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Game Scout: Patriots at Dolphins

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New England Patriots (10-3) at Miami Dolphins (7-6)

Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET, Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla. - TV: CBS

*TV announcers: Jim Nantz, Phil Simms

*Keys to the game: A head-to-head loss to Baltimore (7-6) places the Dolphins on the precipice of must-win mode. The Patriots revert to a transitional phase in their offense without TE Rob Gronkowski (knee). RB Shane Vereen (eight receptions per game) and WR Julian Edelman (91.7 receiving-yard average past three games) have QB Tom Brady's trust but scratching out the right equation in the red zone will be a week-to-week adjustment. The Dolphins allowed three touchdowns in four possessions when the teams met in October but Gronkowski was a non-factor (two receptions, 27 yards). Miami strives for balance to preserve QB Ryan Tannehill, and gained 5.0 yards per carry with a total of 156 yards in the first meeting. Squashing the running game is a priority for the Patriots in light of recent issues in that area. If Dolphins RB Daniel Thomas builds on his 105-yard game last week, New England can be caught back on its heels against WR Mike Wallace and TE Charles Clay.

*Matchup to watch - Patriots DE Chandler Jones vs. Dolphins LT Bryant McKinnie: Jones had four sacks in November but was stonewalled by McKinnie in Week 8 just days after the tackle was acquired via trade. With the Patriots' front banged up, Jones is looked to for regular pressure off the edge to slow Tannehill.

*Player spotlight - Patriots WR Josh Boyce: With Gronkowski down, the speedster Boyce received his first extensive playing time this season last week while Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) and Aaron Dobson (foot) were inactive due to injury. Boyce caught three passes for 49 yards against the Browns, and also drew a 29-yard pass interference call in the end zone that set up the game-winning score with less than a minute to play.

*Fast facts: Brady is 43-6 for his career in December, the best winning percentage in the month during the Super Bowl era. ... Tannehill needs 185 passing yards to reach 3,500 this season. Dan Marino and Chad Pennington are the only other Dolphins to reach that mark.

WHO WILL WIN AND WHY

Miami is the more desperate team but the Patriots are playing for bigger prizes, namely the top seed in the AFC, and have the proven track record of delivering in these spots.

*Our pick: Patriots 27-22
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