Do I really need to probe this wound?
Without getting into the details, suffice it to say that we Miami Dolphins fans find ourselves in painfully familiar territory: a once-promising, “things feel different this time” season devolves into a situation where the team likely has to win its final two games against AFC East rivals to squeak into the playoffs.
That’s only part of the story, of course. The scarier part of all this is just how the Dolphins have looked during this four-game losing streak. The Bills loss aside, the team has found new and more disheartening ways to lose against the 49ers, Chargers, and Packers. If you’re at all like me, it has that oh-so-familiar taste of similar seasons of the past fifteen years, where the team clearly has talent and ability, but not enough consistency to beat good opponents. This past Sunday, it wasn’t even an especially “good” opponent in a Green Bay Packers team that had been floundering for most of the season and rolled into South Beach with a 6-8 record. They left with a 26-20 win and more optimism about their chances to make the playoffs. If only the same could be said for our Dolphins. While they do still hold the 7th and final playoff seed, it is a very tenuous grip at the moment.
This leaves them in a place where what could have been a smooth waltz into the playoffs becomes a fight for their very season. On a lesser note, it also adds another blemish to my predictions for the season:
driftinscotty’s 2022 Dolphins Season Predictions
|1||Patriots||W, 31-17||W, 20-7|
|2||@Ravens||W, 27-24||W, 42-38|
|3||Bills||L, 34-27||W, 21-19|
|4||@Bengals||L, 27-24||L, 27-15|
|5||@Jets||W, 23-20||L, 40-17|
|7||Steelers||W, 27-16||W, 16-10|
|8||@Lions||W, 27-20||W, 31-27|
|9||@Bears||W, 34-17||W, 35-32|
|10||Browns||W, 34-27||W, 39-17|
|11||Texans||W, 45-17||W, 30-15|
|12||@49ers||W, 17-14||L, 33-17|
|13||@Chargers||W, 30-20||L, 23-17|
|14||@Bills||L, 24-14||L, 32-29|
|15||Packers||W, 27-17||L, 26-20|
On top of all of this is the renewed concern over Tua Tagovailoa’s health. After another hit that saw his head roughly bounce off the ground, Tua has since been diagnosed with another concussion. This is something that’s bigger than the game on the field, being about a person’s long-term physical and mental well-being, and it casts a dark shadow over what was once a thrilling season filled with possibilities.
And so, with the playoffs in the balance, the Dolphins will head up to Foxborough to play the Patriots, who are coming off of two hilariously embarrassing losses of their own. How do these two fumbling clubs stack up?
A look at where the two teams sit, in terms of season stats:
Dolphins & Pats Season Stats
|Passing Yards||274.9 (2nd)||208.6 (21st)|
|Rushing Yards||95.9 (27th)||108.6 (22nd)|
|Points Scored||24.3 (tie 9th)||21.2 (16th)|
|Pass Yards Allowed||244.7 (28th)||213.1 (14th)|
|Run Yards Allowed||109.1 (10th)||107.8 (9th)|
|Points Allowed||24.7 (27th)||19.4 (5th)|
|Net Turnovers||-5 (tie 28th)||5 (tie 6th)|
|Against Penalty Yards||50.9 (20th)||52.1 (23rd)|
At this point in the season, stats like this can be a bit misleading. They can obscure improvements and regressions that happen through December. Case in point: the Dolphins still have atrocious season-long rushing stats, but we’ve seen recently that they can actually run the ball effectively when Mike McDaniel commits to it. Second case in point: the Patriots’ solid defensive numbers belie their more recent struggles to hold opponents under 22 points.
The overall stats paint pictures of a Dolphins team that can pass the ball but can’t run, and doesn’t always capitalize on its ball movement. The numbers also suggest a defense that isn’t really good at much, aside from stopping traditional running games (it’s actually excellent at this). We fans know that all of this team’s deficiencies have nothing to do with a lack of talent or ability and are all about consistency. On both sides of the ball, they’ve been a classic “two steps forward, one-and-a-half steps back” kind of squad, where a great sequence will get wiped out by one blown defensive assignment, a stupid penalty, or baffling offensive turnover.
