It seems like a good topic during our bye week is to predict the rest of our season. (Edit: Here's DolphDallas's take in his own FanPost, which beat me to the punch by 16 hours)
In addition to predicting wins and losses, I'm going to try to predict the playoff situation based on the win projections of the website Football Outsiders, a site that takes into account the performance of our offense, defense, and special teams, weighted based on the strength of our opponents so far, and tries to "predict" how many wins we finish with. Click HERE to go to their page.
Wins outlook from Football Outsiders = 8.7 wins (so between 8 and 9 wins but more likely to be 9 wins)
Playoff odds = 16% chance to win the AFC East (2nd most likely after Patriots), 38.3% chance to claim a Wildcard spot (the highest of any AFC team)
So now that you have those numbers, here's my view of the 10 upcoming games:
Week 8. @ NY Jets - probable win (record after game - 4-3)
The Jets are playing without Darrelle Revis (their best defensive player), Santonio Holmes (their best receiver), and Sione Pouha (their nose tackle). That's the equivalent of Miami playing without Cameron Wake, Brian Hartline, and Paul Soliai - devastating losses. Miami almost beat them in week 3. Since then, Tannehill's gained more experience, Reggie Bush has healed up, Jabbar Gaffney will have been integrated into our offense as a WR3, and Miami will be at full strength on defense since Richard Marshall says he expects to be back.
MEANWHILE, the Jets still will not have Revis and will not have Holmes (who killed us for 100+ yards and a TD last game). Their only "addition" from last game is the now healthy TE Dustin Keller, who will probably burn us for some big yards, but not enough to make up for all of the other advantages in our favor.
With both teams at full health, this is an equal fight, perhaps with a slight edge to the Jets because of homefield advantage. Without 3 of their best players, I think this favors the Dolphins.
Week 9 @ Indianapolis Colts - probable win (record after game - 5-3)
When looking at this matchup, you might see that the Colts' defense doesn't allow a ton of passing yards (200 yards per game), but don't be fooled. Teams choose to run against Indianapolis because of their 28th ranked run defense. Running allows teams to establish a lead and then later to hold onto the lead while draining the clock.
Why bother passing against the Colts when their average opponent has averaged 5 yards per carry running against them, gaining 160 yards per game? Mark Sanchez completed only 11 passes against the Colts, but the Jets won comfortably by 20+ points because Shonn Greene looked like a franchise running back against the Colts.
Imagine what Reggie Bush will do?
Week 10 Tennessee Titans - probable win (6-3)
Tennessee had a nice win at home against an injury-depleted Steelers team on a short-week (Thursday night game), but their QB (Matt Hasselbeck) and RB (Chris Johnson) have been inconsistent, and their defense has been awful. Throw in the fact that we're at home, and this is a probable win. They beat Buffalo by relying on a last minute TD, but I still don't see them as a serious threat.
Week 11 @ Buffalo Bills - probable loss but potential upset (6-4)
Out of my 8 projected losses, I picked 4 near "50-50 losses" that we might "steal" a win.
Miami swept the Bills last year, but this is a game in Buffalo, and division games are usually close. I still believe Miami is a better team, but the Bills did invest in upgrades on defense. Fitzpatrick against Miami is feast or famine - either multiple TDs or multiple INTs, so I'm being conservative and saying we lose to them in a close game as Fitzpatrick has one of his good days. Also, this is a Thursday night game, and home-teams have won on Thursday nights almost twice as often as the away team. That's probably because the very short week of rest favors teams that don't have to travel, so that's another advantage for Buffalo in this game.
Week 12 Seattle Seahawks - probable loss but potential upset (6-5)
This is my second of 4 projected losses with upset potential. The Seahawks are simply a better version of the Rams - A team with an excellent defense but a less-than-impressive offense led by a young QB. The difference is that Seattle QB Russell Wilson has much better weapons on offense than Sam Bradford. However, like the Rams, the Seahawks are much better at home with their "12th man" disrupting offenses with crowd noise.
I have a good reason for saying we'll probably lose, even when playing them in South Florida - it's the fact that we struggled so much with the Rams despite playing them at home. QB Sam Bradford had a career day passing against us, their run game did surprisingly well, and their defense suffocated our offense by obliterating our run game (12 carries for 17 yards by Reggie Bush) and forcing Tannehill to choose his targets carefully. Rookie standouts on special teams (Thigpen), defense (Vernon), and offense (Tannehill) helped us squeak a win at home, but we'll need a better effort in all 3 phases to beat the impressive Seahawks who just beat the Patriots. This is winnable, but the Seahawks should be favored.
Week 13 New England Patriots - loss (6-6)
This is my third of 4 projected losses with upset potential. We're at home, but we haven't beaten the Patriots since 2009. We've fought them hard plenty of times since then, but we lost to them late last year even when our team was playing well with a final score of 20 to 17, and while we've improved, so have the Patriots. Their defensive secondary is still awful, but they now have a viable run-game AND a new weapon in WR Brandon Lloyd to add to their collection of Welker, Gronk, and Hernandez. Also, their run defense is still top 5.
