Playoff Potential: Evaluating the Dolphins’ Chances Based On Remaining Games
After their back-to-back convincing victories over the Pittsburgh Steelers and Buffalo Bills, the Miami Dolphins entered their bye week looking like a real NFL team. However, the year is far from over, as the Dolphins still have nine games left to play in the 2016 season. Their 3-4 record has them in the thick of the AFC Wild Card hunt, and it is integral that the team performs like it did over the last two weeks instead of as it did over the first five. So, I am taking a look at the Miami Dolphins’ remaining games in order to determine whether or not a playoff berth is a realistic probability at this point in the season.*
*Predictions do not account for significant injuries or unprecedented midseason meltdowns.
Week 9 vs. New York Jets
This season, as in most seasons, the New York Jets have the looks of a dumpster fire. After going six weeks as the worst quarterback in football, Ryan Fitzpatrick was actually benched in favor of Geno Smith, who promptly tore his ACL. That statement in and of itself would lead you to believe that the Jets are the worst team in the NFL. However, as shocking as it is, this is not the case. Like the Dolphins, the 3-5 New York Jets are coming off of two consecutive wins, as getting benched has seemingly lit a fire under The Amish Rifle enough for him to muster competent quarterback play. However, the Jets’ offense isn’t scaring anybody while the Jets’ defense has become woefully mediocre, in large part to Darrelle Revis’ battle with Father Time. Beating the Jets will be integral if the Dolphins are to have any hope of making the playoffs for several reasons.
If the Dolphins lose, they drop to 3-5 and fall to 4th in the division.
The Dolphins have shown they can pull of upsets against upper tier teams, now they need to show that they can take care of lesser teams.
The Dolphins need to win this division game in order to become 2-1 in the division, as division record could be the kicker if the Jets or Bills remain in the playoff hunt.
For the sake of my argument, this article, and my sanity, I’m going to assume that the Dolphins mop up the Jets at home and bring their record up to .500, essentially giving them control over their own destiny for the rest of the season.
Prediction: Win, Record 4-4
Week 10 at San Diego Chargers
The fact that the San Diego Chargers have the same record as the New York Jets is an absolute tragedy, and it would be a misnomer to assume that their record is indicative of their ability as a team. After losing arguably 3 of their top 5 players to injury in Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead and Jason Verrett, the Chargers have been the most impressive 3-5 team in NFL history. They have been extremely competitive in every game, and could honestly be 7-1 if the cards fell right. The Dolphins, on the other hand, have gone through bouts of extreme incompetence. While I don’t think the Chargers’ defense is anything to marvel at, Philip Rivers and his offense certainly are. Rivers, completely lacking any semblance of a number 1 receiver, has been able to pilot his offense to the tune of 28.1 points per game, behind only the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints.
This game may actually be the 2nd most difficult game on Miami’s schedule (after New England of course). While I hope that the Dolphins remain competitive in this one, I don’t see many scenarios where their day ends in a W.
Prediction: Loss, Record 4-5
Week 11 at Los Angeles Rams
One thing is for certain: the Rams are not a very good football team. While their defense is an above average unit, their offense is undoubtedly the worst in the league. 90% of the time, Case Keenum is far and away the worst starting quarterback in the NFL. The Rams’ offensive line and receiver corps are similarly short-handed. The only good thing they have going for them is Todd Gurley, and he is playing like a shell of the player we saw last season (the Rams’ rush offense is ranked 29th in the NFL). The Dolphins, by contrast, have one of the most potent running games in the league when their offensive line is healthy (7th overall rush offense), and a passing game that is competent at least 50% of the time. Potential meltdowns aside, I think the Dolphins take this one regardless of their long trip out West.
Prediction: Win, Record 5-5
Week 12 vs. San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco 49ers are the worst team in the NFL. Sure, the Cleveland Browns are still winless, but at least they’re competitive in almost every game. The 49ers statistically have one of the worst offenses in the league, including the 32nd ranked passing game to go along with a league worst 290 yards per game. Their defense, not to be outdone, has the 32nd ranked rush defense and allows 31.3 point per game (league worst) and 407.6 yards per game (30th ranked). Needless to say, I feel like the Dolphins grab the win in convincing fashion at Hard Rock Stadium.
