The numbers don’t add up for the Miami Dolphins, who have overachieved to earn their first postseason berth since 2008.
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They have allowed 17 more points than they’ve scored, and have been outgained by 798 yards, more than all but three other teams in the NFL. Their defense ranks 29th after giving up a franchise-record 6,122 yards, and their offense ranks 24th. They’re a modest plus-two in turnover differential.
Yet somehow the Dolphins managed to go 10-6 to earn the AFC’s final wild-card berth and a first-round matchup at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
”It’s interesting to look at our numbers,” offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen said. ”You really don’t see an explanation. It has kind of been funny.”
Oddsmakers aren’t amused. Without glittery statistics – and without injured quarterback Ryan Tannehill – the Dolphins are 10-point underdogs, the biggest margin of the wild-card weekend.
”That has been our MO,” safety Michael Thomas said. ”That is how we lived this whole season. It’s not surprising to us we’re 10-point underdogs. It doesn’t faze us. We prefer it that way. We’re going to go out and do our thing.”
The Dolphins’ thing has been to win close games. When the margin is seven points or less, they’ve won eight in a row. Their eight victories in such games are a franchise record for a season; the 1972 Dolphins won six one-score games en route to the NFL’s only perfect season.
Miami has scored winning points in the fourth quarter on a run, pass and field goal, and on kickoff and interception returns.
”It’s about winning games. All the statistics really don’t matter,” coach Adam Gase said. ”What this league’s about is who’s going to be in it in the fourth quarter, and then who can make a play. We’ve been in that situation so many times this year, and it has gone in our favor quite a bit.”
Even so, the Dolphins are the first team since 2012 to win at least 10 games while being outscored.
And that’s with a soft schedule. They’ve beaten only one team that finished the regular season at .500 or better: Pittsburgh.
This week’s double-digit point spread left the Steelers fending off questions about overconfidence, an odd situation given they’re playing a team that defeated them by two touchdowns in October.
”The 10 points, it doesn’t matter,” Steelers guard Ramon Foster said. ”If we beat them by 10 points, it’s perfect for Vegas. If we win by seven, it’s perfect for people betting under the spread. I’d love to beat them by 100.”
That’s unlikely, but so is a playoff run by the Dolphins. One prognostication gave them a 1-percent chance to reach the Super Bowl.
Don’t think Miami’s players aren’t aware of such slights.
”1%,” receiver Kenny Stills wrote in a two-character tweet.
”We hear a lot of talk about the other team, and the players that they have,” running back Jay Ajayi said. ”It’s starting to get to me. You have to understand that we’ve got players too.”
Gase is fine with flying to Pittsburgh under the radar.
”It’s like every other week,” he said. ”I don’t know how many games we’ve really been favored to actually win.”
They won’t be favored the rest of the season. If the Dolphins pull off an upset Sunday to earn their first postseason victory since 2000, they’ll be huge underdogs at AFC East champion New England on Jan. 14.
The Patriots swept Miami during the regular season, including a 35-14 thumping last week.
”As of right now, they’re the standard in the league,” Christensen said. ”They’re playing at a high level. We have at times, but it has to be every single week.
”It will be the same thing this week. If we don’t, you’re not going to go into Heinz Field and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers and all their Terrible Towels and all the traditions and all the ghosts that roam around there. If you don’t play good football, you’re not going to come out of there with a win. We know that.”
AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.
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