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GAME TIME: 1:00 PM EST on Sunday, Jan 3rd. The game will be broadcast regionally on CBS TV, on DirecTV channel 707, on Sirius radio 154 and 127 and on WQAM radio.

PLACE: LandShark Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL

WEATHER FORECAST: Sunny, with a high near 70. North wind between 9 and 11 mph.

FIELD CONDITIONS: LandShark Stadium has a natural grass surface that should be in good shape.

STANDINGS & STATS: The Dolphins are 7-8 and third in the AFC East. The Steelers are 8-7 and ranked 3rd in the AFC North, behind the Ravens and Bengals.

Dolphins       Pts/Game  Rank   Steelers       Pts/Game  Rank
Scored          22.4      16    Scored           22.5     13
Allowed         24.0      25    Allowed          20.0     12

Dolphins       Yds/Game  Rank   Steelers       Yds/Game  Rank
Total Offense:	 340      15    Total Defense:   305       6
      Rushing:   142       4          vs Rush:    89       3 
      Passing:	 198      20          vs Pass:   216      16

Steelers                        Dolphins
Total Offense:	 369       9    Total Defense:   346      19
      Rushing:   106      22          vs Rush:   109      12
      Passing:   263       7          vs Pass:   237      23

Sacks		Made (Avg/G)	Allowed (Avg/G)
Dolphins         41    2.7        31      2.1
Steelers         44    2.9        47      3.1

Turnover differential:
Dolphins         -7
Steelers         -4

Individual Skill Position Stats:
Dolphins                        
QB:   QB Henne:   258-431-2738-11-13-74.4
Rush: RB Williams:        229-1090-4.8-11
Rush: FB Polite:             35-117-3.3-0
Rec:  WR Bess:               71-673-9.5-1
Rec:  WR Camarillo:         47-530-11.3-0
Rec:  WR Ginn,Jr:           35-434-12.4-1

Steelers       
QB:   QB Roethlisberger: 319-479-4108-23-12-98.9
Rush: RB Mendenhall:       222-1014-4.6-7
Rush: RB Parker:             86-298-3.5-0
Rec:  WR Ward:             87-1106-12.7-6
Rec:  WR Holmes:           78-1243-15.9-4
Rec:  TE Miller:            71-733-10.3-5

Legend 
     QBs: completions-attempts-yards-touchdowns-ints-rating
     RBs: rushes-yards-average-touchdowns
     WRs: receptions-yards-average-touchdowns
HISTORY: The Steelers have won four of the last five against the Dolphins to tie the overall series at 11, including the playoffs.

INJURIES:

Dolphins:
    PROBABLE: RB Ricky Williams (shoulder)
              OT Vernon Carey (knee)

Steelers: 
QUESTIONABLE: DE Brett Keisel (neck)
              WR Hines Ward (hamstring)
              S  Troy Polamalu (knee)
    PROBABLE: OG Chris Kemoeatu (wrist)
              LB Rocky Boiman (calf)
              DE Travis Kirsche (calf)
              RB Willie Parker (shoulder)

DOLPHINS STARTERS:

Offense:		     Defense:
QB -  7 Chad Henne           LE  - 70 Kendall Langford
RB - 34 Ricky Williams       NT  - 96 Paul Soliai
FB - 39 Lousaka Polite       RE  - 94 Randy Starks
WR - 83 Greg Camarillo       SLB - 99 Jason Taylor
WR - 82 Brian Hartline       ILB - 51 Akin Ayodele
TE - 80 Anthony Fasano       ILB - 53 Reggie Torbor
LT - 77 Jake Long            WLB - 55 Joey Porter
LG - 65 Justin Smiley        LCB - 21 Vontae Davis
C  - 67 Joe Berger           RCB - 24 Sean Smith
RG - 75 Nate Garner          SS  - 37 Yeremiah Bell
RT - 72 Vernon Carey         FS  - 28 Gibril Wilson

K -   5 Dan Carpenter        P   -  2 Brandon Fields

PR - 15 Davone Bess          KR  - 19 Ted Ginn,Jr
NOTES: It looks like Joe Berger and Nate Garner will continue to start on the offensive line. Right now, the status of Ricky Williams is unclear, but Reggie Torbor will almost certainly start in place of Channing Crowder.
STEELERS STARTERS:

