Miami Dolphins: Realistic Playoff Hopes

ORCHARD PARK, NY - DECEMBER 24: Matt Moore #8 of the Miami Dolphins warms up before the game against the Buffalo Bills on December 24, 2016 at New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York. Miami defeats Buffalo 34-31 in overtime. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
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The Miami Dolphins finally clinched their first playoff birth since 2008, but it has come at some cost. Aside from the New England Patriots and the Pittsburgh Steelers, the AFC title is vulnerable. With the likes of Tom Savage, Matt McGloin and Matt Moore in the mix, experienced starting quarterbacks are lacking. Although Miami has beaten Pittsburgh this year and New England is 0-3 in their last three visits to Miami, it’s important to lay some ground work for realistic playoff hopes for the Miami Dolphins.

Miami Dolphins: Realistic Playoff Hopes

The Dolphins last two playoff visits have resulted in losses. In the 2001 and 2008 Wild Card week, the Dolphins were eliminated by the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens have already handed Miami a loss this season, their only loss in their 9-1 stretch to the playoffs. The Ravens have been Miami’s kryptonite within recent memory, however, they have been eliminated from postseason contention. Things are looking up for Miami.

The six seed in the AFC is essentially guaranteed to Miami, and while they could move up to number five, it will take a combination of miracles. The Dolphins will most likely play the Pittsburgh Steelers. While Miami fans should savor the berth, the cost has come at an extremely unsought price.

The Cost

In week six, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Miami lost their Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones for the entire season to a shoulder injury. Although Miami went on to win the game against all odds 30-15, and running back Jay Ajayi eclipsed 200 yards for the first time this season, Miami lost a key leader. Jones was arguably Miami’s best defender.

Three key offensive lineman have missed games this season. Left tackle Branden Albert, and left guard Laremy Tunsil have missed games sporadically. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey has only appeared in four games. What head coach Adam Gase has done with a diminished line compared to a healthy line is quite similar: win games. The only issue is, Miami can’t run the ball without a strong offensive line.

In week 16 against the Buffalo Bills, starting safety Isa Abdul-Quddus went down with an injury. Earlier this week it was reported he was placed on injured reserve. Now defensive coordinator Vance Joseph will have to rely on special teams guru Michael Thomas and Bacarri Rambo, a player released by Buffalo earlier this season. Miami’s secondary is dwindling.

With all the major injuries such as safety Reshad Jones and Abdul-Quddus to minor ones such as cornerback Byron Maxwell, Tunsil and linebacker Kiko Alonso to players like linebacker Koa Misi who have missed the entire season, one injury sticks out more than any other. The injury to starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. When Tannehill left the game against the Arizona Cardinals after a low hit from defensive end Calais Campbell, Miami’s season seemed to be all but over.

Decent play from veteran backup Matt Moore, insanely overzealous play from the wide receiving core, a few clutch kicks from Andrew Franks and another 200 yard game from Ajayi secured Miami a wild card spot. Other teams such as the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders are looking to have success with backup options. However, the Dolphins may not be good enough to cope with the burden of having to play one of the hottest teams in the NFL – the Pittsburgh Steelers, barring a miracle.

Looking Forward

A game against The New England Patriots will likely determine the experts stance on the Dolphins playoff run. Word of mouth suggests if the Dolphins can emerge victorious and possibly strip New England of the No. 1 seed, they can go the distance. It’s in Miami’s best interest to continue flying under the radar. A little chatter about a team that would have the third best record in the NFC and win essentially any other division would be nice, though. For too long Miami has lived in the shadow of the Patriots.

Realistic Prediction

Don’t expect Gase’s Dolphins to lay an egg in the wild card game. In fact, it will be just the opposite. Something special is brewing in Miami, and if they could brace up starting quarterback Tannehill in the playoffs, a deep run could be in the cards. Good coaching can only get a team so far. A great experienced coach like Mike Tomlin will not let Matt Moore look like a high caliber veteran. Completely negating players such as wide receiver Antonio Brown, running back Le’Veon Bell and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is difficult to do just one time, but to do it twice and in a playoff game at that, would surprise many.

If Miami can continue the momentum through the final game of the regular season, the Steelers could be in trouble. Don’t expect Miami to steamroll them again. The best chance for Miami to make a deep playoff run is to start with a road game against the Texans; however, that seems more unlikely as each day passes.

What it boils down to is two extremes: a Super Bowl berth or a wild card demolishing. Miami will put up a fight, but if they win, they have the momentum to go the distance. It’s all or nothing for a team like Miami. It will be interesting at the least.