Armando Salguero

Reasons the Dolphins should be all in for Sunday’s game against the Patriots

Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Branden Albert has been playing the last few weeks with a surgically repaired wrist but is not expected to rest against the New England Patriots in the season-finale.
Miami Dolphins offensive tackle Branden Albert has been playing the last few weeks with a surgically repaired wrist but is not expected to rest against the New England Patriots in the season-finale. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The Miami Dolphins are and should be all in for Sunday’s home and season finale against the New England Patriots.

If cornerback Byron Maxwell, who has missed most of the past two games with an ankle injury, is fully healthy, he’s playing.

If Kiko Alonso, who has been nursing a hamstring injury, is healthy, he’s playing.

The left side of the offensive line — Laremy Tunsil and Branden Albert — have been playing at less than 100 percent for weeks, and Tunsil particularly seems to be wearing down — particularly with his run blocking as the season closes out. But if they can play, they’re playing.

Safety Isa Abdul-Quddos will not be available because he’s headed to the injured reserve list and is done for the season. Practrice squad safety T.J. Hendy is being added to the roster to take his spot, but the starting safety duo is likely to be Michael Thomas and Bacarri Rambo.

(Hendy is a 6-foot, 209-pound undrafted rookie free agent out of Maryland. This is a special teams move as Thomas may play less on special teams — meaning the defense has suffered a blow and the special teams might suffer a blow).

Anyway, did I mention the Dolphins are all in for Sunday’s game despite the fact they’ve already qualified for the NFL playoffs starting the weekend of Jan. 7-8?

And there are very good reasons for this:

The first reason is the Dolphins are a very young, very inexperienced team. This team needs more honing. It needs to continue growing. And the way to do that is not by sitting around watching backups play.

Beyond that, I’m told the Miami coaching staff is not comfortable basically letting players take a game off before the playoffs because this young team may not necessarily know how to turn it back on the weekend after next after taking this coming weekend off.

This team isn’t quite there yet in its development.

It’s the reason coach Adam Gase has adopted a one-week-at-a-time approach this season. His players focus better when that which they have to focus on is directly in front of them — not two games down the road.

So this week ... win this one.

Next week ... think about the playoffs.

The other reason the Dolphins should be playing the finale as if everything rides on it is because their playoff fortunes could dramatically improve if they win.

The Dolphins could conceivably rise from the AFC’s sixth and final playoff seed to the fifth seed if the right scenario were to play out. And being the fifth seed might be tons more beneficial for the long-term viability of Miami’s stay in postseason compared to remaining as the sixth seed.

Consider:

If the Dolphins beat the New England Patriots ...

And the San Diego Chargers win what might be their final game (again) at Qualcomm Stadium against Kansas City ...

The Dolphins are the No. 5 seed.

That would mean the opening round playoff game the following weekend would be at Houston against the Texans rather than at Pittsburgh against the Steelers.

Said another way, the Dolphins would be traveling to play the Texans and their quarterback Tom Savage instead of going to play the Steelers and their quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

(For those of you that need it more clearly spelled out Roethlisberger > Savage. And Pittsburgh > Houston).

There’s more. If the Oakland Raiders also win this weekend at Denver — yes, improbable because they just lost their starting quarterback Derek Carr to a broken leg — then the Dolphins would end up going to Oakland rather than New England for the divisional round.

And, yes, that assumes Pittsburgh is not upset by No. 6 Kansas City first.

In that scenario the Dolphins would travel to Houston for their first playoff game then go to Oakland, the No. 1 seed ahead of New England, for the divisional round of the playoffs.

So Miami’s first two games would be against Houston starter Tom Savage followed by Oakland starting quarterback Matt McGloin.

This scenario brings a smile to my face as I write about it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Dolphins are favored in both games were that to come to pass.

Now, I know it’s hard to project that far ahead. That’s why I usually leave that to others. But I do know the benefits of moving to the No. 5 seed are tangible.

The idea of playing at Houston is far more appealing than that of traveling to Pittsburgh.

The point is the smart thing is to play and to play hard and to play to win on Sunday because this team performs best when it’s focused on a simple task at hand. And in doing that, it might be setting itself up for success down the road.

Yeah, the same road nobody in the Dolphins locker room is allowed to think about this week.

Brilliant!

Follow Armando Salguero on Twitter: @ArmandoSalguero

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