At the end of October, the Miami Dolphins were 1-7. They’d lost to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Atlanta Falcons. They were unquestionably bad.
In early December, the Dolphins have a path to the playoffs. Seriously.
The craziest NFL story that hasn’t gotten enough attention yet is happening in Miami. The Dolphins have won five in a row after a 20-9 win over the New York Giants on Sunday. Beating the Daniel Jones-less Giants isn’t a major feat, and Miami’s schedule during its winning streak hasn’t been the toughest. But the Dolphins probably don’t care. No team that was 1-7 will turn down any win.
Here’s the crazy part: The schedule allows for the Dolphins to go from 1-7 to a playoff contender. They have a bye week next. Then it’s a home game against the Jets, which they should win to get back to .500. After that, they play the reeling and offensively challenged New Orleans Saints. Then comes a game against the Tennessee Titans, which won’t be easy but it’s also not unwinnable. The Titans are really bad on offense with their injury situation. Miami might just need to score 17 points.
Then the season finale is a home game against the New England Patriots. It’s possible the Patriots have their playoff position wrapped up and aren’t too engaged. Perhaps they’ll sit starters.
Are all those wins possible for Miami? Probably not. But there’s a fairly realistic way for the Dolphins to go from 1-7 to 10-7. That would be one of the most remarkable seasons ever. The fact that it’s even a topic of conversation is notable.
What has changed? First, Tua Tagovailoa has been relatively healthy. Since reemerging during the win over the Baltimore Ravens (which is the one quality win Miami has had in this streak), Tagovailoa has played well enough for the Dolphins. He’ll probably never be great and he thrives off dink-and-dunk passing, but he’s not holding Miami back. The Dolphins can win with him. The defense has been better now that it’s a little healthier. The easy schedule has helped, but the Dolphins aren’t the only team to collect wins against bad teams.
Miami had a 10-win season last year and looked like a team on the rise. Then came the horrendous start to this season. Their playoff hopes were all but dead. The 1992 Chargers started 0-4 and made the playoffs. The 1970 Bengals, 2015 Chiefs and 2018 Colts started 1-5 and made the playoffs. That Bengals team actually dropped to 1-6 before turning it around. The 2004 Panthers started 1-7 and then rallied to get to 7-8 and had a chance to make the playoffs but lost the finale to the Saints. If the Dolphins made the playoffs after starting 1-7, it would be a first in NFL history.
If you gave up on the Dolphins long ago, that’s understandable. But you might be missing a pretty wild story.
Here are the power rankings following Week 13 of the NFL season:
32. Houston Texans (2-10, Last Week: 31)
If the Lions and Texans played this week, the Lions would probably win by a touchdown. I don’t know how the Texans got two wins.
31. Detroit Lions (1-10-1, LW: 32)
The Lions don’t have to worry anymore. Nobody remembers teams that win just game; only the winless teams are remembered forever. Detroit deserved the win too, not just for the close calls previously this season but they played really well building a 20-6 lead on Minnesota. Kudos to Dan Campbell and his team.
30. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10, LW: 30)
James Robinson fumbled and then saw his playing time cut way back for Carlos Hyde. Even if we believe that maybe Robinson’s injuries played a part in that, this is the type of ridiculous player punishment that isn’t going to go well for a college coach who is 2-10 in the NFL.
29. New York Jets (3-9, LW: 29)
Jets linebacker C.J. Mosley wasn’t happy after the game for what he perceived was a lack of respect from the Eagles — he cited Philly’s captains not shaking hands at the pregame coin toss and Eagles defensive tackle Fletcher Cox laughing at Jets coach Robert Saleh during the game — though at least he recognized why it’s happening. “Wins and losses happen in this game. That’s part of it, but at the end of the day, this is all about respect. Right now, those teams are not respecting us,” Mosley said according to NJ.com. “That’s well-deserved, whether that’s (because of) self-inflicted wounds or the history of the Jets.
“The guys that are here, we can affect the future and we can affect right now. Today, we didn’t do our job and it shows in the results. Tomorrow, we have the chance, the God-given ability, to make a difference.”
28. New York Giants (4-8, LW: 28)
The Giants might need to turn to Jake Fromm next week if Daniel Jones or Mike Glennon can’t play. Fromm was signed off Buffalo’s practice squad last week. The Giants will be happy when this season is over.
