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It's playoff time! Unfortunately the idea of playoffs for our purpose has nothing to do with Miami clutching the 6th seed or any prediction that they will make it. Today's game is the equivalent of a playoff game for both teams and the results could shake up the entire bracket.

Miami travels to Baltimore for  a 1PM game with the Ravens being -3.5 and a 41.5 O/U.

Baltimore is 6-5 with some serious win/loss streaks. However, don't be fooled by the streaks as the Ravens have lost to quality opponents and beaten the teams they should beat. Somewhat similar to Miami in that respect. Outside of the Jets, all other losses have been to playoff caliber opponents (Oak, Was, Dal, NYG). This is being accomplished with subpar play in both the passing and running game. If Miami's offensive line is not healthy I have some serious concerns for this one.

The Ravens are 24th in the league averaging only 19.8 PPG, but are top notch on the other side of the ball allowing just 18.3 PPG which is 4th best in the NFL. In their 6 wins the only opponent to reach 20 points (and it was 20 exactly) was the lowly Browns. The Ravens have only crossed the 20 point mark 6 times in 11 games. If the Ravens defense lives up to their rankings this game has all the makings of a good ol' fashioned barn burner.

Looking at the positives leads us to focus on Baltimore's offense. Joe Flacco is sporting an 80.4 QBR with 11 TDs and 10 interceptions. If you dig a bit deeper into his game log you'll find that for the most part he has played like hot garbage. He has a big time arm and makes some ridiculous throws, but he's prone to some untimely turnovers and head scratching decisions. His current targets are Mike Wallace (back to him in a minute), Steve Smith, Breshad Perriman and TE Dennis Pitta. They're all having good years statistically and after San Francisco's rag tag squad ran circles around Miami there is reason for concern. Oh, and Mr. Wallace has already fired the first shot by tweeting "7 Days" referring to his first game against his old team. I'd love to see him try and take a slant for 50 yards only to have a LB or S lay the wood and drop him like a 2 inch putt.

Rich already pointed out in his blog that Flacco lives and dies with the play action so for him to have success Baltimore will need to run effectively. Their lead back is Terrance West and his numbers don't suggest a Jamal Lewis or Ray Rice type of threat. He has 600 yards, 4 TDs and a 3.9 YPC to date. In the last 5 games he's only eclipsed 50 yards once (vs Cle) and found the end zone one time. On paper it would seem Miami shouldn't struggle to shut him down which then forces Flacco into throwing the ball a lot. I'm hoping that leads to turnovers.

Defensively Baltimore has the ability to make Miami one dimensional. Their run defense is 1st in the league having allowed only 824 yards. Opponents are only averaging 3.4 YPC and have scored a whopping 4 TDs on the ground. Their starting LBs are a nightmare - Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, CJ Mosely and Zachary Orr. They are going to make it incredibly difficult for Ajayi to find any space or break away. The passing game has been somewhat more effective against the Ravens. They have allowed 20 TDs through the air, and opposing QBs have an 87 QBR. Miami may have to lean on Tannehill to attack vertically to keep the ball moving but beware that Baltimore has done pretty well in the turnover department - 11 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. Add to that 26 sacks, 48 passes defended and 34 TFL. Miami's offense cannot be asleep at the wheel for half the game or surrender many 3 and outs.

Injuries will be key for Miami. There seems to be optimism that both Branden Albert and Laremy Tunsil will return to the line this week. The backups did not play well against a very bad SF defense. Ryan Tannehill continues to play confident, clutch football. What a difference it made when he had Devante Parker, Jarvis Landry, Kenny Stills and Dion Sims all healthy against SF. The stats and highlights speak for themselves. He'll need to continue that hot streak and not revert to his old self in the wake of a fierce Baltimore pass rush. Jay Ajayi is going to have to grind it out and not expect a big statistical day. Setting up short 3rd downs with tough runs might be all we can ask of him this week. Back to injuries, the news on Devante Parker doesn't seem to be too bad. He wrenched his back a bit but Miami expects him to play. If his time is limited I'd like to see more Leonte Carroo. The rookie caught his first TD yesterday and has the measurables to be a good weapon.

Miami's defense was a hot mess against San Francisco. There is too much inconsistency each week from the non star players. Its probably time to bench Bobby McCain as he has played poorly for multiple games in a row. Fortunately they get turnover prone Flacco who will hopefully sling a few ducks into the mitts of the secondary. He's going to challenge them vertically with Wallace and I'm not sure who gets that assignment. Suh, Wake and Branch need to really pressure Flacco and throw off his timing. Flacco can scramble as well so I expect he may take a page from Kaepernick's playbook and use his legs for first downs. I'm not overly concerned about the ground game as Miami has been much better at shutting down the run (SF and NYJ were the exceptions).

