DAVIE, Fla. — The New York Jets will be looking to get an early start on spoiling the Miami Dolphins playoff aspirations for the second time in as many seasons when the AFC East rivals battle at MetLife Stadium in prime time Monday night.
The 2-9 Jets are one of the worst teams in the NFL and are coming off an embarrassing 38-3 loss at the hands of the Buffalo Bills.
Yet there’s always an unnerving sense of impending doom when the Dolphins line up against the recently lowly Jets. In games where everything is expected to go right, it’s amazing how much consistently goes wrong for Miami.
Having dropped two of their past three contests in road games at Detroit and Denver, the Dolphins record is 6-5 and they will likely need to win four of their final five games to contend for a playoff spot in a highly competitive AFC wild-card race.
With two of their final five games coming against the Jets, quarterback Ryan Tannehill knows his team can ill afford to underestimate one of the league’s most hapless squads as the team begins its December playoff push.
"It’s the biggest month of the year," said Tannehill, who has thrown 12 touchdowns and three interceptions in his past six games. "All games are important in the NFL, but if you really look at it, December is when you make or break. You fight your way into the playoffs or you let your spot slip. It’s a huge month for us.
"It was [huge] last year, and I think we learned from that. We didn’t finish it off the way we wanted to. We have an opportunity this year to play well in December and get to where we want to go. It’s all in our hands."
In control of their own destiny during the final month of 2013 season, the Dolphins let a playoff berth slip through their fingers. Culminating in a 20-7 loss to the Jets at home in their regular-season finale, Miami lost back-to-back games to finish the year with a 8-8 record.
Still feeling the sting of last season’s collapse, Tannehill has learned the hard way not to overlook the struggling Jets, especially in December.
"It’s not a good memory," Tannehill said. "It’s not something that I think about consistently, but we didn’t play well. The Jets always find a way to play us well. They play some of their best football against us and we understand that going in."
So what’s the key to avoiding another upset Monday?
Jared Odrick, a member of Miami’s sack-happy defensive line, said the answer has been the same ever since the defensive tackle joined Miami’s roster in 2010.
"Stopping the run," Odrick said as though the thought had already played through his head countless times before. "They like to run the ball. It’s been the same way ever since I’ve been here. They haven’t changed their colors and they don’t hide them either. Stopping the run is definitely the No. 1 thing when playing the Jets."
Once the toast of the NFL, Miami’s usually staunch defense was exposed during last week’s 39-36 loss at Denver. Currently the 11th-best team against the run, Miami allowed the Broncos to accumulate 201 yards on the ground and should expect a similar challenge against the Jets.
Despite having the 29th-ranked offense in the NFL, the Jets possess the fifth-most productive backfield in the league with an average of 136.5 rushing yards per game.
Will the Jets be able to find the same holes and exploit the weaknesses that the Broncos did in Week 12? Possibly. But for as much as their records would lead you to believe the Dolphins should be favored in this pivotal matchup, Odrick knows to throw out the script whenever Miami and New York go head to head.
"I think most people who have an understanding of what Miami versus New York or the Jets versus the Dolphins [means], it’s a game that’s raised to another level," Odrick said. "Each team is very aware of opposing teams and the players and the personnel and what they like to run and what they like to do and each team’s attitudes. So the thing is, it raises the stakes, raises the level of play because each team is so familiar with one another. It’s going to be a tough battle."
Hoping to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Miami.