What to Watch: Dolphins vs. Patriots

The Pats can still get a first-round playoff bye

By Ryan Wilson
|  Friday, Dec 28, 2012  |  Updated 8:41 AM EDT
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What to Watch: Dolphins vs. Patriots

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EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 22: Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots calls a play at the line against the New York Jets in a game at MetLife Stadium on November 22, 2012 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The Patriots defeated the Jets 49-19. (Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images)

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Game time: Sunday, Dec. 30, 4:25 p.m. ET, Gillette Stadium
TV: CBS
Weather: mid-teens, cloudy
Records: Dolphins (7-8) at Patriots (11-4)

1. How long will the starters play?
Based on nothing more than Bill Belichick's history when it comes to personnel decisions in Week 17, we'd say that, barring the Patriots leading by 75 points heading into the final quarter, the starters should expect to play the entire game. Not only that, but the 4:25 p.m. start means that the final AFC seedings won't be set (No. 1 Houston plays at 1 p.m.; No. 2 Denver also plays at 4:25 p.m.) and there's a slim chance that the third-seeded Pats can still earn a bye week with a win and losses by the Texans and Broncos.

2. Will Rob Gronkowski play?
No idea. Belichick has been customarily evasive on the topic. The thing is, it won't much matter. Gronkowski is one of the league's best tight ends when he's healthy, but he's been sidelined with a broken arm since mid-November. Quarterback Tom Brady has made out just fine with his other targets: Brandon Lloyd, Wes Welker and the guy described before the season as Brady's favorite target: the other tight end, Aaron Hernandez.

3. Could this be Wes Welker's last regular season game with the Pats?
We bring this up because Welker's playing on the franchise tag that paid him more than $9 million this season after the two sides couldn't come to terms last offseason. Would the Pats consider bringing back the now-31-year-old again? ESPNBoston.com's Mike Reiss wrote last Sunday that "I see the Patriots assigning another franchise tag on Welker in the offseason because he's too valuable to let walk." Seems reasonable, even if you'd concede that Welker isn't as productive as he once was. (That said, he's put together another 100-plus, 1,000-yard season.)

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