MIAMI (CBSNewYork/AP) — Coach Joe Philbin gave his Miami Dolphins a long to-do list this week.
“Run the ball better, stop the run, protect the quarterback, pressure the quarterback, get off to a fast start, be better in ball security,” Philbin said.
For a team in the thick of the playoff hunt, that’s a lot of deficiencies. But the Dolphins are coming off their worst game of the year, and a dramatic rebound will be necessary if they’re to reach the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Miami (8-7) can clinch the AFC’s final wild-card berth Sunday with a little help and a win over the New YorkJets.
“All or nothing,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “It’s a weird feeling not knowing what’s going to happen. We only have one thing we can control, and that’s to play as hard as we can and win. We have a lot of motivation.”
With the Dolphins playing for the playoffs, and the Jets playing for pride, here are five things to watch:
INCONSISTENT TEAMS: The Dolphins’ latest loss represented another low in an up-and-down season. Eight weeks ago, when the franchise was immersed in a bullying scandal, Philbin’s job appeared in jeopardy. Last week, he was fielding questions about being a contender for coach of the year. Then came a dreadful 19-0 drubbing at Buffalo, raising speculation about a late-season collapse.
The Jets (7-8) have ridden the roller-coaster, too, failing to put together consecutive victories all season. They’ll sit out the postseason for the third year in a row, leaving coach Rex Ryan’s future in doubt.
“Ending on a good note could be huge for us,” New York receiver David Nelson said, “especially as a young team, knowing that we’re capable of it.”
POSTSEASON OUTLOOK: The Dolphins are tied with the Baltimore Ravens and San Diego Chargers in the race for the sixth and final AFC playoff spot, and none of the three teams can clinch a berth without help.
The Dolphins will make the playoffs if they win, and if the Ravens lose or the Chargers win. Miami wins the tiebreaker if all three teams finish 9-7, but loses if it’s a two-way tie with the Ravens, because they beat the Dolphins in Week 5.
Miami, Baltimore and San Diego would all miss the playoffs if they lose and the Steelers win, which would give the final AFC spot to Pittsburgh.
“Take care of business and see what happens,” Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks said. “I’ve been in the league 10 years, and I’ve been in this situation a couple of times. It really doesn’t matter what happens around the league if you don’t take care of business. That’s the whole mindset.”
While the Jets will play the spoilers’ role against their biggest rivals, Ryan said there would be no satisfaction in eliminating Miami from playoff contention.
“If you’re not in it, it really doesn’t matter,” Ryan said. “The fact that you’re not in it is painful enough. You’re not going to derive pleasure from knocking someone out.”
RYAN’S FUTURE: Jets owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik have declined to comment on Ryan’s status, fueling speculation about the coach’s status.
The young Jets are widely regarded as overachievers after going 6-10 last year. Ryan is 41-38 in five seasons with the Jets, has one year left on his contract and remains popular with his players.
“We all feel that Rex should be back,” cornerback Antonio Cromartie said. “We feel he’s the man for the job and the man who can get us to that Super Bowl.”
Ryan described the Jets’ current postseason drought as his biggest disappointment.
“I don’t like the fact we haven’t been to the playoffs for three straight years,” he said. “That’s a huge thorn in my side, and everybody else’s.”
REMATCH: The Dolphins played their best game of the season to beat the Jets 23-3 in Week 13. Miami totaled a season-high 453 yards, including a season-high 331 passing by Ryan Tannehill. The Dolphins came up with three takeaways and forced Ryan to bench rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
“That might have been the low point,” Ryan said. “And we’ve had some low points. But that might have been the worst one, because we really got it handed to us.”
QB HOMECOMING: Smith grew up so close to the Dolphins’ stadium that as a youngster he would sit outside his house watching games on the upper-deck video screen.
The last time he played in the stadium, Smith threw six touchdown passes to help West Virginia beat Clemson 70-33 in the Orange Bowl. His first NFL game in Miami will be Sunday.
“It’s always good to back home and play in front of a home crowd, per se, where I grew up,” Smith said. “We’ll have a lot of family in the stands.”
The Jets can only hope he plays like it’s a home game. They’re 1-6 on the road, where they’ve been outscored 214-99.
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