How many wins will it take to get into the playoffs this year?
Last year, eleven wasn't enough for the Patriots.
I tentatively set the Dolphins win total at seven, coming down the stretch of the final four games. I do believe they will win all of these remaining contests.
But, that's only eleven wins. Does that mean I'm projecting them to miss the playoffs? Well, as writers say, that's why we write the articles. Please read on...
The Dolphins are on the road December 13th and 20th to play Jacksonville and Tennessee, respectively. Jacksonville is the AFC South's resident cellar-dweller, and Tennessee matches up very poorly with Miami.
They (the Titans) tried to remedy the 27th ranked passing offense in the league by signing a back-up wide receiver from another team (Pittsburgh) in Nate Washington.
Despite the hooplah surrounding QB Kerry Collins' resurgence in 2008, he only tallied 12 touchdown passes throughout the year (he played at least three quarters in 14 games, so he averaged under one score a week).
Oh, and, by the way, Miami QB Chad Pennington won the Comeback Player of the Year Award over him.
So, Tennessee wins games with a three-headed running back committee of LenDale White, Chris Johnson and Chris Perry. Again, three physical running backs who will run right into the gut of one of the more coveted 3-4 linebacking cores in the NFL (Miami's).
You cannot beat the Dolphins without a strong semblance of a passing game and Tennessee does not field one.
Will the Dolphins be able to throw much on Tennessee? Probably not, but the key to winning prospective low scoring games is balance; not showing a deficiency anywhere.
The AP voters for that Comeback Player award chose Pennington over Collins for a reason. His offense's passing production ranked seventeen spots higher than Collins'. Balance.
By the way, this game will potentially have huge wild card implications.
Okay, let's move on to the mini home stand ending the season. The Fish host the steadily improving Texans, and then the defending Super Bowl champion, Steelers (pictured, above, on the prowl).
Simply put, Houston's offense is one of the league's best, reigning as the third most prolific in the league by way of yardage, and, their defense, one of the worst, at 22nd.
With QB Matt Schaub's inability to stay healthy over the duration of whole seasons, the Texans may regret shipping abled back-up Sage Rosenfels to passer-desperate Minnesota, especially considering they only got a 4th rounder in exchange.
The Texans are dangerous, and ended on a high last year, but I feel like the probability of both Scahub, and his best target, WR Andre Johnson, staying healthy until the end of the year is too improbable a feat to bank on (since it's never happened before).
I'm also unsure about whether feature back, Steve Slaton, has the frame at 5'9" and 201, to endure carrying the everyday load. However, he was under Offensive Rookie of the Year consideration in '08, despite only carrying the ball more than twenty times in a game on four occasions.
His back-up is over-the-hill journeyman, Chris Brown, whom the Titans found no room for after rookie Chris Johnson asserted himself to fill out the aforementioned three-headed running back committee they support.
Slaton shouldn't expect much help from Brown, and I project the increased load in '09 to be too much for him to shoulder basically by himself.
So, chiefly, the Texans have been boiled down to an oft-injured one-dimensional offense, backed by one of the league's worst defenses.
A December win in Miami is highly unlikely, but we'll see if Houston can finally develop some semblance of a defense, and better their eight wins from last year. It's possible. They are still moving in the right direction, but Miami is already where they need to be.
Now, the season finale, at home, versus the Steelers. I see this as a must win for Miami, and a chance to predominantly rest for the Steelers. Why?
Pittsburgh plays four other reigning division champions, and they'll host every one of them sans Miami. Their scheduled is flaked with very winnable encounters against the likes of Chicago, Cincinnati (x2), Detroit, Cleveland (x2), Denver, Kansas City, and Oakland.
Challenging games, on paper, for them entail meeting with Minnesota, Green Bay and Baltimore (whom they beat three times a year ago).
Then, being able to host their toughest opponents in Tennessee and San Diego (another team they routinely beat en route to the title, last season), gives the Steelers the AFC's most realistic shot at a fifteen win season.
I expect them to have the conference's top seed locked by the last Sunday of the regular season (1/3).
So, expect a tune-up for the Steelers in the first half of this one, followed by a mandatory Dolphin overload in the latter stages, to pull away, and clinch that golden eleventh victory.
Now, I'm by no means implying the Dolphins can't beat Pittsburgh at full strength. I believe the Steelers secondary is flawed and halfback Willie Parker's best days behind him.
What I did mean to imply is that the Steelers toughest outing is in week seventeen. I full-heartedly think it's plausible that the weakness of their schedule; with no Colts, Patriots or Giants to speak of, will go a long way toward them receiving an unpleasant wake up call in the Divisional round.