They're a bad matchup for us, and it would require a heroic effort from our defense and Tannehill to beat them in week 13, with the Patriots likely still fighting for the #1 seed in the AFC. We can win, especially at home, but it will be tough.
Week 14 @ San Francisco 49'ers - probable loss (6-7)
Their recent beat-down at the hands of the Super Bowl champion New York Giants aside, the 49'ers are a tough matchup. Their defense is elite against the run and very good against the pass. Their offense is excellent at running and decent at passing. In this game, neither teams' offense will thrive as both teams depend on the run on offense BUT are excellent against the run on defense, so things will be close. However, the 49'ers look like the better team. I'd see upset potential if we were at home, but again, we'll be on the road.
I see 49'ers TE Vernon Davis having a field day against our defense, as Miami's offense struggles after Reggie Bush is shut down by San Francisco's elite run defense. Winning this game would require heavy use of Tannehill's arm, and I haven't seen enough (yet) to reasonably expect him to beat a top 3 defense - though his performance against the Cardinals offers hope that it's possible.
Week 15 Jacksonville Jaguars - probable win (7-7)
Tannehill in his first 6 games (even including the horrible second-quarter in the Texans game) has dramatically outplayed Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert this season. The Jags offense is based on Maurice Jones-Drew running the ball, which is EXACTLY what our defense prefers to deal with as we're better against the run than the pass.
The Jags defense has played poorly this year, so combine that with Miami having homefield advantage, and that translates to a Miami win.
Week 16 Buffalo Bills - probable win (8-7)
Miami swept the Bills last year, and I already "gave" the Bills a win against Miami a few weeks earlier. I don't see the Bills sweeping us this year when our team looks much improved compared to last year while their team doesn't. Miami ANNIHILATED the Bills' defensive front last year as Reggie Bush had the best rushing game of his career against Buffalo, with over 200 yards on the ground. Their defensive front-7 is the same except for the addition of DE Mario Williams (DE Mark Anderson has been lost to injury), but the Bills' run defense this year still has been quite poor. Meanwhile, their offense is better running the ball than passing, which favors our defense, and this game, we're at home.
I'm comfortable with putting this as a win.
Week 17 @ New England Patriots - loss (8-8)
Again - New England swept us last year, and their offense looks fearsome. Until I see Tannehill become capable of regularly passing for 250+ yards, 1-2 TDs per game, I'm not betting on him out-dueling Tom Brady. That being said, there's a pretty decent chance New England locks down a first round bye before this game, in which case they may rest some starters and give us a better chance. Still, you have to favor Brady playing in New England - unless Miami beats them at home earlier in the year.
So, that's 8 wins, and the prediction by Football Outsiders is 8.7 wins (meaning we'll probably win 9 games), so keep in mind the 4 most likely scenarios for 9+ wins are either
1. Sweep the Bills by winning the game at Buffalo (most likely)
2. Beat Seattle by winning at home (second most likely)
3. Split the series with New England by beating them in week 17 (unlikely unless New England rests their starters)
4. Split the series with New England by beating them at home (least likely but still possible if our offense improves with Jabar Gaffney)
However, Miami's win-loss record is only part of the equation. Let's go over the other contenders (>10% probability) for the 2 AFC Wildcard spots -
Jets (27.6%) - Inconsistent team that looked awful against the 49'ers, but fought the Texans hard 2 weeks ago before destroying the Colts last week. Still, the Jets' injury situation is similar to Miami losing Cameron Wake, Brian Hartline, and Paul Soliai. Could you imagine Miami making a playoff run without those 3 guys?
Probably not, and that's why I'm pessimistic about the Jets, who even WITH those guys weren't good enough to make the playoffs last year.
The probability from Football Outsiders of the Jets making a Wildcard run is second-highest in the AFC (behind only Miami) because it factors in the data from the Jets games against the Bills and Dolphins back when they were healthy. I imagine that as the season goes on, and as the Jets face more difficult opponents, the injuries to Revis, Holmes, and Pouha will have a big impact on their team's performance, and their playoff probability will fall.
Again - I'd like their odds of a Wildcard spot at full health, but I can't imagine any team overcoming the loss of all of those key-players to injury. Pouha isn't on IR, but he's been dealing with a back injury all year.
I predict the Jets miss out on the playoffs with an 8-8 record, and Football Outsiders projects 8-8 as well.
Pittsburgh (25.0%) - The Steelers have been devastated by injuries to their offensive line and defense. Polamalu can't stay on the field due to a recurring leg injury, and they're running out of offensive linemen to use. You can never really count out the Steelers, but it's fair to wonder if maybe their core guys on defense have aged to the point of ineffectiveness. They play against the Ravens, Bengals, and not-terrible-anymore Cleveland Browns as their 6 division games plus the entire NFC East, which means their schedule is pretty tough. I predict their playoff probabilities drop, just like the Jets, as the games go on and as their injuries hurt their team efficiency ratings.
