Here’s yet another concern for a league that has had plenty lately: How to make an NFL game here between two sub-.500 teams in the middle of soccer season compelling?
The short answer: Invite the Dolphins. They’re never boring.
This week alone, their defensive players are ornery, their quarterback is irked (or at least was as recently as Wednesday), and most importantly, the team is desperate. Make that both teams.
To no one’s surprise, the league went a step further for Raiders-Dolphins, which kicks off Year8 of the International Series. In building its brand, the NFL has never relied solely on its product. Super Bowl week, for instance, is a bacchanal.
In London, which someday soon could have its own franchise, the NFL has followed a familiar script: Flood the city with signage. Shut down Regent Street for a massive carnival. And have Def Leppard play a pregame show.
As for the actual competition, it’s as close to an elimination game as you’ll find in Week4.
The stakes are so high, they have Ryan Tannehill quoting Herm Edwards.
“You play to win the game,” Tannehill quipped. “You don’t go just to compete, you go to play to win. It’s the fourth game of the season; it’s a big game for us.”
The Dolphins are 1-2. The Raiders are winless. Whoever loses can probably start making vacation plans in January.
Just 15 percent of NFL teams that lost three of their first four games have made the playoffs since the league expanded its postseason to 12 teams in 1990. Clubs that start 0-4 have only a one in 100 chance of reaching the postseason.
“You’ve dug yourself a hole,” corner Cortland Finnegan said when asked about the potential of a 1-3 start. “But at the same time, you don’t want to put any pressure on yourself. You have to execute on both sides of the football and have good special-teams play. If you can do that, you’ve given yourself a chance. That’s what we’re after.”
Few outside of the Bay Area expected much from the Raiders this season. Coach Dennis Allen seemingly has a week-to-week claim to his job.
But for the Dolphins, this was supposed to be a defining season. And it certainly still might be — but perhaps for the wrong reasons.
The Dolphins have lived up to their reputation of playing down to their opposition. In the Joe Philbin Era, eight of the team’s 19 losses have come against teams that either finished the season with a losing record, or in the case of 2014, currently have one. Win half of those games, and there’s no discussion about Philbin’s job security.
And now, back-to-back blowout losses during the supposedly soft part of the schedule has everyone on edge. Last week was a soap opera in Dolphins camp — the defensive players upset with their coaches, and embattled Tannehill calling out Philbin.
Philbin has since tried to douse a fire that he created, but was it enough to rebuild the trust of his young quarterback? No matter their personal feelings, Tannehill and Philbin should know that they’re in this together.
The success (and long-term viability) of one is directly tied to the other.
Will a change of scenery — not to mention the forced intimacy of having to share an airplane for nine hours Thursday night — do this team some good?
That was the hope in 2007, the last time the Dolphins played here.
You think this team is dysfunctional?
This group has nothing (at least not yet) on that one in 2007, which had lost its first seven games prior to its visit to Wembley Stadium. That was a team with real quarterback issues. Cleo Lemon was the starter.
“We understand what the situation is,” Tannehill said. “We understand we haven’t played well. I think we’re looking forward to getting back on the right page, back on the right foot. And how we respond this week, how we play after a long week and a week full of travel is going to speak a lot to our team.”