The Miami Dolphins are 4-4 at the halfway mark of the season, which for many would be a reason to celebrate, considering the fact that in the preseason they were pegged as a last place team.
Despite this, Dolphins fans seem to be ready to jump off of the bandwagon (which is funny considering that when I picked them to go 6-10, I was considered the one that didn't believe in the Dolphins when I was just trying to be realistic), and have already started contemplating the draft and free agency.
You can see this attitude in the comments section of my Live Game Grades, and it's a sentiment questioned not only by me, but by Bleacher Report's AFC East blogger Erik Frenz:
Wow, the Dolphins are a .500 team at the midway mark of the season and all the fans are talking about is the draft and free agency. WTF?— Erik Frenz (@ErikFrenz) November 5, 2012
Why the panic? Because the Dolphins lost to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9. Due to the loss there have been fears that the Dolphins defense isn't what it was cracked up to be and that the Dolphins offense isn't good enough, among other things.
One fear is Ryan Tannehill's play, which sparked this tweet from Dolphins' fan and TV producer Marc Kohn, who stated:
Dolphins left the game knowing they will have to stop Andrew Luck for a decade..Colts didnt leave game feeling same way about Tannehill— Marc Kohn (@KohneysKorner) November 5, 2012
That's not a knock on Tannehill, and is similar to a point I made in this piece from last night on the two quarterbacks, where I stated:
The best way I could sort out these two would be like this: Andrew Luck can be worth a guaranteed eight victories per season for the Colts on his own. Other than Reggie Wayne, Luck doesn't have many great weapons surrounding him, as his two tight ends and most of his receivers are still developing. The thought of those weapons getting better, plus with what the Colts will add in the future, is a scary one for the AFC.
While Ryan Tannehill is also very good and has shown himself to work well with Miami's limited weapons, he is a little bit more dependent on Miami's running game (they should've had at least 10 more carries as the run game averaged 5.1 yards per carry on only 17 rushes). Beyond that, while Tannehill wouldn't exactly be worth eight victories on his own, he will win games for Miami when he has to.
This isn't a knock on Tannehill, it's a fact.
But even though he does need more help, some of the help can already be found on the team (the rest will have to wait on the draft, but let's finish 2012 first). If Miami's defense can perform better (which they can), and Miami's running game could get going (which it showed signs of doing against Indianapolis despite only 18 total carries), then Tannehill is still in good shape, as are the Dolphins.
Dolphins fans are overreacting to one game, and while I likely would've been guilty of it myself, with this team I'm not going to overreact because the playoffs are still in reach for Miami.
Their defense was picked apart by Andrew Luck, however he practically did it alone, with no help from his running game. The defense also didn't do any favors for him, as they lacked the aggressiveness Miami had played with in their previous three victories.
This will likely change. Indianapolis still had trouble running the ball throughout the contest, and was still held under 100 yards rushing.
The other reason the playoffs are still in reach for Miami is the fact that the AFC is still weak enough for the Dolphins to earn a playoff berth in.
As of right now, the Miami Dolphins are projected as the eighth seed (which if it ends that way will make me advocate the NFL use of the NBA's playoff model), just one game back of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Indianapolis Colts.
Indianapolis is well ahead of Miami (they're one game up, but add the head-to-head tiebreaker and it's closer to two games up). Indianapolis will have to have a major collapse in order for the Dolphins to pass them. I don't see this happening, despite Indy's schedule down the stretch (two games against the Texans, and a trip to New England).
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, is gaining steam and has two games against the Baltimore Ravens.
With those games, hope for a sweep. A split would ensure that both teams would get into the postseason, but a sweep could send one of those teams on their way to finishing 9-7. Baltimore would be the team more likely to collapse down the stretch as they have the tougher schedule of the two.
The other team ahead of Miami in the playoff race (but tied record-wise) is the San Diego Chargers. The Chargers will have to play against the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Steelers, the Ravens, the Denver Broncos and the New York Jets.
To make matters worse for the Chargers, they have Denver on the road, and have to travel east to play against the Buccaneers, Steelers and Jets (yes, there's a scenario this year where Dolphins fans might have to cheer for the Jets).
Miami, on the other hand, has their next two games against opponents they should beat (and rather handidly based on the statistics). In Week 10 they get a visit from the Tennessee Titans, followed by a trip to Buffalo to take on the Bills on Thursday Night Football in Week 11. The toughest part of those games is the fact that they come within the span of four days and include going on the road, but the Dolphins should still beat out Buffalo in the end.
That should put them at 6-4 going into a tough game at home against the Seattle Seahawks, which is a game that could go either way, yet due to the venue I see it going towards the Dolphins.
That would leave Miami at 7-6, with three games left in the season.That would still be no reason to panic, as their next two games following that stretch are at home against the Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both teams will likely be out of it, and what playoff team wouldn't want to see two straight home games against the Blaine Gabbert/Chad Henne combo, followed by Ryan Fitzpatrick?
That should put Miami at 9-6 going into their last game of the season in Foxborough against the Patriots. The game would mean everything for Miami, but nothing for New England (who should have the AFC East sewn up by then barring Miami exceeding their expectations).
I'd like the Dolphins odds in that case.
Miami does have to go 6-2 to make it to the playoffs (10-6 will almost guarantee a playoff berth in the AFC), but this team is very capable of doing so. No reason to start panicking yet, as this season continues to be an exciting one.
Already it's been the most fun Dolphins season of the last decade. The best news is the fact that the ride has only begun.