This week, the Dolphins have a shot at playing spoiler against their hated rivals, the New England Patriots. If the Pats win, they will clinch the top seed in the AFC and have a much easier road through the playoffs. However, if the Fins can pull off the upset, a win by the Broncos later in the day would bump New England to number two. With little else to play for, the Dolphins should draw motivation from having the opportunity to take the Pats down a notch. Let’s take a look at a few pivotal matchups to watch.
S Reshad Jones vs TE Rob Gronkowski
Without question, Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in the business when he is healthy, and he is feeling pretty good these days. Overlooked as an elite blocker, Gronk is known primarily for his electrifying receiving abilities. Through 14 games, he has amassed 70 catches for 1,158 yards and 11 touchdowns, and he must be shadowed any time he is on the field. Perhaps fueled by being snubbed for the Pro Bowl, safety Reshad Jones needs to play the game of his life to slow number 87. Jones has put together a stellar campaign, racking up a team-leading 131 tackles, as well as two sacks. He also leads the team in interceptions with five, returning two of those for touchdowns. Gronk still holds the edge, as he does in any matchup, but the key is to limit the damage. When the Dolphins traveled to New England in Week 8, Gronk destroyed them for six catches, 113 yards, and a score, but if any safety is up to the task of cooling him off, it is Miami’s own Reshad Jones.
LB Kelvin Sheppard vs RB James White
New England has gone through a number of running backs this season, seeing both Dion Lewis and LeGarrette Blount on Injured Reserve, yet they keep finding talented guys to get the job done. Using a tandem of Brandon Bolden and James White, the Pats have managed to maintain a decent rushing attack while also boosting their receiving corps. White has been the lead guy in recent weeks, mainly due to his receiving abilities out of the backfield, and middle linebacker Kelvin Sheppard will be taxed with removing him from the equation. Sheppard is second on the team in tackles with an even hundred, but he has only registered two passes defensed. He will have to step up his play against the pass if he hopes to keep pace with White, or the flashy back could easily lead the Pats in receiving yards. “Sweet Feet,” as he is known by his teammates, was a non-factor in the Week 8 meeting.
DE Derrick Shelby vs RG Josh Kline
The key to beating the Patriots is keeping Tom Brady off balance, and the only way to do that is to get in his face. New England has reshuffled their offensive line numerous times this season, and teams have occasionally found success in the pass rush department. That was not the case for the Fins in Week 8 when, with Cameron Wake still healthy, they only managed two sacks. Brady shredded them for 342 passing yards, and the Pats won in dominant fashion. This time around, Derrick Shelby will likely be matched up against Josh Kline, who has been a reliable, versatile lineman for New England. Shelby has recorded 32 tackles, 2.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception this season, but he will need to do better than that to get to Tom Brady. With Ndaumukong Suh eating up double teams in the middle, Shelby must find a way to get pressure from the outside to put Brady on his back. Failing to do so will result in a punishing aerial attack.