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December 29, 2012

Plenty at stake in Dolphins-Patriots finale

FOXBOROUGH, — The Miami Dolphins are finishing their fourth straight non-playoff season. The New England Patriots have clinched their fourth consecutive AFC East title.

So what’s there to play for in Sunday’s regular-season finale?

Plenty, both teams say.

For the Dolphins, it’s a chance to end on a high note with a third consecutive win and stop their streak of three losing seasons.

“It means a lot,” running back Reggie Bush said. “It’s about finishing strong. It’s about winning that last game and, obviously, carrying that over, hopefully, into the next year.”

For the Patriots, it’s a chance to avoid a third mediocre performance in a row and move up into one of the two AFC spots that earn a first-round bye.

“It’s our last opportunity to make improvements before the playoffs,” quarterback Tom Brady said.

New England (11-4) goes into the weekend with the possibility of being seeded in any of the top four AFC slots.

It would be eliminated from the No. 1 position if the Houston Texans wrap it up by beating the Indianapolis Colts in an early game but would still begin its late game hoping to climb from the third to the second position. It would have to win while the Denver Broncos are upset by the lowly Kansas City Chiefs.

“I’m sure we’ll be aware of that,” Brady said, “but I don’t think that changes what our goal is for the weekend.”

That goal is the same as it is every weekend —to win — no matter who the opponent.

Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork knows that if the Patriots play the way they did in last Sunday’s 23-16 win over the weak Jacksonville Jaguars, beating the Dolphins (7-8) will be tough.

“We’re going to expect their best,” he said. “Last week we expected Jacksonville’s best and they gave us their best. They played very, very tough. They didn’t play like a team that only won two games, I’ll tell you that. We’re expecting the same thing here.”

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