I kid you not when I say this might be the hardest game to predict so far. If Miami is healthy and focused they can compete with just about anyone not named Dallas. Baltimore's defense seems almost too much to overcome but Miami's improved passing game is nothing to take lightly. Its not the statistics as much as the clutch plays that keep you believing. Last week I thought San Fran was a dream matchup for Ajayi but they did a nice job of stopping him. Thankfully Tannehill stepped up. I see the same scenario this week but the health of Albert and Tunsil will make the difference. There is no way Young and Urbik can do enough on the left side. If they start I don't think Miami gets more than 14 points offensively.

So here goes - the more I look into this match up the better I feel about Miami's chances (with a healthy OL). Last week I felt differently but some research and reflection has changed my tune. I've seen Baltimore play a few times this year and they aren't overly impressive as a whole. Their defense feasts on opponent mistakes and lately Miami has been pretty good in that department (talking turnovers, not penalties). Their offense should be a lot better and is underwhelming from a consistency standpoint.

Look specifically at their last 4 games: they beat the Steelers with Big Ben still hobbling and just returning from a 3 week injury (from the Miami game), they beat the lowly Browns, lost to Dallas by completely folding in the 2nd half, and barely escaped the sinking Bengals yesterday. Its not that I think Miami is light years better or mastered a tougher schedule (although they have beaten better opponents in SD and Buffalo), its that this matchup is closer than I initially thought.

The players keep lauding Adam Gase for his passion, communication and ability to stay focused on the week ahead. He no doubt is stressing to them that this needs to be a mistake free game against the league's best defense. No more mental lapses, bad angles, missed assignments, etc. On offense I think he goes with a steady diet of Ajayi and then lets Tannehill try to catch the secondary snoozing. On defense I believe Vance Joseph brings the house after Flacco to force hero throws. That is where he is most vulnerable. The run defense is due for solid game after looking suspect the last two weeks. I'm betting that Miami wins an otherwise boring game with a 4th quarter turnover that goes for 6 (strip sack by Wake sounds about right).

Miami 21

Baltimore 17

Okay so its December and regardless what you think of Miami’s chances, they do have chances. As a matter of fact, if the season ended today, Miami would be in. That alone is remarkable. One thing is for sure….we have found a coach. With half an offensive line tied behind his back he managed to beat two teams. Something in the past Miami would have never managed to do. Injuries to the starters in Miami usually were fatal to any success. Not so with Gase. He lost his best player in the secondary, maybe the best player on the defense, Reshad Jones. He lost Koa Misi. He jettisoned deadwood backups Turner and Thomas. He lost what was going to be the starting RB in Miami to retirement. By all accounts any season over the last decade would have produced a sub .500 season with those kinds of losses. As Miami fans, we should be ecstatic. Count me as one who is.

     With that said, Miami is entering the teeth of the back of the schedule. All of the remaining teams except 1, have legitimate playoff hopes. 3 are above .500. Two of those games are in hostile venues. To put it lightly, if they get in, they will deserve to be there. My thoughts are simple: They need to split between Baltimore and Buffalo, beat the Jets and the Cards and hopefully come home and make it 4 in a row at home against New England.  That is the perfect scenario. That leaves them at 11-5 and a sure bet to make the playoffs. Win 1 of the 3 and their 10-6 with a .500 conference record which may leave them out of the playoffs. Right now, none of the wildcard hopefuls have a better conference record which is why these AFC games are extremely important. I don’t even want to think about the best and worst scenarios. The best, they win out and win the division as NE loses to the Broncos and Raiders. The worst, they lose 3 AFC games putting them at 9-7 watching the playoffs on TV. All of those scenarios could unfold and I think it boils down to the OL. Do the best 3 players on that line play, or are they on the sideline watching? If they play, Miami can compete and beat anyone. Then there is the mixed odds…do 2 of the 3 return and how well does the replacement play all factor in. That considered, its nice we’re talking playoff scenarios in December.

@Baltimore – This is a tough team, tough front 7 that can bring it at home. Baltimore lost 3 straight in October but have won 3 out of the last 4 with the only loss coming to Dallas. Miami wins here and it gives them the luxury of splitting their remaining road games. Lose here and it puts a lot of pressure on a young team to win back to back division games on the road in December. I don’t even want to ponder the last time that happened. So this game is huge. It will be a playoff atmosphere for both teams. Great football game!

Go Tannehill

GD2

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