Miami Dolphins

Dolphins plagued by bad play or bad luck? It’s a little of both

Coach Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins has a word with quarterback Ryan Tannehill before a game against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 23, 2014 in Denver.
Coach Joe Philbin of the Miami Dolphins has a word with quarterback Ryan Tannehill before a game against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 23, 2014 in Denver. Getty Images

Dolphins fans have believed for years that they’re cursed.

But this year, they have the stats to prove it.

By most every metric, the 2014 Dolphins should be a playoff team.

But FootballOutsiders.com, a respected analytics website, gives the Dolphins (now 6-5 and 10th in the AFC) just a 31 percent chance to reach the postseason.

Why?

Well, luck, to be frank. An avalanche of bad luck.

Even after last week’s Mile High Meltdown, the Dolphins still have a playoff-caliber defense. Miami enters Week 13 ranked third in yards-per-play allowed (4.9).

And for the first time in years, the Dolphins have a playoff-caliber quarterback. Ryan Tannehill’s passer rating is now up to 93.3 on the season. In the last five seasons, a quarterback that efficient has missed the postseason just nine times. (Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo were unfortunate enough to do it twice.)

The statistics say this is a 10-win team. At least.

That’s based on the Pythagorean expectation, a sabermetric formula first devised by baseball statistician Bill James and form-fitted to the NFL by FootballOutsiders.com. The equation estimates how many games a team should have won based on point differential.

Plugging in the Dolphins’ current numbers, their estimated win total in 2014 is 10.4. With their plus-66 differential, the Dolphins should be heading into Thanksgiving Weekend at 7-4.

Though it’ll be cold comfort if the Dolphins miss the playoffs by continuing to win in blowouts but lose in squeakers, they can take some solace in knowing that 2015 should be better.

Teams that fall a full game short of expectations usually make up that game the following year.

And to be frank, the Dolphins probably were due for a regression. Their projected win total in Joe Philbin’s first two years were 7.1 and 7.5, respectively. They went 7-9 in 2012 and exceeded expectations by going 8-8 a year ago.

The Dolphins, therefore, are nearly three wins better than they were a year ago – even if their final record suggests otherwise.

Perhaps this is karmic payback for Miami’s all-the-breaks AFC East championship season in 2008. Based on their point differential that year, the Dolphins should have won just nine games – and that’s if you round up.

Plus, their schedule this year has been a drag on their prospects. Miami’s opponents thus far have won a combined 55 percent of their games – making for the third-toughest schedule in the AFC.

Contrast that with the AFC North, which has feasted on the dregs of the league. Only one team in that division – Cincinnati – has played a schedule whose opponents have won at least half of their games.

The good news for the Dolphins: Things get significantly easier from here on out. They have the fourth-easiest schedule in the AFC the rest of the way. And none of the three teams with an easier go of it are in the playoff hunt.

Take, for instance, the San Diego Chargers. They are currently the AFC’s sixth seed at 7-4. But their last five opponents have combined to win 68 percent of their games – by far the toughest remaining road in the conference.

(One curveball: The Dolphins will almost certainly have to beat the Ravens to make the playoffs. Baltimore is currently 7-4, but the team’s Pythagorean expectation for 2014 is 11.1 wins. They, likewise, are due to finish strong.)

Then, there’s the play of their quarterback, who is quietly emerging as a star. After an ugly opening three weeks to the season, Tannehill has been one of the best statistical quarterbacks in football.

In his last eight games – half of a season – Tannehill has completed 70.6 percent of his passes for 1,958 yards, 16 touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating over that time: 102.4.

If the season ended today – and luckily for the Dolphins, it does not – he would finish the year with a plus-12 touchdown-to-interception margin. That would tie him with Chad Pennington and Dan Marino for sixth-best in franchise history. (Marino also has the top five seasons).

“We feel like we’ve got to win,” Tannehill said after Sunday’s loss in Denver. “The situation is what it is. There’s a lot of good teams in the AFC. We’re getting into December football the next couple of weeks. That’s when teams either make it or fall back.”

▪ Defensive back R.J. Stanford, who spent the previous two seasons with the Dolphins, re-signed with the team Tuesday to shore up their ailing secondary. Stanford was last with the Bengals, but Cincinnati waived him after the preseason. The Dolphins waived Jalil Brown to make room for Stanford.

The Dolphins, who have already lost corner Will Davis for the year, might be without both Cortland Finnegan and Jamar Taylor on Monday in New York.

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