By Abe Gutierrez
Given the current AFC Wild Card standings, the Miami Dolphins will likely have to win out in order to give themselves a legitimate chance to clinch a postseason berth. After losing starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill due to a knee injury, that becomes a much tougher proposition with three divisional games left on the regular season calendar.
Furthermore, when adding to the mix a New York Jets team that, through the years has relished the role of spoiler against Miami, Fins fans are in for a nail-bitter. MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey will be the site for this AFC East divisional showdown and opening kickoff is scheduled for Saturday at 8:25 p.m. ET.
Miami Dolphins record: 8-5-0
After an atrocious 1-4 start, the Miami Dolphins were able to right the ship and string together an improbable six-game win streak. Thus, first-year head coach Adam Gase is among the candidates to win the 2016 NFL Coach of the Year Award, but that will likely depend on Miami’s ability to make it to the postseason.
Sitting in second place in the AFC East Division, Miami comes in with an 8-5-0 record on the year while having won six of their last seven ballgames. The Dolphins are 6-1 at home, but have struggled on the road by going just 2-4 away from the Sunshine State.
In his first season as head coach, Gase & Co. are 2-1 against divisional opponents, 5-4 against the AFC and 3-1 in non-conference battles. Miami is coming off a 26-23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals last week, and they’re currently in seventh place in the AFC Wild Card standings with three games to play.
Dolphins on offense
Clyde Christensen is the Dolphins’ offensive coordinator, and thus far, it has been a heck of a ride. After finally getting Miami’s offense to produce (enough to win ballgames), Christensen is now forced to go back to the drawing board. His new task is to find a way to make this offense work with Tannehill on the bench and Matt Moore running the show.
Prior to their Week 15 clash with the Jets, the Dolphins offense ranks 27th in passing yards (217.4), 26th in total yards (326.7), 20th in points (21.6) and 12th in rushing yards per game (109.3). With Tannehill out indefinitely, Todd Bowles and his staff must prepare for a healthy dose of running back Jay Ajayi, as Miami will try and wear Gang Green’s defense down and open things up for play-action opportunities downfield.
Dolphins on defense
Thus far, it’s been an up-and-down year for this unit, but the Dolphins defense has shown a tendency to rise to the occasion when the going gets tough.
Led by defensive end Cameron Wake and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh up front, Joseph’s defense is at its best when defending the pass and keeping opponents off the scoreboard. Entering Week 15, the Fins ranked 11th against the pass (233.7 yards per game) and 18th in points (23.2 ppg). However, they’ve struggled the most against the rush this season, yielding 133.8 yards per game (ranked 30th), and they’ve surrendered an average of 368 total yards per contest, which ranks 25th in the NFL.
Dolphins players to watch: Jay Ajayi, Cameron Wake
Without first-string quarterback Ryan Tannehill available due to a knee injury, the Dolphins will have to rely on the running game being the focal point of this offense. Thus, the Jets must assume that Jay Ajayi will be the main focus of Miami’s offensive attack while backup quarterback Matt Moore becomes more comfortable running this offense. Last week, the Jets defense allowed Niners running back Carlos Hyde to rush for a career-high 193 yards, so that’s something Gase and his coaching staff will be looking to duplicate Saturday night.
On defense, the player to watch is none other than four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Wake. In his eighth season, the 34-year-old from Beltsville, Maryland leads the team with 9½ sacks, which is good enough for 10th place in the National Football League. After a slow start, Wake seems to be hitting his stride, as he’s had at least one sack in six of Miami’s last seven contests, including 2 sacks against the Jets in their first meeting of the season just over a month ago.
Despite the fact that Miami will hit the road without their starting quarterback, NFL point spreads for Week 15 still have them listed as the betting favorites. A field goal separates these teams in the ATS department, with Miami being a -3-point favorite and the Jets +3-point home underdogs. Finally, all indications are that points will be at a premium, as the OVER/UNDER for this contest is set at a combined total of 38 points.