The Dolphins' playoff chances look dimmer by the week.
Right now they stand at 6-5, which isn't terrible but isn't great by any stretch of the imagination. In the NFC West, they'd be in first place and most likely cruising to a division title.
But the Dolphins are in the AFC East, which contains two of the best teams in the NFL in the New England Patriots and the New York Jets. The Dolphins losses to both teams are why the Phins are 6-5 while both the Jets and Pats are 9-2. If the Dolphins win both of those games (which were both winnable) then you'd see a three-way tie for first at 8-3.
To add to the Dolphins problems, they're also behind whomever finishes second in the AFC North, as both teams are at 8-3. Now Baltimore killed Miami, but we all know what happened against Pittsburgh.
Despite calling for the heads of certain coaches (*cough* Henning *cough*), you can't argue with the effort put forth by Miami. They could be the best 6-5 team in the NFL, and they could, with a few steps, head into the playoffs.
How will that happen? The path will clear up a bit this week. Here are some steps the Miami Dolphins must take, and other things that must happen, in order for them to be playoff-bound.
If I said this in September, we would assume that it was a given.
However, it's far from that. Cleveland destroyed the Patriots and Saints, came within a few plays of beating the Jets, and have a strong running game by the name of Peyton Hillis.
While Miami neutralized the strong Raiders' rushing attack on Sunday, the Dolphins have still been pretty bad stopping the run. It should be just a tad easier against Cleveland, only because the Browns rank 28th in passing offense and are averaging 193.5 yards passing per game.
The strategy seems pretty simple. Get seven, possibly eight men in the box, and make Delhomme (who right now could be the starter...and as a Dolphins fan, I hope so) or McCoy beat you.
As for the offense, whether Marshall is in the line up or not, they have to continue what they did against Oakland and run the ball while spreading the passes out to all of the receivers. If the Dolphins do this, then they should come away with a hard-fought victory over the Browns.
This will put the Dolphins at 7-5, making the Sunday Night and Monday Night Games all the more important.
The best chance for the Miami Dolphins to gain a playoff spot after beating Cleveland (if they do so) is if it's the Patriots that come away with the victory on Monday Night.
Either way, the Dolphins will be one game out of second place in the AFC East, however if the Patriots win than next Sunday's Dolphins-Jets match-up in the Meadowlands takes on more importance, leading to...
The Dolphins were only a few plays away from beating the Jets earlier this season.
Hopefully, Marshall will be back for this game because game one proved that he's a Jet-killer.
If the Dolphins win their next two games, and the Jets lose to New England, then all of a sudden you'll have both Miami at 8-5 and the Jets at 9-4, making things a lot more interesting.
Dad, this is for you. (My dad's a Bears fan.)
The Chicago Bears, who already beat Miami 16-0, could help the Dolphins' playoff aspirations greatly.
On Dec. 12, they host the New England Patriots.
Two weeks later on the day after Christmas, The Stinkin' Jets fly into the Windy City.
Dolphins fans, play this song, memorize it, because right now, the Dolphins need the Bears, and Dolphins fans are going to have to become Bears fans.
The Steelers and Ravens meet on Sunday night for control of the AFC North.
The two teams both sit at 8-3, meaning that whomever loses will still have a shot at the other wild-card slot.
Frankly, it doesn't matter who wins this game to the Dolphins, just as long as the loser of this game continues to lose after it.
Who's more likely to do so, though?
The Ravens have the Texans on the road, the Saints at home, the Browns on the road and the Bengals on the road after this game. At worst, they should go 2-2.
The Steelers have three home games against the Bengals, Jets and Panthers, followed by them closing out the season on the road against the Browns.
However with rumors that Ben Roethlisberger is nursing a broken foot, its possible that the Steelers might be in a little worse shape.
This one is tough, as you would at least want the Steelers to beat the Jets, however with three home games at worst they could be 2-2. Best-case scenario for the Dolphins though is if these two teams combined go 1-7 (with the one win being the Steelers-Jets game.)
Either way, a fall for any of those teams helps the Dolphins greatly.
On paper, these games look easy for the Dolphins.
But football isn't played on paper, well unless you're in middle school and you're bored and you make a paper football, but that's obviously not what the Dolphins are doing.
The Dolphins have to win these games in order to stay in the hunt.
Of course its important to get to this point by beating Cleveland and the Jets first, but if they succeed in that, then a loss to either of these two teams effectively erases any gains they might make.
The Dolphins should especially watch out for the Bills. Their games against Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Chicago, three first-place teams, each came down to a field goal, and the Dolphins only beat them by five the first time around, but it wasn't against Ryan Fitzpatrick, it was against Trent Edwards.
Again we turn to the NFC North on Dec. 19, when the Packers visit the Patriots for a Sunday Night battle that could potentially be a Super Bowl preview.
Assuming the Dolphins keep winning, a Packers victory will give the Dolphins an extra boost in their postseason chances.
Maybe I only put this slide in as an excuse to show the epic Andre Johnson vs. Cortland Finnegan fight.
But these two teams, also competing against the Dolphins for playoff positioning, are our friends.
Now before I start, let me give you my pick for tonight's game.
PHILADELPHIA (-9) over Houston
Eagles 38, Texans 21.
