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(TSX / STATS) -- FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots and their fans have Dec. 17 circled on the calendar. That day, the Patriots visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that could decide home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.


But first, there's work to be done and the sizzling Patriots host the Miami Dolphins Sunday -- the first of two games in three weeks between the AFC East foes.


In fact, five of New England's six remaining games are against division representatives, with two against the Buffalo Bills and one versus the New York Jets also on the docket.


First, it's the 4-6 Dolphins, who lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill before the season even started and lost their last four games with Jay Cutler and Matt Moore taking snaps.


Amazingly, 4-6 isn't enough to eliminate the Dolphins from the playoff picture, but two games in three weeks against New England (8-2), winners of six straight, isn't a great way to stay in the race.


Cutler suffered a concussion in last week's loss and is questionable for Sunday. Moore replaced him last week for the second time, and threw for 282 yards in the second half against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.


This week?


"Matt's going today," Dolphins coach Adam Gase said Wednesday. "Jay's in the concussion protocol."


Gase said he will name a starter later in the week and added Cutler could play even without practice.


"The Dolphins have very good depth at quarterback," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said on a conference call with the Miami media Wednesday. "Both players are outstanding players. They can throw the ball well, they're smart, they can handle the different looks that Coach Gase gives them to make the defense declare what they're in and then attack it.


"So, I think they have a very good and healthy quarterback situation. They have two guys that can come in and play at a high level and move the ball and score points for their team. So, it's a good position the Dolphins put themselves in."


The Patriots probably don't care who starts for the Dolphins. They are allowing 12.5 points per game during their winning streak and have overcome injuries on both sides of the ball to again look unbeatable.


New England won four of the last five games against the Dolphins and took the last eight meetings at Gillette Stadium.


New England is coming off a two-week road trip to high altitude. They hammered the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders by a combined 74-26 and stayed in Colorado -- at the Air Force Academy -- to remain in the elevated atmosphere.


The players raved about the experience in Mexico. Belichick? Not so much.


"Personally, I wouldn't be in any big rush to do it again," Belichick said Monday during his weekly appearance on sports radio WEEI. "It's a long way to go for a game. There's a lot in terms of all the logistics of it. They are not used to having an NFL team, so you have to go in there and handle a lot of the logistics. It took a lot of manpower, a lot of hours, a lot of energy out of our organization to do that. We are exhausted from the trip ... it took a lot out of us."


Tom Brady loved the experience -- his first trip south of the border -- and vowed to return.


"To be here and play in a different country and to have everyone cheer for our team, cheer for me and cheer for my teammates is incredible," Brady said Sunday. "Hopefully there's many more games here. It's a great experience. I've never been to Mexico City, but I'm definitely coming back. We stayed in a beautiful hotel, I had a beautiful view in my room. Just a very historic stadium. I know there's been some really important sporting events here.


"It's really a privilege for us to be here to play in front of all of the fans of Mexico and all the people watching on TV."


Brady, who has thrown 57 touchdown passes and seven interceptions in 23 games -- counting postseason -- since returning from his Deflategate suspension (50 touchdowns/four interceptions in the regular season), missed practice with an Achilles problem Wednesday but should play.


Rob Gronkowski was out because of illness, while offensive linemen Marcus Cannon (ankle) and David Andrews (illness) were still out. Special teams captain Matthew Slater was back and was one of five limited -- including wide receiver Danny Amendola (knee).


Cutler led the five "did not participates" on the Miami side. But the problem area was the offensive line, where Ja'Wuan James is gone for the year and Jermon Bushrod (foot) and Laremy Tunsill (illness) were both missing from Wednesday's practice, and Bushrod is very doubtful for Sunday.




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