Offense:                     Defense:
QB -  7 Ben Roethlisberger   LDE  - 99 Brett Keisel
RB - 34 Rashard Mendenhall   NT   - 98 Casey Hampton
FB - 44 Frank Summers        RDE  - 96 Ziggy Hood
WR - 86 Hines Ward           LOLB - 56 LaMarr Woodley
WR - 10 Santonio Holmes      LILB - 51 James Farrior
TE - 83 Heath Miller         RILB - 94 Lawrence Timmons
LT - 78 Max Starks           ROLB - 92 James Harrison
LG - 65 Kraig Urbik          CB   - 24 Ike Taylor 
 C - 62 Justin Hartwig       CB   - 22 William Gay
RG - 79 Trai Essex           SS   - 23 Tyrone Carter
RT - 74 Willie Colon         FS   - 25 Ryan Clark
 
K  -  3 Jeff Reed            P    -  9 Daniel Sepulveda 

PR - 11 Stefan Logan         KR   - 11 Stefan Logan
NOTES: Hines Ward did not practice on Thursday, but is expected to play on Sunday. Troy Polamalu was limited in practice on Thursday, but reports on him are far more uncertain.

KEY MATCHUPS:

  1. Dolphins vs Themselves: All season long, the Dolphins have self-destructed and the letdown over the last two weeks has essentially eliminated them from the playoffs.
  2. TE Heath Miller vs Gibril Wilson: Steelers' tight end Heath Miller has caught 71 passes for 733 yards and 5 TDs, while the Dolphins' safeties - especially Wilson - have had trouble in coverage.
  3. Davis and Smith vs Holmes and Ward: The Steelers are blessed with not one but two of the best receivers in the game. Both Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes have over 1000 yards receiving this season. This will be the final test for Sean Smith and Vontae Davis, who are progressing slowly but surely in their first year.
  4. LBs Harrison and Woodley vs Carey and Long: Steelers' linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have 21.5 sacks between them this year. The Dolphins will most likely have to pass effectively to win this game and that means that Jake Long and Vernon Carey must keep Henne safe.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

The biggest question on the roster this week is Ricky Williams, after his shoulder injury last week against the Texans. He returned late in the game, however, and I would guess that he will play this week. Jake Long and Vernon Carey will face two of the better pass-rushing linebackers in the league in this game and the Dolphins will hope to limit their effectiveness. And Chad Henne needs to put more touch on his passes.

Channing Crowder was placed on injured reserve this week and Reggie Torbor is normally his backup, but OLB Charlie Anderson took some snaps with the first team at ILB this week. The secondary has its work cut out for it this week, facing one of the best receiving corps in the league. While Davis and Smith are playing better as the season progresses, Gibril Wilson still has trouble handling the ball and covering.

Steelers' Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is one of the better quarterbacks in the league and he has a lot of offensive weapons at his disposal. RB Rashard Mendenhall averages 4.6 yards per carry and has picked up over 1000 yards this season. WRs Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes have both exceeded 1000 yards receiving, while TE Heath Miller has 71 receptions. On the other hand, the Steelers' offensive line has given up 47 sacks this year, second worst in the NFL.

Both Steelers' outside linebackers, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley, have over 10 sacks this season, while ILB James Farrior leads the team in tackles. S Troy Polamalu leads the team in interceptions with 3.

Steelers kick returner Stefan Logan returns both kickoffs and punts. He has a very good kickoff return average of 26.6 yards per return, but averages an ordinary 8.5 yards per return on punts. Their field goal kicker, Jeff Reed is very good. Miami's Ted Ginn was ranked near the top of the league in kickoff returns, but has steadily declined since blowing out the Jets in week 8. Devone Bess has been improving in his punt returns, but is still not considered to be especially dangerous.

MY ANALYSIS:

The Dolphins are a team that has been taken off of playoff life support and fans are just standing around waiting for them to die. Of course, they could recover, but they'll need a lot of help to do it. It goes without saying that the Dolphins must beat the Steelers this week if they are to have any chance at making the post-season.

For Miami to make the post-season, the Jaguars must lose to the Browns and Oakland must beat the Ravens (along with some other things). However, neither the Raiders nor the Browns are likely to win and the odds of both of them winning are very bad.