That will move Houston down to 5-7, which if the Dolphins beat the Browns, means the Dolphins will be two games ahead of them.
It gets better though, as the Texans have games against the Ravens, Titans and Jaguars coming up. If the Texans go 3-0 in those games and the Dolphins do what they have to do, than the Dolphins will be in good shape.
Tennessee has two games against the Colts and one game against the Jaguars, both ahead of Miami in the wild card race, on their upcoming schedule.
Most importantly, as of right now in addition to just having a better record than than these teams, the Dolphins also hold key tie-breakers against both, meaning wins by these teams will not hurt Miami if they continue to win.
In fact, they will help the Dolphins greatly.
Why pull for New England on Monday Night?
Because when push comes to shove, I'd rather face a complacent, already clinched the AFC East and heading to the playoffs with a first-round bye New England Patriots team than a fighting for their playoff lives Patriots team.
So if everything here goes the way its supposed to, than the Patriots will have the AFC East and their playoff spot well in hand, albeit hopefully with an 11-4 record going into the game.
If all goes right for the Dolphins, they'll be 10-5 and most likely need a win to get in. If the Jets wind up losing to New England, Pittsburgh and Chicago like the Dolphins need to happen, they'll also be 10-5 going into the final week of the season.
This could possibly mean a potential log jam atop the AFC East at 11-5 if the Dolphins come away victorious, however based off of tie-breakers.
The Pats will already be in prior to the game, which gives Miami a better shot due to Bill Belichick's normal strategy of playing to not lose or get hurt when the Pats are already in the playoffs.
Its a shame that I needed 10 slides, however due to their early home losses against Pittsburgh, New England and the Jets, the Dolphins need as much help as they can possibly get in order to get into the playoffs.
However its not impossible, as long as the Dolphins can win and as long as everything they need to happen happens, which again, is so much I had to do a 10-page slideshow in order to show it and I know I probably missed some other points, than the Dolphins will be participants in the playoffs.
Now I know I didn't mention what the Dolphins could do to win those games (I only mentioned this week against Cleveland) however for each team its pretty simplistic:
-Make the running game the focus, which is especially essential going into two cold weather games against the Jets and Patriots
-Continue their improvement on Defense and pressuring the quarterback
-No more let downs on special teams.
If the Dolphins do all of that, they should finish on a 6-0 (counting last week's win vs. Oakland) clip, making them 11-5, which is needed to make it into the playoffs (plus help though, again, the Dolphins aren't in the NFC West.)
But it all starts this week against Cleveland, and here's my pick:
MIAMI (-4.5) over Cleveland
Expect the Browns to run at Miami strong, however the Dolphins should stack as many men in the box as possible in order to contain Peyton Hillis and allow either Colt McCoy or Jake Delhomme to win the game.
The 4.5 line is pretty high considering the teams, however if the Dolphins play the Browns the same way they played Oakland, than they should just barely cover it.
Dolphins 28, Browns 23
Now for the rest of the picks of the week, with Philadelphia and Houston being covered already.
NEW YORK FOOTBALL GIANTS (-7) over Washington
Giants 27, Redskins 14
New Orleans (-7) over CINCINNATI
Saints 31, Bengals 20
Jacksonville (+3.5) over TENNESSEE
Jaguars 21, Titans 14
Chicago (-3.5) over DETROIT
Bears 28, Lions 10
Buffalo (+6) over MINNESOTA
Vikings 32, Bills 28
GREEN BAY (-10) over San Francisco
Packers 38, 49ers 10
KANSAS CITY (-9) over Denver
I doubt the Chiefs have forgiven the Broncos for running up the score. I doubt that's what happened, but that was the perception. Watch the Chiefs do the same thing here against a porous Denver defense that won't have an answer for Bowe or Charles.
Chiefs 42, Broncos 20
Oakland (+13) over SAN DIEGO
You're kidding me on this spread, right? I mean the Chargers will win, but by 13?
Chargers 35, Raiders 30
Atlanta (-3) over TAMPA BAY
Until the Bucs show me they can beat good teams, I can't roll with them against other good teams, much less the best team in the NFC.
Falcons 28, Bucs 23
SEATTLE (-6) over Carolina
Seahawks 32, Panthers 10
Dallas (+5.5) over INDIANAPOLIS
The Colts are well overdue for an implosion season. Add Jim Caldwell's name to the list of coaches who might be unemployed after the season.
Cowboys 28, Colts 20
BALTIMORE (-3) over Pittsburgh
I think Ben's injury will affect the Steelers more than you think.
Ravens 31, Steelers 20
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-3.5) over New York Jets
Home field call here, however a tough decision.
Patriots 35, Jets 32
St. Louis (-3.5) over Arizona
This game isn't funny I'm not gonna laugh about anything about it. You think this is funny I take these picks seriously. I put my heart and soul into this every single week! I'm just telling you right now what I do every single week. Every single week I put my freaking heart and soul into this, I study my ass off, I don't laugh, its not funny, nothing's funny to me except for Derek Anderson's interview. I don't want to come here on bleacher report and get embarrassed in front of everybody. I'm done, sorry, I'm done.
Rams 27, Cardinals 14