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Patriots at Dolphins - Keys to a 'Fins Win

Mike Ferguson

The Miami Dolphins look to snap a seven-game losing streak to the New England Patriots on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

After consecutive road victories, the Miami Dolphins return home for Sunday's game against the first place New England Patriots. Both teams are coming off dramatic victories as the Dolphins rallied for a 34-28 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. New England scored a pair of touchdowns in the final 1:01 to down Cleveland 27-26.

The Miami Dolphins will be looking for three straight victories for the first time since beginning the season 3-0. Prior to wins in the last two weeks over the New York Jets and Steelers, the Dolphins had not won consecutive games since the hot start. At 7-6, Miami is tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the final wild card spot in the AFC although the Ravens do hold the tiebreaker. Miami is in second place in the AFC East, three games back of New England.

With a 10-3 record, the Patriots lead the AFC East and can clinch the division with a win in Miami on Sunday. Thanks to the Denver Broncos' loss at home on Thursday night to the San Diego Chargers, New England also controls its own destiny for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

New England rallied from a 17-3 deficit to beat the Dolphins 27-17 in late October of this season in Foxborough. The Patriots have won the last seven meetings and 11 of the last 13. Miami's last win in the series came 22-21 on a late field goal by Dan Carpenter in December of 2009. The last meeting in South Florida was won by the Patriots 23-16 in early December of last season. To snap a seven-game skid to New England, here are Sunday's keys to a 'Fins win:

Their "Turn"

Turnovers played a huge factor in Miami's first meeting with the Patriots this season and could again on Sunday. The Dolphins' 17-3 lead was gone in the October match-up after a long touchdown pass from Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady and a fumble by Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill that set up New England's second score. An interception later in the contest with the Dolphins trailing 20-17 thwarted a potential scoring drive after Miami had reached midfield. The Dolphins committed three costly turnovers in that contest as New England would seize control of the division. The Miami defense has forced a turnover in every game this season, but taking care of the football will be even more vital for the Dolphin offense on Sunday. If the Dolphins want to avoid losing for an eighth straight time to New England, they cannot afford to lose the turnover battle.

Get "Rid"ley of the Balance

Although New England has one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game in Tom Brady, where the Patriots have really hurt Miami over the last couple years offensively is on the ground. Running back Stevan Ridley was able to wear down the Dolphins in the October match-up as the Patriots went for 152 yards on the ground. In the last meeting in Miami, New England was able to put together a seven-minute drive to put the game away late as the Patriots beat the Dolphins 23-16. For Miami to fare well on Sunday, the Dolphins will need to shut down the New England ground attack and put Brady consistently in third down and long. For that to happen, Miami will need big days from defensive tackles Paul Soliai, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick.

Fun with the Run

The Miami Dolphins are coming off a season-high rushing effort of 181 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers and finished with 156 yards on the ground in their last meeting with New England. Daniel Thomas led the way with 105 yards and a touchdown last week and both he and quarterback Ryan Tannehill broke long runs in the victory. Running back Lamar Miller is expected to be in the lineup this week and the Dolphins need to make a concerted effort to pound away at a New England defense that ranks just 31st in the NFL against the run this season. If the Dolphins can get the Patriots focused on stopping the run, that should open things up for Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and the Miami passing attack down the field.

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I can very much see the Dolphins taking this one.  The Pats without The Gronk are just a different team, and this week the Dolphins will know to expect 203 targets to Shane Vereen out of the backfield, allowing them to prepare for it.

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