Miami Dolphins

Dolphins are without nine starters and nearly half their salary cap. How are they winning?

Miami Dolphins celebrate after kicker Andrew Franks (3) kicks the winning goal in overtime as the Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field in Orchard Park, NY on Sat., Dec. 24, 2016.
Miami Dolphins celebrate after kicker Andrew Franks (3) kicks the winning goal in overtime as the Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins at New Era Field in Orchard Park, NY on Sat., Dec. 24, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

From a simple math perspective, the Dolphins have zero business qualifying for the playoffs.

Consider:

There are 22 starters in football. On Sunday, the Dolphins will face the Patriots with as many as nine of the 22 players they counted on as 2016 starters out of the lineup.

The latest lost: Isa Abdul-Quddus, the safety placed on injured reserve Wednesday with a neck injury.

That’s crazy.

But the economics involved are even crazier.

The 2016 NFL salary cap is $155 million. Of that sum, $15 million was unavailable to the Dolphins from the start due to dead money from contractual obligations owed to players no longer on the team.

But that’s pittance compared to the eye-popping figure you get when you add together the cap figures of the nine players likely out Sunday: $55 million.

That means, all told, the Dolphins are going to the playoffs with one financial arm tied behind their backs.

Most teams that face half that adversity wilt. Yet the Dolphins have thrived, winning nine of their last 10 games and somehow clinching a Wild Card spot with a week to play.

Miami Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore speaks to the media after the Dolphins' 34-31 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills Saturday, Dec. 24, 2106.

So the question the entire league is asking:

How in the world are they doing it?

“I think it starts at the top,” said quarterback Matt Moore, who will start again Sunday in place of injured Ryan Tannehill. “... Coach [Adam] Gase has kind of preached 'next man up.' Guys understand that, again, there's opportunities. It's a shame that guys have gotten hurt. You never want to see that happen. But the guys that have stepped up and had to play have done well consistently, carried on.”

Moore has done just that with Tannehill (2016 cap figure: $11.6 million) sidelined. Moore is 2-0 as a starter and his passer rating (113.4) would rank second league-wide if he had thrown enough passes to qualifying.

On defense, there’s Reshad Jones (2016 cap figure: $8.2 million), who hasn’t played in months. Now, Abdul-Quddus (cap figure: $2.6 million), the Dolphins’ other starting safety, is now out too.

So Michael Thomas is that next man up.

Thomas said Wednesday that he’s never been part of a team with this kind of horrid injury luck. But he refused to make it an excuse for a flat showing the rest of the season.

Granted, injuries are part of football. The bad teams lose because of them. The good teams shrug them off.

Miami Dolphins coach Adam Gase talks about having a healthy team and the 34-31 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills Saturday, Dec. 24, 2106.

New England isn’t just good. It’s great. The Patriots are 13-2 and on the verge of the AFC’s No. 1 seed despite playing without two of their top skill-position players (Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola) for long stretches. Plus Tom Brady missed the season’s first four games due to suspension.

“Football is the ultimate team sport,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Everybody's important. ... All 11 of them have to execute.”

Belichick added: “Part of having a good team is having people who can take on that role, take some of that production and absorb it, and keep the train rolling.”

The Patriots’ offensive coordinator is Josh McDaniels, who has a long history with Belichick. Gase was the Broncos’ wide receivers coach during McDaniels’ two years as Broncos head coach.

Connect the dots. At least some of what Gase is doing now, he learned in Denver from McDaniels, who probably learned it from Belichick.

“I think we probably have similar styles of practice to where it’s competitive which helps guys develop,” Gase said. “Especially younger players. Just my time with Josh, I can’t say it was exactly the way they did it but it was very similar to what we do as far as how competitive it is. That’s how you get younger players to get better and then at the same time you do need some guys that are in backup positions that have experience playing.”

▪  Cornerback Byron Maxwell (2016 cap figure: $8.5 million) is one of those nine Dolphins starters expected out Sunday. Maxwell, who missed the Buffalo game with an ankle injury, said he’s feeling better but he’s not yet 100 percent and the team hasn’t cleared him to begin running yet, let alone practice.

Starting linebacker Jelani Jenkins (2016 cap figure: $1.8 million) is also expected to miss Sunday’s game. He’s been dealing with a knee injury.

▪  Backup offensive lineman Sam Young signed a one-year, $1.2 million contract extension Wednesday that will keep him in Miami through 2017.

▪  Dolphins great and Hall of Famer Paul Warfield was a guest at practice Wednesday.

Dolphins sportswriter Barry Jackson contributed to this report.

Adam H. Beasley: 305-376-3565, @AdamHBeasley

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