Sunday's game in Miami features the Dolphins (4-4) against the Tennessee Titans (3-6). The Dolphins are coming off a 23-20 loss to the likely playoff-bound Indianapolis Colts, a loss that ended a three-game winning streak. The Titans also lost to the Colts—two weeks ago—and are coming off a blowout loss at the hands of the Chicago Bears.
No NFL team has made the playoffs after a 3-6 start under the current playoff format. Thus, the Titans cannot be feeling too good about their chances. The Dolphins still have a reasonable shot at the sixth spot in the AFC if they can handle their tough second-half schedule.
That schedule begins Sunday at home, and for Miami it is an absolute must-win game. There are only two easy games left on the Dolphins' schedule—the Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The rest of their opponents are tough, including rival New England Patriots. They play each other twice in the month of December. The Patriots have won the last four meetings by an average of 19 points per game.
Fortunately for the Dolphins, Sunday's game will be a win for them. They will progress to 5-4 and keep their playoff hopes alive—for now. Here are the key aspects of the game to watch.
Arguments for the Dolphins
The most important argument for Miami in this game is run defense. With the No. 1-ranked run defense so far this season, it takes a quality running game to run against Miami. Colts running back Vick Ballard managed only 60 yards last week.
In theory, the Titans have a quality running game led by Chris Johnson, but that theory has not turned into practice yet this year. Johnson currently ranks as the No. 45 running back in the NFL.
The Titans are not only in the bottom 10 at running the ball. They are also in the bottom 10 at stopping the run. When your opponent is running the ball and you cannot, it is almost impossible to win games in the NFL.
Looking past the Titans' running game, their defense has been equally terrible. They have yielded 308 points in half a season, by far the most in the NFL (even though some teams have played more games).
Arguments for the Titans
Despite everything I have said so far, this game will not necessarily be a blowout. The Titans have the ability to keep this one close into the fourth quarter.
The main reason is Matt Hasselbeck, who is more than capable of going off for 300 yards or more through the air against a weak Miami secondary. Hasselbeck has been underrated for most of his 14 years in the league, and that continues this season.
With 62.7 percent completions this season and an 81.3 quarterback rating, Hasselbeck has not been amazing, but he has been the best aspect of the Titans offense. The Dolphins secondary was picked apart by the likes of Matt Schaub and Mark Sanchez. There is no reason Hasselbeck cannot join that group.
This game will ultimately come down to whether or not the Titans can move the ball through the air and avoid three-and-out situations. If they have short drives, the Miami running game will wear them down. If it is a low-scoring game, they will lose for that reason.
The Titans' best hope is to air it out and try to make this a shootout that Miami can't keep up with. Most likely, though, this game will be yet another loss for Tennessee, and owner Bud Adams will not get any happier.