Prediction: Win, Record 6-5
Week 13 at Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens started off 3-0, but went the entire month of October without notching a victory. Now reeling at 3-4, John Harbaugh’s crew is in dire need of victory. Luckily, their four-loss streak is not as bad as it looks. The Ravens did not lose any of the four games by more than a score, and still boast one of the league’s best defenses (4th in yards per game, 9th in points per game). While their offense has been below average all season, Joe Flacco’s aerial attack still has the potential to go off on any given Sunday. While I can definitely envision the Miami Dolphins winning this game in Baltimore, this is the kind of game that they’ve folded on in the past. In these end-of-season live-or-die scenarios, the team with a greater history of success generally emerges victorious. In this case, that’s the Baltimore Ravens. Until the Dolphins prove they can do otherwise, I’m going to have to roll with my gut and pronounce this one as a loss.
Prediction: Loss, Record 6-6
Week 14 vs. Arizona Cardinals
As disappointing as these 3-4-1 Arizona Cardinals have been this season, they are still an above average team overall. Even though their offense has taken a moderate step back with Carson Palmer’s apparent aging of 5 years in the last few months, their defense remains the stout unit that brought them to the NFC Championship last year. Their defense is ranked 6th in points allowed, 2nd in yards allowed, 3rd against the pass, and 13th against the run. Their offense, meanwhile, still manages a respectable 374.4 yards a game, good for 10th in the league. This Cardinals’ team is just built to beat the Dolphins with its balanced offense, top-5 defense, incredible coaching from Bruce Arians, and the talent on its roster. In a make-or-break situation, Bruce Arians and his uber-talented if underachieving team should have little trouble toppling an inexperienced and outmatched Dolphins’ squad.
Prediction: Loss, Record 6-7
Week 15 at New York Jets
By this time in a season, matchups are incredibly hard to predict. The Jets in Week 15 could be very different from the Jets team that the Dolphins are going to face off against this week. Whatever the case, the Jets are not a good football team and don’t figure to be any better by this time in the season. Hopefully, the Dolphins can manage to sweep the Jets to avoid their placement at the bottom of the AFC East rankings.
Prediction: Win, Record 7-7
Week 16 at Buffalo Bills
Miami’s win over Buffalo last week was as good of a win as any. However, Week 16’s iteration of the Buffalo Bills could be vastly different than the one that the Miami Dolphins faced in Week 7. For one, Shady McCoy will be at full strength and the possibility remains that Sammy Watkins could be back from IR at this point in the season. Considering this game is in Buffalo and Miami only won by 3 points at home against a somewhat short-handed Bills’ team, logic dictates that the Bills take this victory late in the season.
Prediction: Loss, Record 7-8
Week 17 vs. New England Patriots
To me, this game has two possible outcomes:
The Patriots absolutely demolish the Dolphins with Tom Brady in at quarterback.
The Patriots are so far ahead in the AFC that this game is meaningless, and Miami manages to surprisingly split their record with the Patriots yet again.
Unfortunately, the Patriots look like the best team in the NFL, and could potentially be playing for a 1st round bye or home field throughout the playoffs. If this is the case, than the Dolphins end the season as they have many times in the past.
Prediction: Loss, Record 7-9
To be clear, I don’t claim to have any sort of clairvoyance in regard to football predictions, and the Dolphins could end up 5-11 as easily as 10-6. However, considering the current and predicted state of their opponents, the Dolphins’ most realistic path is the road of mediocrity ending with a 7-9 record. If this is the case, than the team likely ends up 3rd in the division with a middle-first round draft pick. However, the possibility remains that Adam Gase and his staff are the X-factor that pushes the Dolphins past the 7-9 threshold and into 8-8 or 9-7 territory while barely missing the playoffs. Considering 2015’s dumpster fire and their 1-4 start, I feel that either possibility would be a positive sign of improvement. This Dolphins’ team has talent and potential, that’s for sure. However, the Dolphins’ roster, as it is currently, likely doesn’t have the raw talent and experience necessary for football in January.