Dolphins vs. Patriots | 1 p.m. Sunday (CBS)

Miami Dolphins on Patriots game: ‘This is our playoffs’

 

A raucous crowd is expected Sunday because the game is meaningful for the Dolphins and also features the Patriots.

WEB VOTE How would you grade Joe Philbin’s job so far as coach of the Dolphins?

abeasley@MiamiHerald.com

A piece of advice if you’re headed to the stadium Sunday:

Get there early. Traffic will be unlike anything you’ve seen all season.

A capacity crowd is expected for the Dolphins game. With the Patriots in town, that’s not a surprise.

Here’s what is a bit of a shocker: Even after a three-game losing streak that appeared to doom their postseason hopes, the Dolphins are back playing meaningful December games.

“Every game from here on out is a playoff game,” linebacker Kevin Burnett said.

“You never know what straw’s going to break the camel’s back, but you’ve got to know that that straw is coming. You have to start shaking the straws off, not adding them on.”

No matter how hard the Dolphins shake, they’re the longest of shots to host a true playoff game this season.

New England (8-3) is a full three games up — and would clinch the division with a victory Sunday — so, short of a miraculous December, the Dolphins’ only postseason path is through the wild card, likely as the sixth seed. That means any playoff games would be on the road.

That also means Sunday will most likely be the last time this season a big-time, relevant opponent visits Sun Life Stadium.

As of Friday afternoon, just a handful of face-value seats were still available on Ticketmaster. Tickets to Sunday’s game sold on Stubhub.com had fetched an average of $152 at week’s end. By way of comparison, the average seat for the Dolphins-Seahawks game went for $63.

Much of that is based on the opponent: The Patriots have been the league’s gold standard since the turn of the century, appearing in five of the past 11 Super Bowls. Boston sports fans are among the nation’s most fervent, so a sizable chunk of the stadium will be boisterously rooting against the home team.

But the gate also has been helped by the fact that the Dolphins are within shouting distance of relevancy after the train wreck that was last season.

The Dolphins have momentum and confidence on the heels of last week’s come-from-behind victory over Seattle. Ryan Tannehill’s late-game heroics have given fans new reason for hope.

And although oddsmakers say they have less than a one-in-five chance to make the playoffs, the Dolphins can’t be counted out, considering how mediocre the AFC has been this seasons. They’re one of only eight teams in the conference with five or more wins through 11 games.

“You’ve got to live in the moment, and right now, this moment only comes around once in a lifetime,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “It’s go time. This is our playoffs.”

Joe Philbin doesn’t think in those terms. His ubiquitous 1-0 signs papering the team’s training complex speak to that.

But even he couldn’t downplay the game’s significance, not just for positioning in the standings, but also as a benchmark for his team’s progress. The Patriots are the best team the Dolphins have faced since the Texans in the season opener; you might recall Houston trounced Miami in that game 30-10.

Plus, the Patriots have won four in a row over the Dolphins. In games with Tom Brady in the lineup, New England has won seven of the past eight.

And perhaps the most staggering statistic of them all: of the 53 men who make up the Miami’s active roster, just 14 have beaten the Patriots while in a Dolphins uniform.

“It’s absolutely going to be a measuring stick of where we are,” Philbin said. “There’s no question about it.”

There’s also no question the Dolphins must score to win.

New England averages 37 points per game, and the Patriots are on pace to break their own NFL scoring record (589, set in 2007). The Dolphins haven’t managed more than 35 points in a game all season.

But unlike the Jets, who are easy to hate, there’s nothing but respect in the locker room for what the Patriots have accomplished under Bill Belichick and Brady.

“It’s not the Super Bowl, but it’s a big game for us and we understand that, obviously,” Dolphins running back Reggie Bush said.

And, as the box office shows, the paying public does too.

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