The stats on the Patriots still show pretty much exactly what everyone predicted going into the season: a strong but not elite defense, and an offense that can barely out of the driveway without grinding the transmission into dust.
What have the Pats actually looked like recently? This is going to be a hoot, and it’s just the balm that my tortured Dolphins fan soul needs...
Patriots’ Weeks 15 and 16: at the Raiders & vs. the Bengals
Two weeks ago, the Pats rolled into the pleasure den of Las Vegas, Nevada to face a Raiders team that was clinging desperately to a razor-thin chance for a Wildcard spot. Like so many Patriots games this year, this game had all the entertainment value of watching a broken-down pro wrestler fight an arthritic panda. New England’s offense was once again doing slow, awkward donuts in the parking lot while the Raiders built a 17-3 to go into halftime. True to form, though, Derek Carr and the Raiders screwed up their chance at a coup de grace, swinging their saber wide and cutting into their own shin. Carr throws a pick-6 to get the Pats back in the game. The Raiders' defense stumble-bums around for over a quarter and a half while the Pats slowly catch up and overtake them on a series of Nick Folk field goals and a Rhamondre Stevenson 34-yard TD dash. The Raiders finally got their minds back and tied the game at 24-all with only 34 seconds left, all but assuring an overtime period to decide it. What followed a few plays later will live in the annals of pro football inglorious plays for eternity, along with Mark Sanchez’s butt fumble. With only a few seconds left in regulation and still well within their own territory, “genius rocket scientist” and cos-playing Pats offensive coordinator Matt Patricia decides to actually try to run a desperation series of laterals play instead of just kneeling it and heading to overtime. A wildly ill-advised backward pass attempt to Stepford Husband Mac Jones resulted not only in an interception-turned-fumble by Vegas defender Chandler Jones, but also in Mac Jones getting planted so firmly in the Vegas turf while trying to tackle Chandler that it became instant gif legend. I was watching this whole thing live, and it was one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen in pro sports. Bottom line: the Pats take a humiliating loss to drop them back to .500 at 7-7, along with a host of other AFC teams.
The next week, trying to regroup from the embarrassment of the loss in Vegas, New England hosted the Bengals, the defending AFC champions who had been finding their stride in the preceding weeks. Through the first half, it was a total bloodbath that looked like the Grim Reaper coming to finally snuff out any remaining life in the Belichick Patriots Dynasty. At halftime, the Bengals had run up 326 yards of total offense on their way to three touchdowns and a field goal. The Pats sputtered to a meager 70 yards and zero points, finding themselves in a 22-0 hole after two quarters. But as they are wont to do, the Bengals started their mental vacation a tad early. They eased off a bit, then Burrow threw a pick-6 to get the Pats in the game. Two series later, the Pats converted a missed field goal into another touchdown drive. Shortly after that, Cincinnati had to punt, leading to yet another New England touchdown. The teams traded fumbles after that, and the Pats somehow found themselves with a slim chance. Down 22-18 with just under a minute left, Mac Jones oversaw a drive that sputtered out before it barely got started, and the Bengals escaped with a win in a game that they probably should have won by five scores.
So the New England Patriots sit at 7-8, their third-worst record after 15 games in the 23-year Belichick Era (their 2000 and 2020 seasons being the two worst). The shine seems to be well-worn off the penny now, but how do they match up with the Dolphins, a team with its own problems?
Dolphins Offense vs Patriots Defense: Normally, I save injuries for later, but it’s impossible at this point in the season and between these two teams. The Dolphins will be starting Teddy Bridgewater in place of Tua, who is in concussion protocols. Terron Armstead hasn’t practiced this week, as we continue to nurse an ever-growing list of nagging injuries. Miami fullback Alec Ingold hasn’t practiced due to a thumb injury. For New England, their cornerback room has been utterly ravaged by injuries, with a good chance that they will be missing multiple starters and key rotational guys. This isn’t ideal when you’re trying to chase guys like Tyreek Hill and Jalen Waddle around. The Pats defense will probably still be tough to run against, but I think Bridgewater will be able to do enough to move the ball fairly well. The absence of Tua will be noticeable, but I think the Miami offense will still be serviceable. Advantage: very slightly Dolphins, due to the Pats’ defense injuries.
