The Dolphins’ 23rd postseason berth in 51 years – and the first since 2008 – is pretty remarkable considering some of the circumstances they’ve overcome.
Examining the 12 most amazing aspects about this Miami team qualifying for the playoffs:
1. Overcoming a 1-4 start. According to the good folks at the Elias Sports Bureau, 128 teams began the season 1-4 between 1990 and 2015. Only eight of those (six percent) made the playoffs. But it has happened now three times in the past two years – Kansas City and Houston last season, the Dolphins this season.
2. They’ve won despite a historically bad run defense. The Dolphins rank 30th in the league in that category, allowing 141.8 yards per game on the ground, and are on pace to give up their most rushing yards since the 1-15 team of 2007.
They’re tied for worst in the league in opponents’ yard per carry average (4.9). For perspective, no Dolphins team has ever relinquished 5.0 per carry or more. Only one other – the 5-8-1 Dolphins in 1968 – allowed 4.9.
And consider this: Between 2012 and 2016 (excluding Miami this season), the teams that finished 30th, 31st and 32nd in run defense are 89-133. Besides Miami, only one other (the 11-5 Colts in 2012) won at least 10 games. So horrid run defense is very difficult to overcome. But Miami has somehow done it.
3. Winning despite losing two of their best players for most of the season. Center Mike Pouncey, who entered 2016 as perhaps the Dolphins’ highest-regarded player on offense, played in only five games. Safety Reshad Jones, one of their three best players on defense, played only six.
In their absence, they’ve survived with an undrafted second-year center (Anthony Steen), a journeyman center who played very well the past two weeks (Kraig Urbik) and a safety (Bacarri Rambo) who was on the verge of applying for car dealership jobs in Georgia in October.
4. Winning despite losing their starting quarterback. The Dolphins responded to Ryan Tannehill’s injury by scoring 34 points each of the past two weeks, and aside from a poor first half in Buffalo, Matt Moore has been very good: 31 for 53 for 516 yards, six touchdowns, two interceptions and a 113.4 rating. He’s now 15-12 as a starter in his NFL career.
5. Winning despite bottom-third offenses and defenses. Based on yards only, the Dolphins ranks 22nd in the NFL on offense and 30th on defense. They’ve allowed 381 yards per game, and if the Patriots generate 335 on Sunday, this will be the most yards allowed, statistically, in Dolphins history.
What’s more, the Dolphins defense already (with one game left) has relinquished 251 more yards than the 2007 1-15 Dolphins allowed in 16 games.
But here’s the catch: Miami is 14th best in points allowed (23 per game) and 16th best in points scored (23.3). And that’s the more important stat.
6. Winning despite a modest point differential. The Dolphins are 10-5 despite outscoring teams by a total of just four points. Consider that the 7-8 Bills have outscored teams by 41, the 8-7 Ravens by 39, the 6-9 Eagles by 22 and 6-8-1 Arizona by 18.
7. Doing it with slow starts. The Dolphins have been outscored 96-41 in the first quarter and their 2.7 scoring average in the first is 30th in the league. But they outscore teams 104-51 in the third.
8. Doing it, for the most part, without two starting linebackers. Koa Misi, Miami’s best run-stopping linebacker, played in only three games because of a neck injury. Jelani Jenkins has played in just nine and been hampered by a knee injury and sometimes ineffective when he has played, ranking 90th of 90 qualifying NFL linebackers, according to Pro Football Focus.
Misi fill-in Donald Butler, who ranks 70th, allowed six of six passes thrown against him to be caught for 73 yards against the Bills. But Miami is winning anyway.
9. Clinching before its final game and beating out respected, playoff-tested teams (Baltimore, Cincinnati, Denver).
10. Doing it despite allowing an absurd 65 more first downs on defense than they’ve generated on offense (327 to 262) and allowing 682 more yards on defense than they’ve gained on offense.
11. Forcing overtime Saturday with a kicker who, before tying the game with a 55-yard field goal, was just 1 for 3 in his career from 50 yards or more and 5 for 9 from 40 to 49. Good job, Andrew Franks.
12. Winning while getting virtually nothing from Mario Williams, their biggest-name offseason acquisition. Williams has contributed just 13 tackles and 1.5 sacks per season.
If he doesn’t make a tackle against New England, he will have ended up collecting $498,346 per tackle this season.
And Williams appears to have fallen to fifth or sixth among defensive ends on the Dolphins depth chart. Against the Bills, he played only 13 snaps, compared with 34 for Terrence Fede and 14 for Nick Williams.
For my feature today on Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills and what he has accomplished this season, please click here.... For an NBA Draft primer on players that Heat fans should be watching this season, please click here.... Twitter: @flasportsbuzz