The Miami Dolphins have won their last 6 games and control their own playoff destiny. What could stop them from making their first appearance since 2008?
As we turn our calendars to December and head down the final stretch of the 2016 season, the Miami Dolphins and their fans are in unfamiliar territory. With Denver’s loss last week, the Dolphins are in the second Wild Card spot. Thanks to a six-game win streak, they now own the tie-breaker over the Broncos and are in control of their own destiny.
Miami hasn’t made the playoffs since the 2008 season. That season they took the division crown from a Tom Brady-less New England team. It’s been a long, tumultuous playoff drought, with fans of the team becoming ever more cynical as the years, and failures, have accumulated.
Do the Dolphins have what it takes to finally bring an end to the streak? Could the fans finally have a vested interest in January football again? As we look towards the final weeks of the seasons, there are a lot of reasons to be pessimistic about their chances.
Let’s take a look at five reasons why the Dolphins will fall just short of breaking their playoff drought.
The entire reason that the Dolphins are in this position is thanks to the team’s current six-game win streak. A big part of the cause of that streak has been thanks to a nice lull in Miami’s schedule. They have benefited from playing a string of what would be considered “weaker” opponents. At least as far as there are any in the NFL.
Unfortunately for Miami, their fortunes are about to change—for the worse. The last month of the season sees Miami face opponents with a current .518 total record. This schedule includes three divisional opponents, with the Jets and Bills both being in (likely) cold, snowy New York.
Before that, they face the Baltimore Ravens this Sunday. Though the Ravens season hasn’t gone the way they would have liked, they are no slouch. They come into the game with the league’s top-ranked rushing defense. Mike Wallace, who has seen somewhat of a resurgence in Baltimore, makes his return to Miami, likely seeking to burn the team that he quit on and was subsequently dumped by.
The remaining schedule is rounded out by a tilt against an unfamiliar opponent, the Arizona Cardinals. Though the Cardinals have had a rough season in 2016, they have a lot of weapons. Larry Fitzgerald is seemingly ageless. John Brown is a speedster capable of blowing the top off any defense. David Johnson is fast becoming one of the best running backs in the league.
None of the remaining games on the schedule are a given, each is going to be a significant challenge.
It’s fair to say that no one is ever truly “healthy” when it comes to the final stretch of the season. Every team has guys who are hampered by injury. Every team has key players who have been nicked up in some way or another. No one makes it through an entire season completely unscathed.
Miami is certainly no exception to this rule. They have had their fair share of injuries as the season has progressed. If, and how, those players come back from injury and if any more injuries pile up is going to be key to their success. They’re going to need some guys to get back if they want to make a serious push for the playoffs. Specifically on the offensive line.
After the teams’ 1-4 start, the offensive line finally got healthy and had their intended starting five back. And the wins were quick to follow. Once the Dolphins had everyone back, running back Jay Ajayi burst onto the scene with back-to-back 200-yard rushing efforts.
The current six-game streak owes a lot to the efforts of the offensive line. But now, once again, the injury bug has reared its ugly head. Some good news is that both Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil have practiced this week and are expected to play Sunday against the Ravens.
On the downside, center Mike Pouncey is still out with a hip injury. Pouncey, in my mind, is the cog that really makes everything on the line work. The Dolphins front five is much better with him in there. If they’re forced to play the remainder of the season without him, things could be rough. If Albert, Tunsil, or both go down again with injuries of their own, the season could be kaput.
Perhaps the most obvious stumbling block to the Miami Dolphins getting to the playoffs is the New England Patriots. The Patriots have had a stranglehold on the AFC East since the Brady/Belichick era began, and that is no different this season.
Even with Tom Brady suspended for the first four games of the season, the Dolphins were unable to capitalize. The Dolphins started the season nothing short of dismally and the Patriots appear to be well on their way to winning yet another AFC East division title.
The Patriots winning the division yet again doesn’t eliminate the Dolphins from playoff contention. However, it does limit the Dolphins to shooting for one of the two remaining Wild Card spots. It’s a lot easier to make the playoffs when you have three chances to get there instead of only two. With the possibility of getting in as a division winner eliminated, the Dolphins have to hope the teams in the AFC West do a good job of beating up on each other.
Though the Dolphins currently control their own playoff destiny, they’ll likely have to win four out of the remaining five games to lock up a Wild Card spot. Even with as hot as they’ve been, that seems unlikely.
Speaking of the AFC West, they are the next reason why the Miami Dolphins will likely fall short of the playoffs. The AFC West is the best division in football right now. The Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, and Kansas City Chiefs all have strong claims to the playoffs. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that all three teams are in it come January.
That scenario would leave the Dolphins on the outside looking in, and I don’t think it’s all that far-fetched. Before the season started, I took a lot of heat for picking Oakland to take the division. I’m still standing by that pick. They’re in the driver’s seat right now. I think they have the firepower to hold on and take the crown.
For the Dolphins to take one of the two Wild Card spots, they’re going to need these three teams to knock each other out. If I were to take an optimistic approach on Miami’s chances, I would take Kansas City to emerge as the other Wild Card team. However, it’s still hard for me to picture a playoff scenario that doesn’t have the Denver Broncos in it as well.
There’s still an entire month to play out. But the three-headed monster in the AFC West is going to be a huge hurdle for the Dolphins.
Unfortunately for the Miami Dolphins, they are not the Rolling Stones; time is not on their side. Thanks to the terrible start to the season, the Dolphins may find themselves running out of time to make the playoffs this season. They control their own destiny going forward. But, thanks to the early season hole they dug, it’s going to be rough going from here on out.
The Dolphins will likely have to win four of their next five games to realistically seal up the Wild Card spot and secure their first playoff berth since 2008. It’s not out of the realm of possibility. But with three of the games being division games and two of them on the road, I just don’t like the odds.
Had the Dolphins won even one more game during their opening 1-4 stretch, they would be sitting pretty right now. Miami would have a one-game lead over the Denver Broncos and would still hold the tie-breaker over them. Had that been the case, I would almost be willing to count the Dolphins as a lock to break the drought and give fans something real to cheer about.
Perhaps I’m taking too cynical an approach to this team. Maybe this is the team that puts the past behind them and starts a new chapter in the Dolphins history. Maybe Adam Gase actually is changing the culture of this franchise and building a winner. I actually firmly believe that he is. I just don’t think they have what it takes to finish strong and make it there this season.