27. Chicago Bears (4-8, LW: 25)
It’s bad enough that the Bears are on “Sunday Night Football” this week against the Packers. It’s worse that there’s no guarantee we’ll even see rookie quarterback Justin Fields, who has been out with a rib injury. “We’re never going to put him at risk medically,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said, according to the team’s site.
26. Atlanta Falcons (5-7, LW: 26)
Defensive lineman Marlon Davidson had a rare highlight, getting a pick-six off Tom Brady. He’s just the third defensive lineman to do that, joining Sam Adams in 2003 and Aaron Schobel in 2009, via ESPN Stats and Info. And the Falcons still lost by 13, so there’s that.
25. Carolina Panthers (5-7, LW: 24)
The Panthers said the decision to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady, on a Sunday of their bye week, was just due to football reasons. No matter why Brady was fired, it’s another sign of a franchise whose main trademark under owner David Tepper seems to be making impulsive decisions.
24. Seattle Seahawks (4-8, LW: 27)
Adrian Peterson averaged fewer than 1.5 yards per carry but still led the Seahawks in attempts. That sounds about right for Seattle. At least Russell Wilson looked better.
23. New Orleans Saints (5-7, LW: 21)
Taysom Hill did add a dimension to the offense, with 101 rushing yards. The problem was that he threw the Saints out of the game with four interceptions. There’s no reason to turn back now. The Saints aren’t doing anything better with Trevor Siemian, Ian Book or anyone else taking over at quarterback.
22. Minnesota Vikings (5-7, LW: 16)
The Vikings are far from dead in the wild-card race, but that’s mostly because the teams outside the top five in the NFC aren’t very good. Perhaps the worst-case scenario for angry Vikings fans would be Minnesota getting the No. 7 seed, then ownership feeling like they can’t make wholesale changes because teams generally don’t do that after a playoff berth.
21. Miami Dolphins (6-7, LW: 23)
For the record, the Dolphins’ five opponents during their winning streak: Texans, Ravens, Jets, Panthers, Giants. Their playoff odds on Football Outsiders, before Monday night, were 5.3 percent. It’s still a pretty fantastic story in this unpredictable season.
20. Denver Broncos (6-6, LW: 18)
The Broncos defense did its job. In a 22-9 loss, 10 of the Chiefs’ points came off a muffed punt and a pick-six. The positive for the offense was running back Javonte Williams exploded for 178 total yards with Melvin Gordon out … but the negative from that is you wonder why the coaches needed a Gordon injury in Week 13 to finally feature him.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (6-7, LW: 22)
One of the best moves of the offseason might end up being the Eagles trading a conditional sixth-round pick for Gardner Minshew II (and, conversely, one of the worst moves might be the bumbling Jaguars trading Minshew away for a ham sandwich). Minshew is signed through 2022 and has a salary of less than $1 million. Even if he’s just a high-end backup, there’s a lot of value in that.
18. Las Vegas Raiders (6-6, LW: 14)
Did Zay Jones get his jersey held on a deep pass in the final seconds? Sure. Will Raiders fans believe this is proof there’s a conspiracy against their team? I assume yes. The Raiders didn’t play well enough to win and shouldn’t need a pass interference call to bail them out. The Raiders can’t afford many more losses, or it’ll be yet another season with a great start and no postseason.
17. Washington Football Team (6-6, LW: 20)
Washington’s defense played pretty well again, and their defensive improvement without Chase Young is hard to figure out. Either way, they’re not dead in the NFC East race, but they need to beat Dallas this week to remain relevant.
16. Cleveland Browns (6-6, LW: 15)
The Browns’ season seems to be coming to a crossroads this week. They host the Ravens. With a win, Cleveland should feel OK about at least making the playoffs. WIth a loss, they’ll be 6-7 and have to feel like one of the NFL’s bigger disappointments. It’s a huge game.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5-1, LW: 17)
Diontae Johnson had 105 yards and two touchdowns on Sunday. The Steelers offense isn’t good, but Johnson is. As long as Ben Roethlisberger can get him the ball a few times per game, that gives Pittsburgh a chance to move the ball and score.
