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When the Miami Dolphins face the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Dolphins fans will get a taste of what could have been for the Miami franchise. The Dolphins tried (and failed) to lure Niners coach Jim Harbaugh from Stanford University two years ago, then tried (and failed again) to sign San Francisco QB Alex Smith as a free agent this summer.
"We had a great visit and I'll leave it at that," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said about Miami's courtship of Smith. "Any relationship takes two sides to tango and I think you should certainly ask him about that, but I have nothing but good things to say about him. I really enjoyed our visit."
While Harbaugh and the 49ers are leading their division and set to make a second straight playoff appearance, the Dolphins must win four in a row and get significant help to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
When the Dolphins have the ball: In last week's loss against the Patriots, Miami's offense failed to break 20 points for the seventh time in twelve games this season. "You can't win games consistently only scoring 19 points," Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill said. "That's a big focus of ours, to find a way to get more points on the board whatever way it is. We have to find a way."
Even Miami's rushing game, which started the season among the NFL's best, has slipped to a 3.9 yards-per-carry average, 22nd in the NFL. In short, very little seems to be working for the Dolphins on offense.
The Niners, meanwhile, lead the NFL in scoring defense, and are second in total defense. DT Justin Smith has three sacks in past three games, and San Francisco's front seven is giving up only 3.6 yards per carry.
When the 49ers have the ball: Smith has not played in three games since sustaining a concussion against St. Louis in Week 10. Instead, rookie Colin Kaepernick has taken the reins, notching a 100.1 passer rating with four TDs — throwing for three and running for another.
Kaepernick will start again Sunday, but RB Frank Gore is the catalyst of San Francisco's offense. He needs just 28 yards to top 1,000 yards rushing for the sixth time in his career. Only one team has more rushing yards than the 49ers, with Kaepernick adding another 298 yards on only 40 carries.
Dolphins DE Cameron Wake will play spy and try to contain Kaepernick. "That's my job title. Wherever the quarterback is, you've got to get there."
Who has the edge? Miami's run defense could slow down Gore, but WR Michael Crabtree, who caught seven passes for 101 yards, could be the difference between a nail-biter and an easy win for the Niners.
The pick: 49ers 24-Dolphins 10
Details: Miami Dolphins (5-7) at San Francisco 49ers (8-3-1)
TV: CBS, 4:05 pm, Greg Gumbel, Dan Dierdorf
Line: San Francisco by 10
Previously: Dolphins beat 49ers 14-9 in 2008