads with 4 picks, as the Dolphins have picked off 16 passes this season. Standouts Kiko Alonso, Ndamukong Suh, and Isa Abdul-Quddus (questionable) have also helped this "D" be a little better than they appear on paper.
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It's been a banner season for the Pats, with just two losses in a season that offered a lot of challenges. Tom Brady was fantastic since rejoining the fray in week five, He has 25 TD throws and just 2 interceptions. LeGarrette Blount is at 1110 yards and 17 touchdowns on the ground. Dion Lewis and James White have chipped in on the ground. Julian Edelman will surpass 1000 yards this week, with a nice supporting cast of Martellus Bennett, Chris Hogan, and rookie Malcolm Mitchell. White has also caught 56 balls on the season. The line has done a good job in keeping Brady protected. Not having Gronkowski in there is a gaping absence, one that rendered the Patriots' offense a diminished one in recent seasons, but they haven't done too badly without him so far.
The New England defense has a lot going for it. A tremendously-coached group, the Pats allow fewer points than any team in the league, having given up just 15.7 points per game. The front, with Alan Branch, Vincent Valentine, and Trey Flowers, have been good, with the middle very strong with Rob Ninkovich, Dont'a Hightower (questionable) and Shea McClellin. The secondary makes plays, as well, led by Eric Rowe, Malcolm Butler, Patrick Chung, and Devin McCourty.
The Patriots are already guaranteed a first-round bye, where they'd have to win just one game to get to the AFC conference title game. Still, a team of New England's caliber knows it would be big to have that title game in Foxborough. While there is some different motivation at play here, both teams should be putting it on the line on Sunday. These week 17 games can be tricky, as teams with varying motivational sources tangle in games where it can be difficult for bettors to find traction. Still, with New England getting a break after this and still having something tangible to play for, I see their effort resonating more, particularly late in the game. But against a team on a roll like Miami, even if the goal of winning is unclear, almost ten points is a lot. I'm taking the home dog.
Loot's Prediction to Cover the Point Spread: I'm betting on the Miami Dolphins plus 9.5 points. Tired of your credit card not working for sportsbook deposit? End that problem today and bet the New England vs. Miami game from the comfort of your own home by signing up at Bovada Sportsbook where your credit card WILL work and where you'll receive a generous 100% sign-up bonus!