The Miami Dolphins sit one game out of the playoffs, but they still have a great chance to make a playoff run
The Miami Dolphins are one of the hottest teams in the NFL. The team has won five straight and now find themselves above .500 and one game out of the playoffs. With six games still to be played, they certainly have the time to catch up and make a playoff run. It brings, the question of whether or not they have the team do so, though. Fear, not Dolphins, this team does have what it takes to make the playoffs and here is why.
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The biggest difference between this team and the Dolphins teams of past years is obvious. This is the best coaching staff this Dolphins team has had in a long time and at the least since Ryan Tannehill was drafted.
Adam Gase came in with a decent reputation and he has lived up to it. Gase is the rare breed of coach that changes his systems around the talent that the team has. It sounds so obvious, but not enough coaches do it. It can be shown in the type of offenses he ran from Tim Tebow to Peyton Manning to Jay Cutler. All fit the player’s strengths and all led to a decent amount of success. Gase is doing similar in Miami, and he is showing he can also be a leader that holds his team accountable.
The team also made a strong upgrade to the defensive side of the ball. Vance Joseph got the upgrade from Bengals secondary coach to the Dolphins defensive coordinator. That move has shown in the Bengals secondary, as that unit slowly falls apart and it has shown in the Dolphins defense which all of the sudden is playing like a top ten unit. In the NFL, where all of these players are separated by small fractions of talent coaching goes a long way. For the Miami Dolphins, it may take this team from a joke in the past few years to a contender overnight.
Nov 13, 2016; San Diego, CA, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) looks to pass while protected by center Mike Pouncey (51) and offensive guard Laremy Tunsil (67) during the second half against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium. Miami won 31-24. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
4. Offensive Line
The Dolphins offensive line has had some injury issues shake up the offensive line throughout the year. Mike Pouncey and Branden Albert have specifically been the players that have missed the most time, but most of that came to start the season. Albert and Pouncey have played in four of the team’s last five wins. The two missed their week 11 bout with the Rams, but the Dolphins offense survived, thanks to the Rams week offense.
The injuries that held them out in week 11 do not look to be serious, and these two should be installed back into the lineup sooner rather than later. The Dolphins currently rank third in rushing DVOA and have relied on the ground success of Jay Ajayi to make this run.
With a stable running game and a healthy offensive line, this team can make a run at the playoffs. Laremy Tunsil seems to get better every game, and he may eventually look to be an upgrade over Albert. Ja’wuan James and Jermon Bushrod are both experienced now and have held up the right side of the line all season. The key is Mike Pouncey in the middle, who is a star center when healthy. If he remains healthy there really is little to hold this team back from a playoff run.
Nov 20, 2016; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) passes against the Los Angeles Rams during the second half of a NFL football game at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
3. Ryan Tannehill
With an increased boost on the offensive line, a successful ground game, and an improved offensive coach, Tannehill has been in the best situation of his career. With that, he has thrived in a way that may have to lead the Dolphins to the playoffs for the first time in his career.
So far this season, Tannehill is in line for a career year. So far this season he is a 66% passer, compared to 62% of his career. He is averaging 7.7 yards per attempt compared to 7.0 for his career. He is showing to be a more consistent and accurate passer, all while extending the ball downfield more than he has in his NFL career.
The NFL has always been a quarterback league, and for possibly the first time in his career, it may be time to consider that the Dolphins have their guy at quarterback. Tannehill has all of the weapons he needs and has the offensive line. He is a threat to run the ball at any time and he has a big arm to beat teams in any way.
The Dolphins will have the chance to make the playoffs of the back of Ryan Tannehill. Given what he does so far this season, there is no reason to doubt that he will fall off and drive the Dolphins into the ground.
Nov 8, 2015; Orchard Park, NY, USA; Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (99) chases Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) out of the pocket during the second half at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Bills beat the Dolphins 33-17. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports
2. Winnable Schedule
Of course, any team can be good, but if they take on a team better than them, it makes winning difficult. Fortunately for the Dolphins, their schedule sets up pretty favorably for them to continue this run.
To start, the Dolphins wins on this five-game streak have come against fairly tough competition. They beat the 5-5 Steelers and the 5-5 division rival Bills. They beat the 4-6 Chargers and Rams on the road in back to back road games and knocked off another division rival in the New York Jets.
Moving forward, the Dolphins have a week 17 game against the Patriots, but every another team is .500 or below. They get the San Francisco 49ers next week, arguably the worst roster in the NFL. A trip to Baltimore may be tough but is winnable considering where the Ravens offense stands. A home date with the Cardinals felt hard a few weeks ago, but injury and the play of Carson Palmer have this team looking like a shell of itself. They have road games with the Bills and the Jets in December, but as mentioned they have taken care of these two teams already.
If they lose one or two of those games, they can still find a way to get to 10-6. It feels like the floor for this team could be 9-7 and this season, that could be just enough to get into the playoffs.
Oct 23, 2016; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) signals his team during the second half against the New Orleans Saints at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 27-21. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports
1. AFC West
Currently, the two Wild Card spots will go to the second and third place team in the AFC West. With that said, it is pretty rare in today’s NFL that three teams from one division make the playoffs.
That has to do with the parity in the league and the fact that the teams in the same division eventually knock each other out. As the three contenders in the AFC West go through the grind of their schedule, they all have at least one game against each other.
The Chiefs and Broncos have to square off twice, and the Chiefs will also have to take on the Raiders once more. The Raiders will also have one more game with the Broncos as well. That means at least four more losses will be spread around the AFC West. Then there are the Chargers, arguably the best 4-6 team in the NFL that still has the Chiefs and Raiders on the schedule.
The fact that the Dolphins only stand one game out can speak to how close they really are to making the playoffs. If they can take care of business, most of the other stuff will work itself out. They have the coaching, the lines on both sides of the ball and a quarterback to make a run. The schedule is favorable for them and they may be that team that nobody saw in the playoffs in October, but will be watching in the playoffs come January.