With chances hovering at 17%, the Dolphins need all the help they can get to reach the playoffs. But the Football Gods help them that help themselves, and the Dolphins' dreams will die if they don't win out -- starting today in Jacksonville at 1:00 (CBS).
"From our end," Tony Sparano said, "we know that this is the most important game, and that's the way we prepared. That's the way Jacksonville's preparing right now, and that's the way we're preparing."
Every game is like a playoffs game, he told the team. And Miami needs to go 4-0.
Can they? Sure. The Dolphins have proven they can stand up against the best teams, but they've also showed they can drop to the worst. Their fate is their own hands, and which team will show up?
Hopefully the one with a rushing defense. Since nose tackle Jason Ferguson was lost to injury at Carolina, the Dolphins' run D has dropped to 14th in the NFL, and has allowed 4 rushing touchdowns in the last two games. The Jaguars sport wee running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who's like a souped-up member of the Lollipop Guild, if lollipops could kill. The tiny one has produced first downs on a quarter of all his career NFL carries, and he's already over 1,000 yards on the season.
If the Jags can established a ground game with MJD, they'll control the clock and let QB David Garrard pick away at the Dolphins secondary -- who, by the way, have allowed 43 completions of 20-plus yards this season. [Shudder!]
Boop beep compute release remain impassive whrrrrrrr. The Robot Chad Henne broke out last week on the Patriots -- 335 yeards, 2 TDs -- and needs to have another great game today. Since Ronnie Brown's injury, the Dolphins' ground game has been steadily declining, and is coming off its second-worse performance of the season. Time for the second-year quarterback and the passing game to grow up.
Fortunately, Davone Bess and Brian Hartline are stepping up out of one of the weaker receiving units in the league. Bess had 117 yards last week, and Hartline's been scoring twice a game for two straight weeks. Jacksonville, to their mild horror, will probably be without corner Rashean Morris this week thanks to injury. Provided he's not hampered by rain, Henne will need to attack the Jags secondary with gusto: rookie corner Derek Cox is having 64% of passes completed on him, poor thing, and Tyron Brackenridge is giving up 15 yards per catch on the other side.
It may come down to: special teams. The Jags are no. 1 in the NFL in punt coverage, but should field goals be the deciding factor the Dolphins have a distinct edge. AFC Special Teams Player of the Week Dan Carpenter has missed just one of 20 field goal attempts for the Fins this season and in two years is perfect from 40 yards or less. Jacksonville's Josh Scobee is 7 of 12 from 40 yards or greater.
Sean Smith game-related Tweet o' the Week: "Boarding the plane... Idk why everybody lookin at me like I'm supposed to bring the DB food! that rookie stuff over wit lol."
If there's one thing fans should be thankful for, it's the other "rookie stuff" that keeps Vontae Davis and Smith springy. The two have faced some of the best receivers in the league -- Randy Moss, Wes Welker, Marques Colston, Steve Smith -- and have gotten burned here and there, but they're young and enthusiastic enough to bounce right back. That'll come in handy today against wily vet Torry Holt and up-and-comer-hyphenate Mike Sims-Walker.
Miscellany: The Jags lead the series 2-1; the teams met in the pre-season with Miami victorious, but the last 'real' game was a 24-10 Jax win in 2006 ... Both Joey Porter and Jason Taylor are questionable with injury, and equally questionable is whether or not either will be missed ... Former Dolphin Ernest Wilford, easily the worst bust of this regime, has 9 passes for 111 yards and one TD for Jacksonville ... Jacksonville has failed to reach 50,000 in attendence six times this season.
Fearless prediction: 21-17, Miami.