Head coach Tony Sparano and his players are saying all of the right things. Sparano even mentioned on Monday that the Cardinals reached the Super Bowl a couple years ago with just a 9-7 record.
These are the kinds of things those associated with the team are expected to say - until the Dolphins are mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, of course. And don't get me wrong - I'm still holding out hope of a miracle. But so many things that are not in this team's control would have to happen that I just don't see the playoffs happening - not with the hole the Dolphins have dug and the injuries they have to overcome.
But that doesn't mean these final six games are meaningless. There are a lot of story lines to monitor as the season winds down. And these are just six that come to mind right away:
1. Could Sparano's job be in danger? This is something I really didn't expect to have to discuss this season. But the sequence of events that have occurred in 2010, however, certainly makes you have to wonder if Sparano is on the hot seat.
Bill Parcells steps down prior to the start of the season. After a hot start, the Dolphins struggle and fall to 4-4, at which time Sparano decides to make the big quarterback switch - benching Chad Henne for Chad Pennington. And then the coaching staff's game plan against the Bears was disappointing in the eyes of many.
While I'm ready to see Dan Henning "retire" after the season, I'm not ready to dismiss Sparano just yet. If this team was to suddenly go in the tank, though, I'd reconsider my stance. But one thing we have never had to worry about under Sparano is this team's effort. And I don't think that's something we'll have to worry about any time soon.
2. Will Chad Henne get another shot to prove he is "the guy" for this franchise? Henne was at practice on Monday and reportedly didn't look too hindered by his knee injury. And you know Henne has to be dying to get back under center for this team. While he publicly handled himself very well upon learning he was going to be benched, there's no doubt Henne felt some combination of disappointment and anger.
When Henne got an opportunity to get back on the field against the Titans after Pennington went down, I feel like he played with more attitude. He was playing like he had something to prove. He had an "F--- You" kind of mentality. That's why I'm really hoping Henne gets healthy quickly. I don't want him to lose that edge he had against Tennessee. I want to see this new "bearded and angry" version of Henne on the field and give him one final chance to show his coaches and his teammates that he can be "the guy" for years to come in Miami.
3. How much better can Cameron Wake get? We all assumed he was going to be at least a good pass rusher. But I don't think anyone knew how great he'd actually be on his first year as a starter. And I doubt a single person thought Wake would be as good against the run as he has been this year. Like I pointed out yesterday, his nine tackles for loss is tied for second most in the league. And while he trails Clay Matthews by two sacks for the NFL lead, Wake has 4 more combined sacks and tackles for a loss than Matthews has (18.5 to 14.5). Wake's a Pro Bowl player for sure. But is it time to start discussing Wake as an All-Pro and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate?
4. Many key players are playing for new contracts. All four of the team's tail backs are free agents following the season. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are unrestricted free agents while Patrick Cobbs and Lex Hilliard are restricted. But the decisions don't stop there. Defensive linemen Paul Soliai and Tony McDaniel are unsigned for 2011. As are offensive linemen Richie Incognito, Lydon Murtha, and Pat McQuistan. All of these guys are playing to get paid. But only a few will likely be back in Miami. But who becomes the priority for this front office?
5. What is this team's greatest area of need? If things keep going the way they have been, the Dolphins are going to have a high draft pick in April's draft. But what should the team do with that pick? We'll have plenty of time to debate this between January and April. But as you watch these final six games, keep this question in the back of your mind. Right now, I'd be leaning towards either a running back, interior offensive lineman, or pass rusher. But I reserve the right to change my opinion - as I will a million times from now until the draft.
6. Will the Dolphins reach the 30 point plateau? The Fins came close two weeks ago against Tennessee, putting up 29 in the win. Every other NFL team has put up a 30 point game this year except the Dolphins. And here's the most ridiculous statistic of the season that I hunted down last night: If the Dolphins fail to score 30 points in a single game this year, it'll be only the 2nd time in franchise history that they did not have a 30 point game. The only other season this happened? It was 1966 - the franchise's first season in existence. Their season high was 29 points in a final week win over Houston.