The Steelers also need help getting to the playoffs, but a lot less help that Miami does. If the playoffs were held today, the Steelers would be out. They need both the Bengals to beat the Jets and the Patriots to beat the Texans. However, neither the Bengals nor the Patriots have much to play for, while the Jets and Texans both still have a shot at the playoffs but must win. It seems likely that either the Jets or Patriots will lose on Sunday, so the Steelers will probably not make it.

The Steelers have had a year that is much the opposite of the Dolphins'. They got off to a fast start, going 6-2 in their first 8 games, but have gone 2-5 since then.

The Steelers also have not played well on the road. They have a 2-5 road record and have lost games to Cleveland, Oakland and Kansas City. On the other hand, they have beaten the Vikings, Denver, and San Diego. They have played at the level of their competition for much of the season.

One of the reasons they have had such an up and down season is that their offensive line is next to last in giving up sacks this year. They have allowed Ben Roethlisberger to go down 47 times this season and that has played a big part in most of their defeats.

Unfortunately for the Dolphins, the Steelers are the kind of team that has beaten the Dolphins this season. They have a very strong offense and routinely score on big plays. They have 3 very good receivers and a big, strong quarterback that is an expert at avoiding pressure and getting the ball down the field. For Miami to win, they must exert pressure on Roethlisberger and bring him down a lot.

When Miami has the ball, they will probably have to rely more on their passing attack this week. The Steelers are third in the NFL against the run and since Ronnie Brown was injured, Miami's running game has not been nearly as effective. We might see more of the Wildpat this week as the Dolphins try to throw some wrinkles into their offense, but it seems unlikely to me that it would be very effective.

The passing attack has a chance to be effective if Troy Polamalu is out or even limited, as the Steelers have only picked off 9 passes this year and 3 of those were by Polamalu. However, for Henne to be effective in the passing game, he must be better with his touch passes and the offensive line must do a good job in protecting him. Henne has a very strong arm, but not every pass should be a bullet. Part of the reason Ricky Williams had a pass bounce off his chest last week was that Henne threw it too hard for that situation.

On defense, Miami's front seven must win the battle against the Steelers' offensive line. With Channing Crowder out, it will be interesting to see who starts in his place. While Reggie Torbor is his backup on the depth chart, Charlie Anderson has been getting reps with the first team at ILB this week. Both players have had some impressive appearance this year, but there is a reason that neither have taken over for Crowder as the starter.

Jason Taylor, former Steeler Joey Porter, Cameron Wake and Randy Starks need to have good games this week to stop the Steelers. They have an opportunity to get a lot of pressure on Roethlisberger, but it remains to be seen if they will do so.

Of course, Vontae Davis and Sean Smith will have their work cut out for them, defending the Steelers' receivers, but Davis is improving and Smith has played well all year. The bigger problem is whether Miami's safeties can cover TE Heath Miller. We have been seeing Chris Clemons more over the last few weeks and we may see him get the job of covering Miller this weekend.

I believe that the result of this game will be determined by Miami's pass rushers and Chad Henne. If Henne doesn't turn the ball over and make too many mistakes, the offense will be able to move the ball against the Steelers' defense. However, Henne will likely be under a lot of pressure and he must take what the Steelers will give him and not force the ball into tight coverage like he has been.

Miami's pass rush must get to Roethlisberger early and often, which they should be able to do against the Steelers' offensive line. If they give him too much time, his excellent receivers will eventually get open against Miami's secondary and the Steelers will convert a lot of big plays.

Of course, it goes without saying that the Dolphins can't afford to start this game like they're sleepwalking. They don't stand much of a chance if they let the Steelers get out to a big lead, like they did against the Titans and Texans. Coach Sparano has been emphasizing that aspect of the game this week in practice and hopefully it will have an effect on Sunday.

PLACES TO WATCH:

To watch the game on TV, you may go to one of the sports bars listed on my "Places To Watch" web page.

To listen to the game live over the Internet, you must now pay the NFL for the privelege. They are charging $9.99 (US) per month or $39.99 for the season for something you used to get for free. If you want to sign up for that, go to the following link NFL Field Pass.

Also, here is a list of some websites that have live scores and updates. Both the Official Website and NFL.com have almost live applications that run in your browser and give you current stats and play-by-play information.

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