AROUND THE LEAGUE

Greg Cote: Miami Dolphins fans need a victory for confidence

 
 
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is shown in the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland on Sept. 8, 2013.
Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is shown in the second quarter against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland on Sept. 8, 2013.
Joe Rimkus Jr. / Staff Photo

gcote@MiamiHerald.com

Week 7 in the NFL is dominated by Peyton Manning’s first return to Indianapolis, at least from a national vantage. Bills at Dolphins is an afterthought, but it is compelling in its own way, because that is precisely what Miami will become — an afterthought — if Sunday’s game is not won.

It feels that big to me, especially for how this team is perceived.

Everything feels in a fragile balance, teetering.

Consecutive losses before the bye week already did their damage. Even with a 3-2 record that currently positions Miami as the sixth and last AFC playoff team, Las Vegas betting odds entering this week are that the Dolphins will not make the playoffs.

The skepticism isn’t just from the outside. It’s within the family with anxious Dolfans. This I discern from a couple of Dolphins-related polls taken in my blog the past week. These are far from scientific, but they suggest anecdotally that Miami still must prove itself even to its biggest supporters.

I asked how confident fans are that the Dolphins will be a playoff team, and a plurality of 46.1 percent said “not confident,” while 41.6 percent said “nervously” confident and only 12.3 percent said “solidly” confident. Among voters in Florida, where a higher concentration of Dolphins fans might be assumed, “not confident” actually spiked to 52.5 percent, and “solidly” confident dipped to 9.6 percent. That was a surprise (at least to me).

An earlier poll asked for thoughts on coach Joe Philbin, and only 24.3 percent called themselves “very impressed,” dwarfed by 48.1 percent who were “still not entirely sold” and 21.3 percent who had “serious doubts.” Again, in Florida, the number doubting Philbin was slightly greater.

The poll numbers mirror the betting odds in that both reflect doubts in the Dolphins.

It isn’t just the two consecutive losses. Dolfans look at a struggling offensive line and see Jake Long now in St. Louis. They look at a struggling ground game and see Reggie Bush doing great for Detroit. They see Brandon Marshall starring in Chicago.

Beating Buffalo on Sunday won’t entirely erase all of the doubts. But losing Sunday will make them scream.

Scatter-shooting

• Interception return touchdowns are all the rage; there have been 25 already this season. Bears have the most since 2004, with 29, followed by Ravens and Packers with 26. Dolphins have only eight since then, including one (by Reshad Jones) this season.

• Quarterbacks are on an all-time record pace for passer rating (86.8), completion percentage (61.7) and yards per attempt (7.29).

• That hyper offense Chip Kelly brought to the Eagles from Oregon? It’s working. Philly is only the fourth team with at least 400 yards of offense in each of its first six games, along with this season’s Broncos, the 2007 Patriots and 1983 Chargers.

• The 31 sacks by the Chiefs defense are the most in a team’s first six games since the L.A. Rams had 36 in 1988.

• Manning, with a 160-70 won-lost record, last week became the second QB to be at least 90 games over .500 for his career. The other? Patriot Tom Brady, who is 141-40.

• Sixty-five of 92 games (70.7 percent) have been within a seven-point margin in the fourth quarter, the highest percentage ever. And 29.3 percent of games have been won with fourth-quarter comebacks, the highest percentage since ’89.

• Why do I call it King Sport? NFL TV ratings beat MLB playoffs in 28 of 30 major markets last weekend. That included Miami on a Dolphins bye week, with the Patriots-Saints game topping baseball.

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