Okay. So technically it's two games past the mid point of the season. But I've already written a couple of blogs over the last few weeks and didn't want to appear too selfish in wanting to express my feelings about our beloved Dolphins. Besides, it's not my fault we had to play three games in an eleven day span.
Anyway, I wanted to share some thoughts on what I perceive to be the best Dolphin team to hit the field since our last playoff berth in 2008.
Here we are, sitting at 6 and 4 and right in the thick of the playoff race. And I don't mean gaining entry as a wild card team, either. We still have a decent chance of getting into the post season as the division champion. But first, I want to point out a few things that have become apparent about today's Miami Dolphins before I get into play off scenarios..
Is it my imagination but does this team seem to have some depth in some uncharacteristic ways? It's been a while since we have had so many rookie and second year players, making such an impact on the field. And I'm talking on all sides of the ball, too. Our new GM Dennis Hickey has gone out and gotten some free agents that have actually produced at a high level and given the newer players some much needed leadership on this young roster.
And while we haven't been overly plagued with the injury bug, we have had some key players go down, only to have the next player step up and do an admirable job of filling in. Especially along the offensive line. We have adapted and tailored our game plans to compensate for our weaknesses. All while maximizing our strengths.
When was the last time you saw our Dolphin team winning games by double digit scores instead of by field goal margins? (I'm talking about an average of 13 points per victory). We are still settling into this new playbook that Bill Lazor has laid out for us, but already we are scoring almost a touch down more per game than last season. And this offense has so many play makers that it is hard for defenses to game plan against us. And isn't it nice to see our offense adjust and correct our first half struggles to become the best scoring third quarter team in the NFL?
Ryan Tannehill is really starting to play like a franchise QB. Four of his last seven games have produced QB ratings over 100. We have won all 4 of those contests. (5 of the last 7 games, as well). He is still getting knocked around a bit too much, but it's not rattling him like it did in his first two seasons. He's making better decisions and spreading the ball around. Our running game is in the top 10, (6th) which is helping our passing game make strides just as Tannehill is improving his play in this balanced attack.
Defense? What can you say about a top 5 defense? (Top 10 in most relevant categories). 2nd in overall defense and against the pass. 8th versus the run, with 10 interceptions and +3 in turn overs. This defense has gone up against the best QB's in the league and forced them to have mediocre performances. Coyle's squad is a playoff caliber unit that can keep us in games regardless of who our opponent is!
I only wish we would score more points in the red zone and goal to go situations. I know we tend to stall late in games that we already have a substantial lead in, but as the saying goes, "size matters". Best Net Points, Best Combined Ranking Among Conference Teams in Points For/Against and Strength of Victories are all important categories when it comes to tie breaker rules. (Should they become necessary). And we are having no trouble moving the ball and getting into the red zone, visiting it more than any team in the NFL. It seems inconceivable to be so close and not even be able to get a field goal for our efforts. Definitely something that needs to be fixed.
Miami has a couple of statistics that will be helpful to us coming down the home stretch towards the playoffs. Now that Buffalo is in our rear view mirror, and San Diego lost the head to head competition against us, we still have some control of our destiny when the Ravens come to town. (And even where New England is concerned).
Our Dolphins have only 3 winning opponents ahead of us. (I'm referring to Broncos, Ravens and Patriot games). The schedule looks like this: @Denver, @NYJ, Baltimore, @NE, Minnesota and NYJ. If we take care of business like we have been doing all season, it would not be unrealistic to win 4 of the last 6 contests, giving us a 10 and 6 record. And right now, Denver and Baltimore are looking like they are beatable, so who knows. Of course, Denver and New England have not lost a home game this year.(There is always a first time, though).
New England is 2 games ahead of us but they have a difficult schedule going forward: (Detroit, @GB, @SD, Us, @NYJ and Buffalo). That's 5 teams with winning records. At 8 and 2, we would probably have to beat them again on their turf and hope they somehow lose another contests or two and wind up 11 and 5. Or.......
