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Pats Must Start Strong Against Miami

INSIDE SLANT: The time has come for the Pats to clinch another AFC East title. Every year in New England, there is Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, Pats clinch the AFC East, and then Christmas. If the Pats win Sunday they clinch their 10th consecutive AFC East Title and their 16th in 18 years. The last time the Buffalo Bills won the AFC East was 1995, the New York Jets 2002 and the Miami Dolphins 2008. Sharing the love in the division has not been a strong suit of the Pats in recent times. The Pats, though, have struggled in Miami in the Brady-Belichick era with a 1-4 record in their last five meetings. The Pats lost last year to Jay Cutler in Cutler's final win and it was their last loss until losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl. The Pats also lost to Miami at the end of the 2015 season when they needed to win to clinch the No. 1 seed so they didn't have to go to Denver. The loss likely cost them another Super Bowl appearance.

The Dolphins have played well at home this season with a 5-1 record, the opposite of their 1-5 record on the road. The Pats are the better team, but the Dolphins likely don't want to see the Pats celebrate another AFC East title in Miami. Dolphins Coach Adam Gase said Wednesday this game does not have extra significance, but if the Dolphins could win a division game and stop the Pats party for another week that would make him happy. The Pats, who have a 3-3 road record this season, must start fast because they are not a team that has shown the capability to come from behind on the road. As for the difference between home and road performances of the Dolphins.

"It's two totally different teams," Patrick Chung said.

SERIES HISTORY: 106th meeting, Dolphins lead series 54-52. The last time these two teams played was in September when the Pats won 38-7. The teams have met three times in the playoffs with the Pats beating the Miami Dolphins in the Orange Bowl in 1986 to clinch their first Super Bowl berth. It was the first time the Pats had won at Miami since 1966, which ended a string of 18 consecutive losses. The Pats lost to the Chicago Bears 46-10 two weeks later. For any Pats fan, under 30, that can name two players on this team (without a google search) should win a prize. The Pats are 2-1 against Miami in the playoffs.

NOTES, QUOTES:

Dolphins Coach Adam Gase on Danny Amendola's desire to play against the Pats. "He wants to play in this game as bad any anybody. I am just trying to make sure we go through the week in the right way where he doesn't put himself in a worse position."

Pats S Patrick Chung on the improved tackling this season: "Because we preach it. You can’t tackle, you can’t play. We have pads on for a reason. We preach it, we practice and we want to see that carry over to the game. If you can do that, then you have a good chance of playing.... tackling is more of a will thing. Either you want to tackle or you don't."

Patrick Chung on his relationship with Danny Amendola. "Danny’s the man. I mean, that’s because it’s my friend but he’s a small dude but he’s stronger than you think and he’s feisty. He’s going to be ready for us. He’s a tough dude, plays through injuries, smart. Whatever the injury report says, we’re getting ready for Danny because he’s good. He’ll be there. He’s a tough guy."

Trey Flowers on the importance of stunts to the Pats defense, which the Pats have used more of lately. It allows Flowers to rush against interior linemen where he is more effective. "It creates confusion anytime you can give the offense different looks. The goal can be to create two on one scenarios. The guys on the interior are not the same athletes as the tackles. Anytime you can force the offensive line to change directions it can help."

BY THE NUMBERS:

1000 - the number of rushing yards Tom Brady now has in his career.

4.5 - the number of sacks by DE Trey Flowers who will need more sacks if he wants a bigger contract in the offseason. Flowers said Thursday that he has been able to get more pressure on the QB when the Pats runs stunts -- allowing him to rush against the guard and center.

2 - the number of touchdown catches by Rob Gronkowski this season. He is clearly slowing down. Gronkowski had only three catches Sunday against the Vikings.

5/28 - Jason McCourty held Adam Thielen to five catches for 28 yards Sunday against the Vikings. McCourty has demonstrated that he can play well in the slot. With McCourty in the slot, the Pats can put Stephon Gilmore and J.C. Jackson outside. Jackson has shown himself to be a feisty cornerback who can learn from his mistakes and is not afraid of being physical.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:

Kyle Van Noy: The Pats acquired Van Noy two years ago, who Adam Gase said has been a nightmare to face. Van Noy has steadily improved. No one will confuse him with Tedy Bruschi or Jerod Mayo - but he has used his intelligence to read offenses well and has been able to pressure the QB at important times. The Pats are thin at linebacker so Van Noy's improvement/growth at the position was much needed.

Malcom Brown: Patrick Chung said Brown is the most underrated Patriots and he has improved this season. Along with Lawrence Guy the middle of the Pats defensive line has been tough to block. Danny Shelton, who the Pats acquired from Cleveland in the offseason, has been a disappointment.

James White: White has been excellent this season and he is the Pats Kyrptonite. When everything else does not work, the Pats can throw or give it to White and he will make great plays.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: Elandon Roberts, the linebacker who struggled in his first two years in the league, has improved this year. Pats linebackers coach Brian Flores had high praise for Roberts Tuesday on a conference call. Flores has been impressed with Robert's work ethic and willingness to improve.

GAME PLAN: Offensively, the Pats will need to block the top notch pass rushers Robert Quinn and Cameron Wake who has given the Pats a lot of trouble over the years. One way to beat a strong pass rusher is throw the ball quickly or run the ball well - both of which the Pats do well. The game plan should be to get Julian Edelman involved early and often. The Pats should also throw a lot of screen passes to James White.

Defensively, the Pats defensive backs will need to have a good game in coverage against a diverse Miami wide receiving tandem of Kenny Stills, Devante Parker and former Pats WR Danny "playoff" Amendola. The Pats must stop the bigs plays of the Dolphins, which explains why the Dolphins offense has struggled because they lack an intermediate passing game.

QUOTES ON GAME: James White on whether the Pats have extra motivation this week because they can clinch the AFC East with a win. "Just treat it like another game. Just try to go and get a win versus a divisional opponent on the road. The last few times we’ve played them down there, we haven’t played very well so I think that’s enough motivation in itself."

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: WR Danny Amendola v. CB Jason McCourty (If Amendola plays, he missed last week's game because of injury, then McCourty should have the opportunity to cover him in the slot. This could be Amendola's last season so he will be extra motivated to play well against his former team that didn't pay him what he thought he deserved).

LT Trent Brown v. DE Robert Quinn (Brown can handle the speed of Quinn and prevent him from being disruptive and the Pats might give Marcus Cannon help on the other side of the offensive line with Cameron Wake who has given the Pats trouble over the years).

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