Patriots clinch home-field advantage in AFC playoffs

The (14-2) New England Patriots secured the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the AFC's postseason with a convincing 35-14 victory over the (10-6) Miami Dolphins in Week 17. Here's what we learned:

  1. The superior team controlled this one from the opening whistle, as Tom Brady led a 13-play touchdown drive on the game's first possession. By halftime, the Patriots had churned out 261 yards to just 105 for the Dolphins. With three more touchdown passes bringing his TD-to-INT ratio to 28:2, Brady strengthened his MVP case by breaking Nick Foles' 2013 record. The 39-year-old now owns two of the top three single-season TD-to-INT ratios in NFL history. Brady closed out the season with the second-best passer rating (112.2) and completion rate (67.4) of his legendary career. If he does capture MVP honors, he will become the oldest player to win the award, bypassing 38-year-old Giants quarterback -- and former Marlboro Man -- Charley Conerly, who was the league's Most Outstanding Player in 1959.
  1. Miami was simply outclassed by a more talented opponent, perhaps a preview of what's to come at Pittsburgh in the wild-card round of the playoffs. After shredding the half-hearted, undisciplined secondaries of the Jets and Bills the past two weeks, Matt Moore was limited to short slants, crossing routes and check downs against the league's top-scoring defense. One game after highlighting Buffalo's carefree attitude toward tackling with a 206-yard effort, Jay Ajayi was held under the century mark for the seventh time in the past eight games. The Dolphins' defense surrendered 396 yards, ensuring that this year's inconsistent unit has allowed the most yards in franchise history. Unless Ajayi can recapture dominant Week 6 form, it's hard to imagine this team pulling off an upset versus the Steelers next week.
  1. Wide receivers Julian Edelman and Michael Floyd played starring roles for New England's offense. Floyd powered through a crowd of defenders for a 14-yard touchdown, showed fancy footwork with a toe-dragging sideline catch and sprung Edelman for a 77-yard touchdown with a vicious block on Tony Lippett. More of a complementary player while rounding into form following offseason foot surgery, Edelman was targeted on 26 percent of Brady's attempts through Rob Gronkowski's lung injury in Week 10. Since losing the All-Pro tight end, Brady has run his aerial attack through Edelman, increasing his target rate to roughly 40 percent. Edelman is averaging 7.1 receptions and 93.5 yards over the past eight games compared to 5.1 and 44.8 in the first eight.
  1. Jarvis Landry's 8-yard score late in the second quarter ended a streak of nearly 11 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown by the Patriots defense. Although this unit has not been tested by a great quarterback since a loss to Russell Wilson in Week 10, the improvement has been steady over the past two months. Trey Flowers is emerging as Matt Patricia's most disruptive defensive lineman while Malcolm Butler and Devin McCourty are playing at a Pro Bowl level in the secondary.
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