'Monday Night Football' tonight: Streaming, TV, why Patriots will thump Dolphins

The New England Patriots' path toward home-field advantage will eventually involve a tough game in Pittsburgh, but first, before they can dispatch the Steelers, they'll need to make a quick pitstop in South Beach. On Monday night, the Patriots' journey to the top of the AFC takes them to Miami where they'll battle the hopeless Dolphins in primetime.

The 5-7 Dolphins aren't technically dead yet, but they entered Week 14 two games back of the Ravens for the final wild-card spot having already lost to them once, which means they're really three games back of them, and there are four other teams still ahead of them. The Dolphins are still swimming, but they're swimming against a current that is going to drown them. It's not a matter of if, it's a matter of when.

As for the Patriots, they're rolling into the postseason. They've won eight straight games and the only remaining game on the schedule they could lose is a Week 15 showdown with the Steelers, which should decide the hierarchy in the AFC. That might just be the game of the season considering what will be at stake; there's no way the Steelers are beating the Patriots in Foxborough in January.

So, if you can't already tell, I'm taking the Patriots on Monday night. They're the better team by a longshot. Location doesn't matter much when the difference in talent is this substantial.

The prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 14
"MNF" prediction record: 11-2

How to watch, stream

  • When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami
  • TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: WatchESPN  

Note: All stats/rankings are accurate entering Sunday's Week 14 slate of games.

Dolphins offense stinks

In Jay Cutler's career, he's faced the Patriots three times. The final score of those games? 41-7, 36-7 and 51-23.

They were all losses. Cutler is unlikely to get his first win against Bill Belichick -- not just because he's struggling in Miami, but also because the entire Dolphins offense stinks. They're ranked 29th in yards per game, 26th in points per game (17.4), and 27th in offensive DVOA. So, they're not the worst in football, but they're definitely among the worst in football.

Cutler hasn't been the savior Adam Gase thought he'd be -- 6.1 YPA, 15 touchdowns, 11 picks, and an 82.1 passer rating -- but don't put it all on the quarterback. For one, Matt Moore hasn't fared any better under center (6.8 YPA, four touchdowns, five interceptions, and a 75.6 passer rating). The receiving group hardly comes down with contested catches, and Gase hasn't lived up to his reputation as an offensive guru with his play-calling.

A year ago, Gase was considered one of the best coaches in football as he led the Dolphins to the postseason in his first year as the head coach. Now? He could enter next season on the hot seat. The honeymoon didn't last long.

This is a bad unit, across the board. And they're going up against a Patriots defense that finally looks like the kind of defense that is good enough to win a championship.

Patriots rapidly improving on defense

The Patriots' defense grows stronger and stronger with each passing week. After starting the year by allowing 32 points per game in their first four games (they went 2-2), they're allowing 11.9 in their past eight games (all wins).

The Dolphins can take solace in the fact that they dropped 17 points on the Patriots just two weeks ago, which is actually tied for the most points scored on the Patriots during their winning streak, but the Dolphins also lost that game 35-17. It's worth noting that Dolphins backup Matt Moore started that game, so this will be the first time the Patriots have faced Cutler this season.

They shouldn't be overly concerned. By Pro Football Focus' passer rating, he's ranked 22nd out of 28 qualified quarterbacks. By Football Outsiders' metrics, he's 26th out of 35 qualified quarterbacks. Putting him under pressure seems like the easiest way to affect him. Under pressure, Cutler's passer rating drops to 66.0, according to PFF. For the sake of comparison, Tom Brady's passer rating under pressure is an NFL-best 104.9. They don't need to worry about the deep ball either. Cutler's 64.7 passer rating on passes thrown 20-plus yards downfield ranks 23rd out of 24 quarterbacks, per PFF. Only Eli Manning has been worse.

So what do the Patriots need to worry about? Nothing.

In Cutler's prime, he was the kind of quarterback who could magically pull off an improbable upset, but at age 34, Cutler no longer is that quarterback. I just don't see a way he can break down the Patriots' defense.

No Gronk? No problem

The only good news for the Dolphins is that they won't be forced to deal with Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is out for the game with a deserved one-game suspension after he cheap-shotted Bills cornerback Tre'Davious White.

Gronk's been a monster this year, catching 55 passes for 849 yards and seven touchdowns. There's no replacing him, but the Patriots can still figure out ways to effectively score. For one, they have Tom Brady, who might just be the MVP at age 40. Brady doesn't need Gronk to be efficient. But more importantly, the Patriots' running back group has become so damn good that they alone should be enough to give the Patriots the advantage over the Dolphins' defense, which enters Week 14 ranked 27th in DVOA.

Very quietly, Dion Lewis has worked his way back into the role of the Patriots' primary runner. He's totaled 590 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns, and more importantly he averages 5.3 yards per carry. And don't forget about his 87 receiving yards, one touchdown catch, and one return touchdown. Then there's Rex Burkhead and his 448 yards and six touchdowns from scrimmage. James White, a Super Bowl hero, is still a valuable contributor with 581 offensive yards and two touchdowns.

The point being, the Patriots' backfield is stacked. It's like an unending army of White Walkers, except these ones can really move. So more like the zombies in "World War Z." Except these ones are impossible to kill. OK, never mind, this analogy isn't actually going to work. The real point being, there's a reason Week 1 starter Mike Gillislee completely lost a role in this offense.  

Expect the Patriots to depend on their running backs, especially with Gronk absent.

Will Chris Hogan return?

Oh and guess what: One of the Patriots' best offensive weapons could be ready to return on Monday night. Receiver Chris Hogan has been out with a shoulder injury since late October. He's officially listed as questionable heading into Monday.

His return would be huge for a Patriots team that's already loaded. In the first eight games of the season, he caught 33 passes for 438 yards and five touchdowns. He was a red-zone machine with four of his five touchdowns occurring inside the opponent's 15-yard line.  If Hogan can play, expect him to get a ton of the targets that would've went to Gronk.

The Patriots' passing attack, even without Gronk and even if Hogan can't make his return, should still light up the Dolphins' defense. Getting Hogan back would just be a bonus.

Dolphins have a history of upsets

If the Dolphins do manage to pull off an upset, it wouldn't be the first time. They're at home and Brady actually has a 7-8 record in Miami. The Patriots' past four losses to the Dolphins have all come on the road.

Remember back during the 2015 season, when the Patriots lost their Week 17 game to the Dolphins, which allowed the Broncos to clinch home-field advantage? That ended up proving costly when the Patriots went into Denver and lost the AFC Championship game.

Similar stakes will be there on Monday night with the Patriots in a tight battle with the Steelers for the top seed. Perhaps the Dolphins can draw inspiration from their opportunity to serve as spoilers again. Maybe.

The more likely scenario sees the substantially better team taking care of business. Brady can't afford a letup game if he's going to win the MVP. The Patriots can't afford a loss if they're going to claim home-field advantage. And the Dolphins probably aren't good enough to beat the Patriots, wherever the game is being played.

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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