Sunday's game against the New York Jets will be the last of 2014 for the Miami Dolphins. This has been yet another rollercoaster year that will end in the same result as 2013 for the Dolphins-- a December failure and no playoffs.
But after a thrilling shootout victory against the Minnesota Vikings last week, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross announced that Head Coach Joe Philbin, despite strong criticism being thrown his way, will be returning for the fourth year of his contract next season.
What does this mean? For starters it means that Ross has decided that what Philbin has been building is worth continuing. It means that Ross sees the progress that Philbin's teams have achieved despite the lack of a winning season. But what it really means is that Philbin needs to produce a victory in the season finale to earn that first winning season as a head coach and, more importantly, keep his owner from looking very foolish.
When these two teams last met on the first of the month, the Dolphins barely escaped New York victorious. The then-two-win Jets ran for 277 yards on Miami's defense and gave the Dolphins all they could handle. The 16-13 game was decided on the final possession.
The Dolphins need to duplicate the win Sunday. Victory is imperative to good attitudes in the offseason, renewed hunger to achieve more than just a winning season in 2015 and building a closer's mindset that the Dolphins have lacked.
But the Dolphins need to win in an encouraging way. Meaning that they need to beat this Jets team like the three-win team they are in a way that clearly shows the direction of each franchise.
This could be more difficult than advertised because not only are the Jets a division rival, but Jets have played their best football in the past month, starting with the three-point loss to the Dolphins. The Jets have an overtime loss to the Vikings, a victory over the Tennessee Titans and a one-point loss to the New England Patriots in that stretch.
Even so, the Dolphins must find a way to beat the Jets down in the season finale in front of home fans to get revenge for the Jets knocking the Dolphins out of the playoffs almost one year ago.
Philbin also needs to continue to play younger guys to see if they can be contributors in the future. It was great to see guys who could be pieces to build off of in the future, such as Terrence Fede and Damien Williams, receiving heavy work last week (now can we get some Chris McCain please?!)
Sunday will be an interesting challenge for the Dolphins. As meaningless as this game seems, it is huge.
This game is a measuring stick of Philbin's willingness to give his younger guys time to see if they are worth investing in, the progress in the season and the character of the team. But most of all, this game will provide us with an idea of how much patience Stephen Ross will have with Philbin next year.
An impressive win will warrant full trust from Ross. A close win will result in a less-confident Ross in 2015. Any type of loss will leave Ross smacking himself in the forehead in the offseason and scrutinizing Philbin (behind closed doors) with his confidants.
This Jets game will set the tone for the offseason. Will the Dolphins organization (top to bottom) experience a bitter offseason or one filled with determination and hunger?