Can Winston Justice and the Indy line keep Andrew Luck upright?
Dolphins. Colts. This time...it matters! (Cue explosions and da-da-da-daaaaaa music)
Just eight weeks after both teams got ripped by 20 points each, an impromptu playoff game has broken out on the schedule.
What it Means
With both teams sitting at 4-3, the winner will have a leg up on one of the final two playoff spots in the AFC.
Because the conference is so weak, there are only a handful of teams that are going to get to nine wins. The Colts, Dolphins and Steelers may well be battling for the last two spots come December.
That's truly amazing as, before the season, these two clubs looked to be two of the absolute worst in the game. It seemed more likely they would be battling for the right to pick first overall than to play in the postseason.
Whichever team wins this game not only vaults to 5-3 but lands a critical tie-breaker over the other.
It's difficult to look at the schedule and find more than nine wins for either team, and the one who loses Sunday probably won't have the juice to make a playoff run.
Essentially, the postseason kicks off early this year.
Matchup to Watch
Cameron Wake vs. Winston Justice
Wake has been a destructive force at outside linebacker for the Dolphins, and it's hard not to draw some comparisons to Robert Mathis as he comes hard off the left edge.
He already has 7.5 sacks in just seven games this season, but 4.5 of them came in a single game against the Arizona Cardinals.
Justice is the best pass-blocker the Colts have and has mostly kept Andrew Luck from facing a heavy rush from his right.
He's coming off his worst game of the season against the Titans, however, as he regularly allowed pressure from his side.
If Justice can neutralize the rush of Wake, Indianapolis should be able to sustain drives. If Wake can haul down Luck a few times, it might be a long afternoon for Indianapolis.
Stat that Matters
3.5 and 4.8.
The Dolphins have one of the best run defenses in football, surrendering just 3.5 yards a rush (second overall). The Colts have one of the worst, giving up 4.8 yards a rush (29th overall).
The Colts have a more effective run offense, however, actually ranking ninth in DVOA, though much of the credit for that goes to Luck's ability to scramble.
Neither one of these teams wants their young quarterback to have to do it all with his arm, but the Dolphins struggle to run against anyone, and no one runs on the Dolphins.
Biggest Advantage for the Colts
It's difficult to find anything the Colts do well enough to be called an advantage. So much of their season has been generated by smoke, mirrors, will-power and a lot of luck, so statistically they rank in the toilet in most every significant category.
Their biggest advantage is that they are playing at home. When the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium is engaged, it can be a difficult place to play.
Right now, Colts fans are near delirious over the state of their team, and they should create a difficult environment for Ryan Tannehill.
Biggest Advantage for the Dolphins
Miami has the seventh-best defense by DVOA; the Colts have the 31st.
Offensively, there's a lot that's similar about these two teams. The potency of their attack comes out about even.
The reason the Dolphins are considered a legitimate contender for the playoffs while the Colts are not is defense.
Miami plays the pass and run equally well. The Colts play the pass and run equally poorly.
Best Video Only Tangentially Related to the Game
Yup. After years of playing each other in AFC East, this corresponds nicely to most Colts fans' memories of the Dolphins.
The Colts Will Win If...
If the score is close and they have the ball last, Indianapolis will win.
Andrew Luck has got this team believing in his ability to perform in the two-minute offense.
Indianapolis' formula each week is simple: hang around.
They are out-matched on talent in nearly every game, but if they can shorten the number of possessions and give Luck a chance to win it, they feel like he will.
The Dolphins Will Win If...
If Ryan Tannehill throws all over the Colts.
Tannehill has had a predictably inconsistent rookie year. He's battling a quad injury and is limited in practice, but veteran Matt Moore doesn't represent a huge drop off, if any.
Regardless of who ends up taking the snaps, the key for the Dolphins will be throwing effectively against a Colts secondary already missing Vontae Davis.
There is no discernible reason to pick Indianapolis in this game.
Miami should shut down the Colts' offense and win 20-12.
Something about how the Colts are playing, however, gives pause. They are so locked in right now, and they play with real fire on behalf of ailing head coach Chuck Pagano that picking them to lose at home would be a mistake.
Indianapolis 20, Miami 17