As someone who is used to playing deep into the postseason, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick likes to say that the football season starts after Thanksgiving.
Normally we wouldn’t quote anything Patriots related, let alone to start a story, but since New England is 6-5, we can be nice until the Dolphins head north on Jan. 1.
If Belichick is right - and football season begins after Thanksgiving - this is where the Dolphins can go down one of two paths. One leads to playing games deep in January and that path’s first step is at home on Sunday against the Houston Texans. We’re not going to discuss the other path.
As cliche as it sounds, the AFC East playoff race is truly heating up and Miami is within striking distance of the first-place spot. The Dolphins (7-3) and Buffalo Bills (8-3) are within half a game of each other, coach Mike McDaniel and company can’t miss a beat with just seven games left on the schedule.
That means the term “trap game” shouldn’t be considered with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and one of the league’s best offenses taking the field on Sunday. The Dolphins haven’t been caught looking ahead this season - remember when Tyreek Hill didn’t know Miami was playing the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday Night Football?
Houston struggles to stop opposing offenses and Tuagovailoa completes 71 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns and just three interceptions on the year. The Texans will focus on Tyreek Hill, who averages 114.8 yards per game, and Jaylen Waddle, who averages five receptions a game and six touchdowns on the year. With only four touchdowns on the year, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Hill erupt for a multi-touchdown game in the near future.
If the Texans do everything they can to halt the passing attack, expect a big day from Jeff Wilson Jr. with Raheem Mostert doubtful. Miami’s rushing attack hasn’t been too scary with an average of 97 rushing yards per game, but that number has ballooned to 126 over the last three weeks.
Success starts on the offensive line and it’s hard to ignore the impact that Connor Williams and Robert Hunt have in the middle of the offensive line. Austin Jackson is listed as the team’s starting right tackle on the depth chart, something to watch on Sunday will be if he takes over for Brandon Shell, who’s played well in recent weeks.
If the football season begins after Thanksgiving, the Dolphins can set an early tone against a Texans offense that averages 16 points per game. Davis Millis had two interceptions last week against Washington and Kyle Allen will start on Sunday for the Texans.
Allen played twice for the Commanders last season and it’s likely he takes more chances - which could go one of two ways against a defense that is allowing 7.3 yards per attempt and a 68 opposing quarterback completion percentage.
If Houston takes control of the game, it’ll be with explosive plays through the air. Miami’s defense is allowing 3.7 yards per carry, compared to 4.6 yards per carry if quarterbacks are included, and rookie Dameon Pierce had 10 carries for eight yards a season ago.
While the Dolphins are clear favorites on Sunday, the mindset that Hill displayed earlier in the year shouldn’t change, despite a daunting two-week trip to the west coast on the other side.
One final note: Laremy Tunsil is Pro Football Focus’ top-graded pass-blocking left tackle. It wouldn’t be fair to not mention the player that had the largest impact on Miami’s success.