We need to win the games we are supposed to win, (like the Vikings and 2, verses the Jets). Then take 2 of the 3 against more difficult opponents, (Denver, NE and/or Baltimore) It will all come down to our head to head with the Patriots, and how each of us fare against conference teams. (Right now we are at 5 and 2 and they are sitting at 6 and 2 verses the conference). We both have 2 and 1 division marks. Depending on how we both reach 11 and 5 will determine who gets the division and who probably gets a wild card spot. There are too many permutations to consider right now for the division title.
Pittsburgh, (at 7 and 3) have taken over the 6th seed position, (bumping us down to the 7th spot) with theirNight win over the Titans. They do not have an easy road to plow: A BYE, NO, @Cincinnati, @Atlanta, KC and Cincinnati. (3 winners). And the Steelers may just do us a favor where the Bengals and/or Chiefs are concerned. I say the Bengals because that North division is crazy with all 4 teams having 6 wins at this point. Hard to say which one of these teams will take that division. Cleveland was on top last week, but now they are on the bottom.
As it stands, the Bengals lead the North division at 6 - 3 - 1, but they have: @Atlanta, @Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cleveland, @Carolina and @Baltimore. 4 winning clubs stand in the way of their taking the division or reaching the playoffs. They could benefit us with the Ravens and/or Browns games, too.
The Browns, (6 and 4) play: @Atlanta, @Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, @Carolina and @ Baltimore.They must contend with 4 winning opponents. Here again, they may give us a little assist with Cincinnati and/or Baltimore.
Baltimore, (6 and 4) had a BYE last week and their future holds: @NO, SD, @ Our House, Jacksonville, @Houston and Cleveland. That is 3 winning teams and they will have no picnic with the 4 and 6 Saints and 5 and 5 Texans. They might keep the Chargers or Browns from challenging us.
Kansas City, the number 5 seed at 7 and 3, is a concern since they beat us in week three. But of all the playoff candidates, they have the most grueling schedule. 4 games against winning teams, which could help us out considerably: @Oakland, Denver, @Arizona, Oakland, @Pittsburgh and then SD. They could lose 2 or 3 of these match ups, quite easily. And even if they don't, there is still one seed left open for us to fill.
And then there is a the aforementioned Chargers. They have it rough too with: St. Louis, @Baltimore, NE, Denver, @49ers, and @KC. 5 winners and the 4 and 6 Rams just beat the Broncos, too. There is a chance they could take out any one of our rival teams along the way like the Ravens, Patriots or Chiefs.
And here's another advantage in our favor. We have only 2 losses in the AFC, along with KC and NE. (Denver has 1). Everyone else has 3 or more losses. And we have just 1 loss in divisional play, like NE, Cincinnati and KC, Division leaders, Denver and Indianapolis are undefeated in their respective divisions. (Which doesn't matter where our divisional aspirations or wild card possibilities are concerned). Regardless of seeding, a division champ is a division champ.
If you'll notice, there are still a lot of divisional games left to be played between possible playoff contenders. (Especially in the North and West divisions). And several matches that will take place against teams that are currently tied with our won/loss record. Those teams will cancel each other out of playoff contention for us.
Technically, we have a record that is equal to two division leaders. The Colts, who are 5 and 3 in conference play and the Bengals, 6 - 3 - 1, (with their 4 and 3 conference standing). I'm liking where we are situated at this juncture. We have a better division and conference record than any of the teams, currently sporting 6 wins and one of the least difficult paths to the playoffs
Yes sir. This Dolphin team has become a completely different ball club compared to the one we fielded in 2008. We have a capable, higher scoring offense with more game changing players. The best, (first round) quarterback since the days of Dan Marino, and a top notch, solid defense. I'm real anxious to see how this thing plays out for our Miami Dolphins and that is a good state to be in.