After handily dispatching an annoyance in the New York Jets on Black Friday, the Miami Dolphins are again 8-3, near-locks to win the AFC East, and have a real chance to secure home-field advantage for the entire playoffs.
The opportunity for greatness is in front of them.
They better seize it. Who knows when a chance this good will come around again?
A Super Finish for the Miami Dolphins?
The AFC has never been more ripe for the picking.
The Kansas City Chiefs are vulnerable. The Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals will be lucky to even make the playoffs. The Jacksonville Jaguars and Baltimore Ravens will have doubters until they prove they can string together consecutive wins in January.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have three more warmup games — against the Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans, and Jets — before they get to the stretch that will define their season (against the Dallas Cowboys, Ravens, and Bills). A 12-5 or even 13-4 record is a real possibility.
“The sky’s the limit for us,” Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who ranks in the top three league-wide in passing yards (3,177) and touchdowns (22), said after the team’s 34-13 drubbing of the Jets.
“Whatever we want to accomplish, everything’s right there in front of us, and we basically turn it on fate here in this league. So, we just have to continue stacking those wins.”
So long as Tagovailoa stays healthy, they should (at least in the short term). The Dolphins have won 22 of the last 31 games started by Tagovailoa and will play four of their last five games at Hard Rock Stadium, where they are 17-2 in their last 19.
No wonder, then, that per the New York Times’ calculations, the Dolphins (8-3) now are one of three teams with more than a 99% chance to make the playoffs, have the third-best odds to win its division (95%), and second-best odds behind the Chiefs to get the AFC’s No. 1 seed (29%).
Friday’s loss of Jaelan Phillips to an Achilles’ injury certainly hurts, but the Dolphins’ ascending defense still has more than enough talent to compete for a championship.
Against the Jets, they allowed the fewest rushing yards by a Dolphins defense (29) in six years. What’s more, they have held opposing defenses under 300 yards for four straight games and six out of seven. Since Week 7, they’re third in defensive EPA per play (-.127).
But salary cap constraints likely will not allow Chris Grier to keep this group together beyond this season.
Christian Wilkins has been fantastic in recent weeks and seems likely to earn a contract next offseason that will pay him in the neighborhood of $20 million a year. The Dolphins probably don’t have the resources to keep him.
There are other long-term concerns.
The offensive line has been a strength this year, but of the team’s six best linemen, only Terron Armstead is under contract in 2024.
Then there’s Tyreek Hill, who for the second straight year is having the best season ever by a Dolphins receiver.
Hill leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,324), targets (120), and receiving touchdowns (10). Friday marked his seventh game of 100 or more yards receiving in 2023.
Hill’s 1,324 receiving yards are the fourth-most any Dolphins player has had in a season and the third-most through 11 games by any player in NFL history.
Hill is just 640 yards shy of Calvin Johnson’s single-season NFL receiving record. He needs 106.8 yards per game over the last six to break the record, and 112.7 per game to get 2,000.
Put another way: He’s never before had a season this good, and he likely never will have one as good again — particularly given that he turns 30 in March.
Hill’s usage is unsustainable long-term, and he is already starting to break down physically. In the last month, Hill has suffered injuries to his hip, hand, and ankle.
The Dolphins’ offense will likely look different in 2024 than it did in 2023. Different doesn’t necessarily mean worse — but it might. Tomorrow is not promised in the NFL. That’s why teams must cash in when they can.
“We’re starting to have a team that’s complementing each other in all three phases,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “You can’t just show up and say, ‘We’re going to stop this,’ or, ‘We’re going to beat this,’ to beat the Miami Dolphins. You have to deal with all sides of the ball.”
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