The Miami Dolphins Have No Meaningless Games

The Miami Dolphins unexpected arrival in the NFL playoff arena for the first time in eight years comes with little fanfare. The first step in Miami’s post season journey actually begins in the regular season finale against their biggest rival, the New England Patriots. Across the league, the Patriots are the preordained KINGS of the AFC and perhaps the entire NFL. By contrast, the Dolphins haven’t tasted playoff victory in sixteen years.

At 13-2, the Patriots have a clear path to home field advantage throughout the playoffs by defeating the Miami Dolphins. A loss by the 12-3 Raiders, without Derek Carr, will also hand home field advantage to New England on the last day of the NFL regular season. Traveling to Miami at 1:00 PM, the Patriots season will be over before the Raiders visit the Denver Broncos at 4:25 PM. The safest passage to home field for the New England Patriots is by defeating the Miami Dolphins.

What was perceived as a meaningless game before the season, looms large for both teams. For New England, home field advantage is huge. Tom Brady is 14-3 at home in the playoffs, and an astonishing 106-18 in all regular season and playoff games. Playing at home is a distinct advantage as Brady and Belichick seek to win an elusive fifth Super Bowl together. Standing in the way, prior to the Raiders game, is the Miami Dolphins.

The Dolphins are far from NFL darlings and viewed by most pundits as one-and-done playoff fodder for the big boys of January. Way back in week two, the Patriots without Tom Brady handily defeated these Dolphins in what looked like a lost season for Miami. By week six, Adam Gase found his stride and his team reeled off six straight victories before being blown out 38-6 in Baltimore.

That was week 13, the fledgling Dolphins seemed to have crash-landed and with the rising Arizona Cardinals coming to town the questions started sneaking in. The Dolphins held their own and were beating the Cardinals when disaster struck. Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down with a severe knee injury. In that critical moment, the tide changed and Arizona charged from behind to tie the game at 23 in the final minute.

On a rain soaked field, without their QB and leader, with little time left on the clock, Adam Gase, Matt Moore and the entire Miami Dolphin team came together. In a microcosm of their entire season, the Dolphins rose from the ashes. Moore found Kenny Stills who drew a pass interference call from officials that seemed united against Miami the entire game. The moon was in the seventh house, the throw, the catch, the penalty… Jupiter aligned with Mars and
in the pouring rain, Andrew Franks kicked Miami past the Cardinals.

26-23, it really wasn’t much of a game, but the rise of the Miami Dolphins had officially begun. Winning in the NFL comes by the thinnest of margins. Through week 16 the Dolphins have scored 349 points, Miami’s opponents have score 338 points. Miami won 10 of 15 games by a total of 11 points, eight of those ten wins came by a touchdown or less. The uninitiated glass-half-empty detractors would point to this as a sign
Miami is more lucky than good. 5-10 and losing by a total of 11 points could easily have been the season’s story, but those elusive 11 points fell on Miami’s side of the ledger.

Miami hadn’t swept the Jets or the Bills in years and yet here they stood, blocking Miami’s final path to a playoff berth. With a backup QB and years of ugly baggage, having been there and lost that, the Miami Dolphins landed in icy Meadowlands with a score to settle and a message to send. 34-13 later, the Jets and the rest of the NFL finally turned their heads toward Miami. The Sharps refusing to believe Miami could
handle Rex Ryan with his job on the line.

The Bills battled the Dolphins punch for punch, expecting Miami to finally succumb like they had so many times in the past. These Fins, with steadfast Adam Gase at the helm, would not relent, would not go quietly into the night. These Miami Dolphins did not back down and in the end, proudly road out of Buffalo with a 34-31 overtime victory.

The NFL set the table for Miami, three straight AFC East showdowns to see which of the other three teams would via for a playoff spot. Before the season and after a 1-4 start, the Dolphins were not even considered in the mix. In Tampa, where the Buccaneers had played the previous Thursday, 5 hours from Miami, the NFL chose Cincinnati and Baltimore for the televised game. In Orlando five hours away, Cincinnati and Baltimore. In Naples, two hours away, Cincinnati and Baltimore…

All leading to New England in Miami on New Year’s Day 2017 at Hard Rock Stadium. Regardless of secured playoff berths or New England’s quest for home field advantage, the Miami Dolphins march into a brave new future. The Jets and Bills were unceremoniously kicked down into the AFC East cellar and standing at the top, the mighty Patriots. The top of the stairs is not a place where losing is acceptable.

A meaningless game?

Outside the Miami locker room, the stakes were suddenly palpable. Belichick’s words come out all buttery, “Miami is a talented football team, Matt Moore is a very capable QB- …bla, bla, bla, bla, bla…” Drivel, all drivel, Belichick and Brady sense the danger creeping from the south and they will send a message to the upstarts from Miami and coach Adam Gase. We are KING and with this sword you shall be vanquished like the pretenders you are.

January first, 2017 the Patriots standing on the highest hill with all the trophies and accolades staring defiantly down at the lowly Dolphins.

A meaningless game?

This is the most dangerous game of all for Brady and Belichick, Miami has literally nothing to lose. Regardless of the outcome, the Patriots supremacy will not be dismantled on this single day, but the cold Nor’easter that has blown steady for the last two decades is shifting direction. Warm air creeping up from the south is but a sentinel of the changing tides. The Patriots can feel it and know it must be suppressed or the consequences will continue to take root and grow with each Miami victory.

A meaningless game?

Adam Gase, knows his Miami Dolphins play on a razor’s edge, 10 victories with only an 11 point scoring differential tells the tale. The Patriots scoring differential in 13 wins is 170 points. The Dolphins are far from the precipice where the mighty Patriots reign but there is only one way up the mountain. It comes in little nooks and crannies, footholds in the shear rock face, with each victory a landmark is scaled.

Each loss loosens the rocks precariously, waiting to set off an avalanche sending the Miami Dolphins crashing to the bottom once again. Brady and Belichick know, winning begets winning. In a league where the talent level is so closely aligned the psychology of winning is much more important than any physical attribute. They want to teach these upstarts a lesson.

A meaningless game?

A loss will have no outward effect on either team, but in reality, this is a playoff game for both teams.

A meaningless game?

I think not…