14. San Francisco 49ers (6-6, LW: 11)
Weirdly, the 49ers probably missed Deebo Samuel in the running game more than they missed him as a receiver. Elijah Mitchell had 66 yards on 22 carries against a mediocre Seahawks defense. Everyone else combined for 5 yards on just three attempts. Samuel could have provided a change of pace with the generally explosive Mitchell struggling. San Francisco isn’t doing much if the run game isn’t working.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (7-5, LW: 10)
The Ravens’ failed two-point conversion was great news for the Bengals. Their bad loss to the Chargers doesn’t help them, but at least they’re still just one game back in the AFC North. What’s more troubling might be Joe Burrow’s injured right pinkie finger, which presumably won’t be fun to play through.
12. Los Angeles Chargers (7-5, LW: 19)
The Chargers get a depleted Giants team this week, then host the Chiefs in Week 15 in a great Thursday night game. If the Chargers win both of those games, they’ll be in first place of the AFC West (thanks to clinching the tiebreaker over the Chiefs) with three games to go. That win at Cincinnati on Sunday was huge.
11. Indianapolis Colts (7-6, LW: 13)
Jonathan Taylor has 1,348 rushing yards. Joe Mixon is second in the NFL with 978. Derrick Henry, who is on injured reserve, has 937 yards and Nick Chubb is in fourth place at 867. That means there’s one active player who is within 481 yards of Taylor and it’s Mixon, who is 370 back. We’re close to a point in which Taylor could miss the rest of the season and still win the rushing title.
10. Tennessee Titans (8-4, LW: 12)
Julio Jones has been designated to return to practice from IR. Even if he’s back, what does that mean? He hasn’t been very good this season and looks like he might be hitting the wall at age 32. But the Titans need something.
9. Buffalo Bills (7-5, LW: 7)
It was hard to play football in Monday’s weather conditions. And the Bills still almost won in a tough game. But this is the truth: They’re a team just two games over .500 that is a game-and-a-half back in the AFC East and New England has the edge in the tiebreaker too. It’s hard to say this Bills season has been anything other than disappointing to this point.
8. Baltimore Ravens (8-4, LW: 4)
For all the Ravens issues, they still came within a few inches of winning at Pittsburgh. The problem is injuries are piling up. Cornerback Marlon Humphrey is done for the season now. Typically the team that wins it all has good injury luck, and the Ravens have had none this season.
7. Los Angeles Rams (8-4, LW: 9)
With Darrell Henderson Jr. active but not being used, Sony Michel had 24 carries for 121 yards. It was against the Jaguars, who can’t stop anyone, but it’s still good for the Rams to know if they need to lean on Michel it can work.
6. Dallas Cowboys (8-4, LW: 8)
Tony Pollard broke a 58-yard touchdown and CeeDee Lamb had a 33-yard gain on an end around. Those plays count too, but if you remove them, Dallas had 55 yards on 22 attempts against the Saints. It’s not all Ezekiel Elliott’s fault. The Cowboys need an elite run game to be a factor in January.
5. Kansas City Chiefs (8-4, LW: 6)
The Chiefs didn’t have one play that wasn’t a pass to a running back gain more than 14 yards. Not one run, not one throw to a receiver or tight end. We can have this idea week after week (after week after week) that the Chiefs will turn into the 2018-20 Chiefs offense one of these games, but we’re 13 weeks into the season now. Wouldn’t it have happened by now?
4. New England Patriots (9-4, LW: 5)
The Patriots went from 1:22 left in the first quarter to 6:51 left in the fourth quarter without attempting a pass. It was the fourth time since 1970, and the first time since 1978, a team ran the ball on 90 percent of its offensive plays according to ESPN. And they won. It was a remarkable game plan and one that you have to imagine Bill Belichick loved.
3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3, LW: 3)
Another 368 yards and four touchdowns for Tom Brady. He’s the big favorite to win NFL MVP, and it’ll go down as one of the most historic and memorable MVP seasons in sports history.
2. Green Bay Packers (9-3, LW: 2)
The Packers are four games up in the NFC North. Their sole focus the rest of the way is on the No. 1 seed in the NFC, and remember they have the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cardinals.
1. Arizona Cardinals (10-2, LW: 1)
Kyler Murray looked great in his return to action. DeAndre Hopkins caught a touchdown. The defense forced four interceptions. No surprise anymore, but the Cardinals are really, really good.