When the Miami Dolphins started the season 1-4, they looked to be on a sinking ship. Even their lone win was barely squeaked out against the Cleveland Browns. They had already lost to division rival New England and the Buffalo Bills appeared to be rolling along. Fast forward to midseason and believe it or not, Miami can be brought up as a potential playoff team. The real question is, are they just on a hot streak or is this team finally getting their footing? Do the Dolphins have the tools to pull within a wild card spot, assuming the 7-1 Patriots take the division?
Strength of Schedule
Believe it or not, the toughest part of the Dolphins season is over. At the halfway point of the season, they face one team with a winning record. One. The Pats are the AFC East team to beat at 7-1, but other than their opponents are a combined 23 wins to 37 losses. Unfortunately for them, the same could be said of their 3-4 record penciled into other teams schedules.
Luck is even on their side. Miami has the often dreaded west coast trip on their schedule twice this season. They face the Los Angeles Rams and San Diego Chargers on their home turfs. However, they’ll only have to make the trip once. They face the Chargers week 8 and the Rams week 9. It would only make sense for the team to stay in town and find a place to practice. A full week to make the time adjustment could play in their favor.
Strength of Division
If the playoffs were decided today, the AFC West would control the AFC wild cards. Three of the four teams in that division have at least a 5-2 record. Unfortunately for those teams, they’ll eventually have to play each other. Even fans have to admit, the AFC East as of late is an easier division to face. New England has been kings of the division since before most can remember while the rest of the division is shells of their former selves. Miami doesn’t have to face a division of Ravens, Bengals, and Steelers or Broncos, Chiefs and now Raiders. No, they face a group that, other than Tom Brady, hasn’t seen a franchise quarterback since the days of Jim Kelly and Dan Marino.
That Offensive Line, though!
While fans can argue whether or not Ryan Tannehill can lead them to the playoffs, is a moot point. Truth be told, the Miami Dolphin’s season lives or dies on the strength of their front 5. Before their starting line was healthy Miami averaged 17.6 points per game. Miami couldn’t run the football, the defense was often tired and beaten, and Ryan Tannehill looked like his old inconsistent self.
In the past two games with starters, Miami has put up 28 and 30 points. Running backs could only muster 362 yards in a five-game span as a unit. Now, Jay Ajayi has 418 yards in two games alone. Even Ryan Tannehill has enjoyed some time to shine. The quarterback who went from back to back 6 sack games tallied just one sack in a two-game span. Make no mistake about it, Miami’s path to success runs right through their offensive line.
Learning to Gel
When Adam Gase took over in Miami, fans expected an immediate turnaround. The real world quickly sank in. While there are a few exceptions to the rule, rarely do new head coaches step in, and things are immediately great. Those numbers are fewer still when a rookie head coach is in the mix.
Not only did Gase have to get used to his players, but he also had to learn the trends of his personnel. Miami picked 20 year NFL veteran coach Clyde Christensen to run their offensive scheme but stayed young on the defensive side with rookie defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. The Dolphins offensive struggles lead to defensive struggles due to fatigue. If they can get both units into a rhythm, there should be no problem winning down the stretch.
Miami is one of those teams where you never know what you’re going to get. You can expect them to get blown out by the Steelers, only to hold on and win. You can expect a playoff push or for them to flop, and they’ll always find ways to do the opposite.
Are the Dolphins a playoff contender or pretender? At face value, they have all the right tools to make a splash. However, it’s too early in Adam Gase’s tenure with the team to expect it. He has the team on the right path, but the Dolphins always find ways to fall apart. Miami just hasn’t established a culture of dominating football games. Sure they can pull off the occasional upset or win at the last second.
However, they don’t have the competitive edge to go out and put games away. That’s what it takes to be a playoff team. The good teams stay too close, and if the NFL played a fifth quarter, the Dolphins would be in trouble. Don’t think they won’t excite you the rest of the season. Don’t think their time isn’t coming.
It’s just not now. They could make the playoffs, but unless the AFC West falls apart, there’s just not enough wild card spots to go around. Miami Dolphins: playoff pretenders.