Here’s a look at how the Miami Dolphins (8-6) and Green Bay Packers (6-8) match up in six key areas ahead of Sunday’s Week 16 game at Hard Rock Stadium (1 p.m., Fox):
When the Dolphins run: The Miami run game is on again. The Dolphins went into the cold of Buffalo in Week 15 and, against a strong defensive front, posted 188 yards, which was second-most the team has had all season (195 against Cleveland). They did it without Jeff Wilson and with Raheem Mostert carrying the load for 136 yards on 17 carries and Salvon Ahmed adding 43 and a touchdown on six attempts.
If Wilson can return, that may incline coach Mike McDaniel to stick with the ground attack longer after getting away from it deeper in the loss to the Bills. One-hundred one of Mostert’s rushing yards came in the first quarter. Specifically, McDaniel could use Wilson’s downhill running in short-yardage situations where he often opted to pass and ended up 1 of 6 on third-and-3 yards or fewer in Buffalo.
The Packers are certainly vulnerable on the ground, owning the NFL’s 29th-ranked run defense. They have only held an opponent under 100 rushing yards in three of their 14 games, and they allowed a whopping 363 rushing yards when they faced the Philadelphia Eagles on Nov. 27. Two-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Kenny Clark and linebacker De’Vondre Campbell, an All-Pro last year, have to be accounted for, and rookie linebacker Quay Walker leads the Packers with 105 tackles. Edge: Dolphins
When the Packers run: Green Bay possesses a nice 1-2 punch of Aaron Jones (181 carries, 937 yards and two touchdowns) and AJ Dillon (154-660-5). Dillon, after he scored twice in the Packers’ Monday night victory over the Rams, is clear of concussion protocol after he left the win over Los Angeles to get evaluated for a head injury. Jones can also get active in the passing game.
The Green Bay rush attack ranks 13th in the league, and the Dolphins’ run defense is 10th. It’d be even better if not skewed by big rushing outputs allowed against dual-threat quarterbacks. In Aaron Rodgers, the Packers don’t have a mobile passer, so Miami, with Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler leading the way on the defensive line, should be able to keep the Jones-Dillon combination under wraps on traditional rushes. Edge: Dolphins
When the Dolphins pass: Which Tua Tagovailoa are we going to see? Is it the one that was on fire during Miami’s five-game winning streak or the quarterback who struggled in losses to the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers? That Tua Tagovailoa bounced back for a decent outing in the freezing conditions of Buffalo against a tough defense for two touchdowns, no interceptions, plus a pair of passes that hit receivers’ hands in the end zone.
Tyreek Hill, fresh off his Pro Bowl selection, ranks second in the league in receiving yards and Jaylen Waddle seventh. Tight end Mike Gesicki continues to be a non-factor that isn’t utilized in McDaniel’s offense, but he did have his first reception in a month last time out. Left tackle Terron Armstead was also named to the Pro Bowl, and his contributions both run blocking and pass blocking could be most vital to this team’s offensive success.
Green Bay is actually very good against the pass, second in the league at 185.1 yards allowed per game through the air. The Packers’ lone Pro Bowl selection was cornerback Jaire Alexander. He has four interceptions this season and fellow cornerback Rasul Douglas has three. Preston Smith leads the team with 7 1/2 sacks, and Rashan Gary had six sacks before a torn ACL put him out for the year. Edge: Even
When the Packers pass: It’s Rodgers, but he no longer has Davante Adams in this passing game. Rodgers, 39, is completing 64.9 percent of passes for 3,093 yards, 23 touchdowns and 10 interceptions this season. He can never be counted out, especially with Green Bay looking to keep its slim playoff hopes alive, and you don’t want to leave him an opportunity to beat you late, especially with this Dolphins pass defense.
Allen Lazard leads the Packers in receiving with 627 yards on 46 receptions and five touchdowns. Rookie Christian Watson has come on of late, and he has 29 catches for 447 yards and seven touchdowns. Rodgers also has longtime target Randall Cobb, tight end Robert Tonyan and look out for Jones catching the ball out of the backfield, especially with the trouble Miami linebackers have in coverage against versatile tailbacks.
Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard earned his fourth Pro Bowl selection, despite not looking like himself much of this season. Safety Jevon Holland will be monitored for his neck injury, but Eric Rowe and Elijah Campbell could be on track to return after missing the Buffalo game. Miami needs to capitalize on the pass rush with its trio of Jaelan Phillips, Bradley Chubb and Melvin Ingram. Packers standout left tackle David Bakhtiari is dealing with knee and abdomen injuries this week. Edge: Packers
Special teams: Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders has found some consistency of late after his midseason struggles. He made all his kicks, including three field goals in frigid Orchard Park. Outside of a 36-yard kick return, the Dolphins were solid in kick/punt coverage against the Bills.
Packers kicker Mason Crosby has made 16 of 19 field goals and missed two extra points. Punter Pat O’Donnell, a University of Miami alum, is averaging 44.8 yards on his boots. Returner Keisean Nixon could be limited with a groin injury. Edge: Even
Intangibles: Miami is getting two more days’ rest ahead of this one after playing Saturday night last week while the Packers played on Monday night. The Dolphins also return home for the first time in December, so the friendly confines of Hard Rock Stadium will be a welcomed sight.
This is a situation where Miami must bounce back from three consecutive road losses, but Green Bay is also looking to keep its slim postseason hopes alive. With projected Sunday afternoon temperatures in the 50s in Miami Gardens, the Dolphins may want to switch sidelines to be the team under the sun for this home game. … I kid. Edge: Dolphins
PREDICTION: Dolphins 30, Packers 20