If it feels to Dolphins fans as though the team’s playoff odds are a million-to-one, they can take heart:
They’re more like one in five, according to the numbers crunchers at FootballOutsiders.com.
But those chances would drop close to zero with a loss Sunday at New England.
And for the Dolphins (7-6) to go into Foxborough, Massachusetts, and return with a win, it would take an upset bordering on historic.
The Patriots are 11-1 all-time at home against the Dolphins with Tom Brady as their starting quarterback. They have won the past seven such meetings. And the only time Brady has lost at home to the Dolphins was on New Year’s Day 2006, when he played just a quarter because the Patriots had already clinched the division.
Plus, New England hasn’t been swept by any divisional opponent since 2000 (the Dolphins have the opportunity to do so after beating the Patriots in Week1).
All this has surely contributed to the game’s swollen point spread. The Patriots, who at 10-3 would secure their sixth consecutive AFC East title with a win Sunday, are favored by as many as nine points, depending on the sports book.
That’s more bad news for the Dolphins.
Miami has lost 13 of its last 14 games as an underdog of more than a touchdown, including seven in a row. That’s according to R.J. Bell, who owns the gambling site Pregame.com.
If there is a sliver of hope for the Dolphins, it’s this: The one win was in New England in 2008. The Patriots were favored by 121/2 points in that game.
But even that breakthrough comes with a couple of caveats: 1. Brady didn’t play (he tore his ACL two weeks earlier); and 2. Tony Sparano shocked the Patriots (and the world) by unveiling the Wildcat.
Now, it’s always possible coach Joe Philbin has a similar surprise in store Sunday. Considering his job might depend on the game’s outcome, he should try any and everything.
But given the steady nature of his first 45 games as a head coach, it’s hard to imagine him throwing out the playbook in his final three.
Instead, he probably will just try to continue to ask his team to do what it has done before — just do it better.
“We certainly need to play our best game of the year,” Philbin said. “This team, what have they won, eight out of nine? They’re playing awful well, so we’re going to have to play awful well. We’re going to need to play our best football.”
The problem is, they haven’t played awful well in a long time. The Dolphins’ last complete game came six weeks ago, when they blanked the Chargers 37-0. Since then, they’ve gone 2-3 and have allowed six more points than they’ve scored.
They have significant injury issues — starting linebackers Koa Misi and Jelani Jenkins haven’t practiced all week — and their pass protection has regressed. The Dolphins have allowed 17 sacks since the San Diego game.
So what, exactly, gives Philbin confidence they can summon their best when they need it the most?
“For the last nine weeks, ourselves, I think we’ve played relatively well, but not well enough to win eight out of nine, for sure,” he said. “We’ve got to play better, but I’ve seen it on tape and we’ve got to put it all together.”
For the players’ part, they know the scenario. Every game from here on out is a playoff game, Mike Wallace acknowledged this week.
But even if they do beat the odds and win their final three games, will it be enough?
“Honestly, I don’t even know,” Wallace said. “We had our chance, knowing we controlled our own destiny. We blew that. Let’s find another way. All we can do is win and hope that we can get some help. I don’t even know where it starts at to what would have have to happen. I just know we have to win all of our games.”
There are eight teams ahead of the Dolphins in the standings, including four that are vying for two wild-card spots. (The Bengals would be the fifth if they lose to the Browns this week.)
So it would help the Dolphins’ chances Sunday if (from most to least likely): the Colts beat the Texans, the Broncos beat the Chargers, the Falcons beat the Steelers and the Jaguars beat the Ravens.
Oh, and the Dolphins need to win a game that every trend suggests they won’t.
“You get paid as a coach to get their team to play up to their potential,” Philbin said. “That’s what we have to do.”
Four Dolphins players were limited in their practice participation Wednesday: tight end Charles Clay (hamstring/knee), cornerback Cortland Finnegan (ankle), linebacker Chris McCain (ankle) and cornerback Jamar Taylor (shoulder).
Guard Nate Garner hasn't practiced in weeks with an unspecified illness. Linebacker Jonathan Freeny (hamstring) was also sidelined Wednesday.