Commentary

Five Things for Patriots-Dolphins

Updated: January 1, 2011, 8:27 PM ET
By Mike Reiss | ESPNBoston.com

Five factors, from a Patriots perspective, that figure to be notable in the team's regular-season finale against the Dolphins on Sunday (1 p.m. ET):

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
Luc Leclerc/US PresswireTom Brady will play Sunday, but the question is for how much time?

1. Managing the roster. Quarterback Tom Brady said he expects to start and play in the game, but for how long? Brady's status highlights how coach Bill Belichick has the luxury to manage different parts of his roster, balancing the idea of keeping some players sharp while also protecting them from increased exposure to injury. Injured players such as offensive lineman Dan Connolly (concussion), tight end Aaron Hernandez (hip) and defensive lineman Mike Wright (concussion) will almost certainly be held out. Almost everyone else has been told to be ready, so then it just becomes a question of how long some of the top players, such as Brady, play in the game. With just 45 players active on game day, the options for playing time are limited.

2. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and 1,000 yards. The offensive linemen want to see Green-Ellis hit the 1,000 yard mark as a reward for his solid season. Green-Ellis needs 72 yards and it won't come easy against a Dolphins defense that ranks sixth in the NFL in fewest rushing yards allowed (94.7 average). The combination of Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead has given the Patriots' ground game a boost this year, with the team averaging 4.4 yards per carry. That would tie the 2008 season as the best mark in the Belichick era.

3. Turnover record on the line. With just nine turnovers on the season, the Patriots are in position to break the NFL record for fewest turnovers in a 16-game season (13), set by both the Dolphins and Giants in 2008. The Patriots' turnover differential is a big part of their success this season -- at plus-27, they easily lead the NFL, with the next team at plus-14. Only the 1983 Redskins, at plus-43, finished with a better mark.

4. Focusing on right cornerback spot. For most of the second half of Sunday's win over the Bills, the Patriots had Darius Butler at right cornerback over Kyle Arrington. Arrington was in coverage on two long completions, although the switch could have been tied to an elbow injury, as well as an illness he was fighting. This Sunday could help clear up how the coaches view the competition at that spot -- if they will be keeping Arrington as the top option or if Butler might be in position to reclaim the job after losing it in Week 3.

5. Taylor Price debut? The rookie receiver, selected in the third round out of Ohio, has been inactive for every game this season, but there have been indications that could change Sunday. While the Patriots are preparing as if this is a regular game, that doesn't mean they won't rotate different personnel into the contest. With veteran receiver Deion Branch showing up on the injury report in recent weeks (knee), and the chance to get Price some live repetitions, it makes sense to think this is the spot for his NFL debut.

Mike Reiss covers the Patriots for ESPN Boston. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.

Mike Reiss

ESPN New England Patriots reporter

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