After the Miami Dolphins Week 1 victory over the New England Patriots, the season has not gone quite as expected. While Week 1 left many questioning the Dolphins’ offensive production, a win came nonetheless. After starting QB Tua Tagovailoa was knocked out of the Dolphins Week 2 matchup against the Buffalo Bills after playing nine snaps, those questions were replaced with much harder ones. Since having 10:41 left on the clock in the first quarter of Week 2, fans seem to be watching the Miami Dolphins playoff chances fade away. But just how low are they?
Status of the Miami Dolphins offense
Week 3 featured back-up QB Jacoby Brissett’s first start during Tua’s absence with fractured ribs. Despite coming playing in relief of Tua in Week 2, Brissett still couldn’t get the offense moving during the Bills 35-0 shellacking of Miami. After two early touchdowns for the Dolphins in Week 3, it looked like things were heading for another tragic day. The Las Vegas Raiders scored 25 unanswered points, including a safety featuring some very questionable decision-making. Miami roared back into the game, tying it at the end of regulation, but fell short to the Raiders 31-28 in overtime.
There is some good news for Miami. First, after being placed on the injured reserve after Week 2, Tua should be cleared to return for Miami’s Week 6 matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Secondly, Brissett is a solid back-up should be able to snag one win in Tua’s absence. Lastly, the defense is continuing to force turnovers and make things difficult for their opponents. The points allowed total looks bad, but when a defense is asked to go out repeatedly without support from its offense, the opponent will tire them out quickly.
Now let’s get into the bad news. The offensive line is still a disaster. Buffalo sacked the QB six times in Week 2, while the Raiders snagged two of their own and forced a safety. The unit as a whole is the Achilles heel of this Dolphins squad and holds the key to their playoff chances. If they stand any chance of making it to the 2021 postseason they need to make some changes in the offensive trenches immediately.
A look at the rest of the Dolphins’ season
While things seem to be trending down, a look at the rest of the schedule does not necessarily spell doom for the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances. Before we jump into this, it is worth noting that it is still very early in the season. However, here’s the rest of the Dolphins 2021 regular-season schedule:
- Week 4: vs. Indianapolis Colts
- Week 5: @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Week 6: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
- Week 7: vs. Atlanta Falcons
- Week 8: @ Buffalo Bills
- Week 9: vs. Houston Texans
- Week 10: vs. Baltimore Ravens
- Week 11: @ New York Jets
- Week 12: vs. Carolina Panthers
- Week 13: vs. New York Giants
- Week 14: Bye Week
- Week 15: vs. New York Jets
- Week 16: @ New Orleans Saints
- Week 17: @ Tennessee Titans
- Week 18: vs. New England
After going through this schedule a few times, eight wins does not feel remotely out of the question. Further, one can plausibly see up to ten wins depending on how the game script goes. Let’s start with the assumed losses. Games against the Buccaneers, Bills, Ravens, and Titans seem out of reach for this offense to keep up with in its current state.
Miami will be without Tagovailoa in Week 5 against Tampa Bay. After failing to score a single point at home against the Bills, a win in Buffalo is a pipe dream in Week 8. Miami has not defeated Baltimore since 2015, with Lamar Jackson under center, that drought won’t be quenched any time soon. Tennessee feels like the closest competition out of this group, but I expect to see a very different Titans team in Week 17 than we see now.
The 10 crucial games for the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances
The rest of these games have the potential to be won by Miami. The combined record of these opponents (excluding Jacksonville’s Week 4 Thursday night loss) is 8-22 featuring four winless teams, one of which they play twice. The only games that will be a challenge are the Week 12 matchup versus the Panthers and their Week 16 tilt against the Saints.
Panthers QB Sam Darnold has become a completely different signal-caller than the Dolphins saw in New York. Will they still be able to make him see the ghosts they’ve made him see in his past duels with this Dolphins defense?
Another key to this game will be the status of RB Christian McCaffrey. Carolina was forced to completely change its offensive game plan after losing McCaffery in their Week 3 win over the Texans. Hamstrings can be finicky. However, the Panthers’ RB should remain out until at least Week 6. They face off six weeks later, but given McCaffrey’s injury struggles last season, anything can happen.
Now for the second game can stifle the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances. Winning against Carolina and New Orleans, as well as the other eight, leaves this team with an 11-6 record. Who comes out victorious in Week 16: Sean Payton’s offense or Brian Flores’ defense might just be the precursor to whether or not Miami makes the playoffs.
If Miami can fluster Saints QB Jameis Winston and force the bad Winston to come out, Miami can win this game. However, if Sean Payton and company come out on fire, the Dolphins offense can’t keep up with a juggernaut.
So what are the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances?
It’s about a coin flip right now. The sky might be falling, but as stated earlier, it is only Week 4. A win over the Indianapolis Colts this week, who are missing a number of important starters, would kick things off in the right direction. For Dolphins fans, the magic number is five. This team needs to win at least nine of its last 14 games, preferably 10. Five losses between now and the end of the season leaves Miami with a 10-7 record. Anything more and the Miami Dolphins’ playoff chances seem very unlikely.