Road to Perfection

Until last week, the Miami Dolphins had not won a game since beating the New England Patriots more than a year ago.

The Patriots still have not lost a regular season game since that one.

That leaves them with a chance going into Sunday's matchup with the Dolphins to become the first team in NFL history to go 15-0, and get within one win of a perfect season by knocking off the only franchise to complete one.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made New England –21.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 45 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 64% of bets for this game have been placed on Miami +21.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

New England can also match its own league record for consecutive regular season victories at 18, a streak it achieved during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. The last loss was a 21-0 defeat in Miami on Dec. 10, 2006.

The Dolphins (1-13) followed that up with 16 straight defeats before beating Baltimore 22-16 in overtime last Sunday.

So instead of trying to avoid a winless season, the Dolphins now focus on preventing New England from joining them as the only franchises to finish a season unbeaten. Miami went 14-0 in 1972, but no team has won its first 15 games since the league adopted a 16-game schedule in 1978.

Tom Brady says the Patriots simply don't think about the historic season they are potentially having.

"Never. Maybe we're not human, maybe that has something to do with it," joked Brady, among eight Patriots named to the Pro Bowl this week.

Outside of trying to go 16-0 - they finish on the road against the New York Giants next week - the Patriots don't have anything to play for over the final two games of the regular season. They wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the AFC with last Sunday's 20-10 win over the New York Jets.

"It's good. It's good to have that, but right now that's not really anything we're going to dwell on," coach Bill Belichick said. "We're just going to get ready for Miami and get ready to play the Dolphins."

Belichick has not indicated he plans to rest his starters much over the next two weeks, wanting to keep his players fresh and keep the momentum going as the playoffs approach.

"I hope I play every snap," said Brady, who is 320 passing yards shy of Drew Bledsoe's 1994 club record of 4,555. "That's the most exciting part of my job is playing, not practicing."

If the weather is as bad as it was last week, possibly creating a greater risk of injury, Belichick might want to limit his stars' playing time. There's a chance of showers in the forecast Sunday, but the winds are not expected to be too strong and the game-time temperature could be above 40 degrees.

That would be significantly better than last week, when cold weather and a stiff wind blowing rain in Foxborough slowed down the prolific Patriots offense. Brady went without a touchdown pass for the first time all season, remaining four shy of Peyton Manning's single-season record of 49, and New England had a season-low 265 yards of total offense.

"You have to be able to play in what Mother Nature gives you," said Matt Light, one of three Pro Bowl offensive linemen for New England. "I think we're a good running team. ... We can run the ball. We've got guys that are good at seeing what's going on up front and making good blocks. These are just things that we're going to have to keep developing all the way into the playoffs."

The Patriots ran for 131 yards last week, their highest total since October, and Laurence Maroney had his second 100-yard game of the season as he was given a season-high 26 carries.

New England might again hand off a lot to Maroney this week, facing a Miami run defense that's allowing a league-worst 155.9 yards per game. The Dolphins have given up at least 163 rushing yards in three straight games.

Brady, Randy Moss and the air attack have slowed down a bit in recent weeks as New England has failed to dominate as it did during the first half of the season.

After having at least three TD passes in each of New England's first 10 games, Brady has not thrown for more than two in three of the last four games. Moss has averaged 72.8 yards receiving in that span while catching three touchdown passes, compared to a 105.2 average and 16 TDs through 10 games.

New England won each of its first eight games by at least 21 points. Four of the last six games have been decided by 10 points or less.

"We've made plenty of mistakes, especially the last month of football, I don't think it's been our best," Brady said. "I think it's been challenging, I'm glad we got the wins."

New England's only losses in its last 21 December games both came against the Dolphins, but each of those defeats were in Miami. The Dolphins have won only once in their last six trips to Foxborough.

Miami was no match for New England in Week 7, losing 49-28 as Brady threw a career-high six touchdown passes - including two apiece to Moss and Wes Welker.

While Moss is three touchdown catches away from tying Jerry Rice's single-season record of 22, set in 1987, Welker needs six receptions to break Troy Brown's 2001 team record of 101.

That duo has helped the Patriots score 523 points, 34 shy of becoming the highest-scoring team in NFL history. The 1998 Minnesota Vikings scored a league-record 556.

New England is trying to join that Vikings team, along with the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers, the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 1984 San Francisco 49ers, as the only squads to win 15 games in a season.

Miami already has clinched the worst season in franchise history, but last week's win was a big boost. Pulling off another victory this week would be an even bigger one.

"There has been a lot of hard work. Nobody had given up. Nobody had thrown in the towel," first-year Dolphins coach Cam Cameron said. "And that's obviously why we do what we do, to play well, to play as well as we can play and ultimately win."

Miami could also draw inspiration from banged-up defensive end Jason Taylor, the team's only Pro Bowler, if he's able to play. Taylor matched a team record by playing in his 128th straight game last weekend, and could break Hall of Fame center Jim Langer's mark Sunday.

Taylor, though, was on crutches earlier in the week because of a torn plantar fasciitis in his left foot, and neither he nor Cameron sounded absolutely certain that Taylor would be available.

For now, Taylor is doing what he can to be on the field, and he's fairly certain the Patriots haven't forgotten about last year's defeat to the Dolphins.

``Coach Belichick will probably bring it up to them,'' said Taylor, who has 10 sacks. ``They got us pretty good earlier this year, so they've kind of already gotten revenge for the shutout last year. They're rolling. They're a good team. They know what they are. I don't think they'll sleep on us at all and underestimate us.''

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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