After a bumpy start to the 2017 season, the New England Patriots are again the team to beat in the AFC East.
The Patriots (8-2) have overcome a preseason injury to receiver Julian Edelman and season-ending shoulder injury to linebacker Dont'a Hightower to post six straight victories following a 2-2 start .
They will play five of their final six games against division opponents. First up are the Dolphins (4-6), who have lost four straight. Another defeat would give them their longest losing streak since 2011. Miami coach Adam Gase's predecessor, Joe Philbin, never lost five in a row.
Dolphins safety T.J. McDonald said the onus is on them to turn things around.
"The bleedings not going to stop on its own. We have to put the fire out,'' he said.
There also is the added scheduling quirk that will have these teams meeting twice over the next three weeks. New England travels to Miami for a Monday night matchup on Dec. 11.
New England safety Devin McCourty said it's been "different'' having played only one division game at this point of a season.
"I think it's pressure for the fact that no matter how the season has (gone) when you have all these division games at the end, it kind of leaves the division still up for grabs because the games just mean more,'' he said.
In Miami, all eyes are on the quarterback position. The Dolphins will give Matt Moore his second start this season with Jay Cutler sidelined while in the concussion protocol .
Moore has been on a perpetual merry-go-round in Miami. First, he lost a battle for the starting job to Ryan Tannehill in 2012. Then he was bypassed again this season when the team brought in Cutler to start after Tannehill was lost for the year to a preseason left knee injury.
"My role is what it is,'' Moore said. "When Ryan was here, I was the backup. When they signed Jay, who knows what's going to happen, I became the backup again and it was defined. My role is what it is and I do my best to execute it, whatever it is. That's the way I roll with this thing.''
Meanwhile, in New England, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady sat out New England's first practice of the week on Wednesday with what the team reported as an Achilles tendon injury . But he returned Thursday. He hasn't missed a start due to injury since 2008, when he suffered a knee injury in the season opener and was out the rest of the season.
That streak of starts is expected to continue.
"I feel great. I'm ready to go. So I'll be excited for Sunday,'' Brady said. ``It was good to get a little extra treatment and I'm feeling great this time of year.''
Winning streak aside, he said they are keeping their sense of urgency.
"This is the time of the year where best teams really start to put their foot on the gas pedal. We want to be one of those good teams,'' Brady said.
Here are some things to watch for in Sunday's game:
STREAK OF SUCCESS: With a win, the Patriots will guarantee themselves a winning record for a 17th straight season, breaking a tie with the San Francisco 49ers (1983-98) and Dallas Cowboys (1970-85) for the most consecutive winning seasons since the 1970 merger.
MOVING ON UP: TE Rob Gronkowski (6,714 receiving yards) needs 28 yards to move into the top 10 among all tight ends in NFL history.
SELF-INFLICTED: The Dolphins rank second in the NFL with 84 penalties , and the problem's getting worse. They had 17 last week, one shy of the franchise record.
"One of the most glaring issues is the self-inflicted things,'' defensive end Cameron Wake said. ``On defense it sustains drives. On offense it kills drives.''
The Dolphins lead the league with 33 pre-snap penalties. New England has had 16.
MATCHUP: Gase, who is eight months younger than Brady, says the Patriots quarterback is a young 40.
"I've been on the other sideline so many times and watched him just consistently get better,'' Gase said. "If you can stay healthy, a lot of times that's really the key. You start getting banged-up and its harder to recover quickly. He does a good job of making sure he's not getting hit. A lot of it has to do with play calling and how fast he gets the ball out. That's what makes him unique. He knows how to protect himself within the offense.''
Brady is 7-3 against teams with Gase on the coaching staff.