I predict the Steelers miss out on the playoffs with an 8-8 record, and Football Outsiders projects 8-8 as well.
New England (22.7%) - The Patriots are almost certainly going to win the AFC East based on their easy schedule, so they are not a real threat to take a Wildcard spot. The good news is that if the Patriots somehow lose enough to be a Wildcard team, Football Outsiders views Miami as the most likely team to be AFC East Champions, so we still go to the playoffs in this scenario.
I predict a 11-5 season, but Football Outsiders projects 10-6. I disagree with Football Outsiders because the Patriots' already-scary offense will get better now that TE Aaron Hernandez is back after being injured in week 2, and most of Football Outsiders' data from this year doesn't include Hernandez's impact because of his game-2 injury.
San Diego (18.5%) - I predict San Diego will claim the other wildcard spot because of how weak the AFC West is besides Denver. I know they blew a 24 point halftime lead to the Broncos, but to do that, they had have been good enough to earn a 24 point halftime lead, so the Chargers have talent. They have a reputation of underachieving and JUST barely missing the playoffs, but I think the AFC as a whole is weak enough now to let them in. 4 games against the Oakland Raiders and the Kansas City Chiefs GUARANTEES San Diego a good record.
I predict the Chargers earn a Wildcard spot with a 9-7 season, but Football Outsiders projects 8-8.
Cincinnati (17.6%) - Miami beating Cincinnati was HUGE because we own a tiebreak with them now. Like the Steelers, they suffer from being in the AFC North (the most competitive AFC Conference) and playing against the Ravens, Steelers, and Browns plus the NFC East this year. With the tiebreak loss to Miami, it's hard to see them getting in over us.
I predict the Bengals miss out on the playoffs with an 8-8 season, and Football Outsiders projects 8-8 as well.
Buffalo (17.4%) - Buffalo is a contender, though the odds say not a very likely one. At their best, they have a balanced offense and good defensive line. At their worst, they have an inconsistent QB, injury-prone running backs, underachieving defensive front-7, and bad secondary outside of FS Jairus Byrd. Buffalo has a chance to get in over us if we split the series with them, but as I wrote above, I find the most likely scenario for us making the playoffs is to sweep the Bills, in which case they have no shot.
I predict the Bills miss out on the playoffs with an 8-8 season, and Football Outsiders projects 8-8 as well.
Baltimore (11.6%) - Their percentage is low because the forecast is for them to win the AFC North, but like the Jets, they've suffered devastating injuries of their own. They've lost Lardarius Webb (their best cornerback) and Ray Lewis (the heart and soul of their defense and best run-stopper) for the year. Haloti Ngata, their All-Pro defensive tackle, has a knee sprain he's going to play through. Reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs is rehabbing an Achilles tendon injury he suffered in the offseason, and while he might be able to play in a month, there's no guarantee he'll be as effective as he was pre-injury. I think the Ravens will barely win the AFC North due to the equally injured Steelers and the fact that the Bengals have consistently been outmatched in head-to-head matchups against the Ravens and Steelers. Still, a complete Ravens collapse due to all of those injuries isn't impossible, in which case, Steelers or Bengals would likely take the AFC North (eliminating a competitor for a Wildcard spot).
I predict the Ravens win the AFC North with a 10-6 season, but Football Outsiders projects 11-5 but again, Football Outsiders hasn't factored in the injuries yet to their projections because their data is based on games 1-6, when they had most of their players healthy.
Houston and Denver are not listed because the projection is that they COMFORTABLY win the AFC South and AFC West, respectively, so either team taking a Wildcard spot is even less likely than the Patriots failing to win the AFC East. Indianapolis is viewed as a pretender, not a contender, after getting beat-down by the injury-depleted Jets at home (under 7% chance of making the playoffs). No other AFC team is worth talking about at this point.
In other words, when it comes to Wildcard contenders, it's either
Good AFC teams that will likely win their division - Texans, Broncos, Patriots, and Ravens - so Miami doesn't have to compete with them for a Wildcard spot
Good AFC teams that are injury-depleted - Steelers and Jets - so they may fall apart down the stretch as their injuries hurt their performance
Teams that have underachieved this year - Bills and Chargers - so it's fair to wonder if they'll get themselves straightened out.
I think injuries eventually doom the Steelers and Jets (and possibly Ravens), and Miami sweeps the Bills, leaving San Diego (9-7) and Miami (9-7) as the two wild card teams, with Miami earning 9 wins without any "heroic upsets" required. This projection depends on Miami staying relatively healthy and taking advantage of the injury situations of other teams, but to me, is very realistic.
To me, the equation is: Beat the Jets + Sweep the Bills + beat the 3 weaklings of the AFC South (Colts + Jags + Titans) = Playoffs
Fun Fact: ProFootball Focus (see here) ranks Miami as the 13th best team in the NFL and fifth best team in the AFC right now. The opportunity for a playoff run is there so long as the team works to keep getting better and guts out the tough times. I'm predicting a potential 4-game losing streak starting in week 11, yet this team can still finish 9-7 even with that streak so long as they keep fighting.