Dolphins Defense vs Patriots Offense: The Pats offense has been borderline unwatchable for several long stretches this season. The reason they rank in the 20s in yards gained but 14th in points scored is simple: their defense gives them short fields to work with over and over. That defense has also scored more than a few touchdowns on interceptions. But guess what? A ton of those guys will be out with injury this Sunday, so it’ll fall a lot more on the shoulders of Mac Jones and the offense to put up the points. And Mac Jones has been flat-out bad. Yes, he’s had a few moments where he’ll hit a deep pass and make a few throws, but these are vastly outnumbered by the bad decisions and overall ineffectiveness of his time under center. Part of the blame undoubtedly falls on “offensive coordinator” Matt Patricia, but Patricia hasn’t been fired, either. The one consistent offensive weapon for the Patriots has been running back Rhamondre Stevenson. However, the one consistent strength of the Dolphins has been stopping traditional running attacks. This includes stuffing running backs who are even better than Stevenson, like Nick Chubb. I simply have a hard time seeing how the Pats’ offense moves the ball consistently against a Miami defense that, while flawed in terms of pass coverage, matches up well with the group that the Pats will be running out there on Sunday. Advantage: Dolphins
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: Well, Bad Jason Sanders returned last Sunday, so that stinks. And the Fins once again gave up a massive kickoff return last week. The Pats don’t exactly have a killer place kicker these days, but they’re always solid in that aspect of the game. New England definitely gets the nod here.
Coaching: It’s been amazing to see how Belichick’s nearly two-decades-long air of indomitable genius has withered away week by week this season. Back before the season started, I wrote a fan post about how the Pats looked like a team that would rack up some wins against teams that were flat-out bad (like the Colts), had at least one glaring weakness (like the early October Lions), or just didn’t have more than one or two elite-level skill position players (like the October Browns). Well, that has born out. BB still oversees a team that’s fundamentally sound and boasts a good, smart defense, but everything else has crumbled. After hiring back one crony too many and mashing their square pegs into round holes, you have a legendary head coach that simply doesn’t have enough fingers to plug the many leaks that have sprung (and which he’s mostly responsible for, as General Manager). On the other side, rookie HC Mike McDaniel is in the middle of a bit of a crisis, as far as we outsiders are concerned. He’s done some really nice things thus far, and he’s crafted an offense that’s fun to watch and can be highly effective much of the time. He’s also overseen a defense that boasts several oustanding players but manages to give up three or four costly chunk plays every game. I would worry more if it weren’t Patricia calling plays for the Pats, but he is. It seems silly, but given everything and the fact that McDaniel hung just fine with Belichick way back in week 1, I’ll give McDaniel the slight nod in this one.
Location & Climate: The game is in Foxborough, where the Patriots always seem to magically get calls that go their way (I’m not usually one who ascribes to that kind of persecution complex, but it’s insane how often it happens up there, and not just against the Dolphins). The forecast is calling for weather that’s shockingly like it was last Sunday in Miami: in the 50s with possibly a bit of rain. We’ve seen our passing offense do fine in those conditions. If the game does revert to more of a running game, then it impacts Miami more than New England, but I think the Fins’ offense has shown that they can overcome a bit of rain, and the run game is now more capable than their season averages suggest.
Prediction: Dolphins 20, Patriots 17
I’m choosing blind optimism here, since it’s all I have left. These two teams have all sorts of injuries, and they’re both desperately fighting for what will likely be the final Wildcard spot (i.e. the right to get pummeled into oblivion by the Chiefs or Bills in full playoff mode). I think we see a mostly unspectacular game where neither team’s offense fully hits its stride, but each manages to move the ball enough for a couple of TDs and a handful of field goal tries. I predict another Jason Sanders missed field goal, but that he’ll hit on two others. I think we see our Dolphins win a nail-biter that keeps them in the driver’s seat for that #7 seed but that doesn’t inspire a ton of confidence in terms of winning a playoff game.
How are you feeling, fellow Fins fans? Think our guys finally break the current losing streak, or do we see the despised Patriots pay us back for the times in recent seasons when we’ve handed them some costly losses in December? Comment away!