It can be hard to believe in these Dolphins because the past decade has conditioned us to be skeptical. It’s hard to believe because the final two games a year ago showed that even when things seem settled, nothing is settled. It’s especially hard to be a believer Sunday because Peyton Manning is so good, and his team went to the Super Bowl last year, and the thin Rocky Mountain air is rarely kind to a team coming from sea level.
So the Dolphins understand.
They get it.
When Sunday afternoon arrives and they kick off against the Denver Broncos, your confidence level that something wonderful is about to happen might not be very high.
“It’s just part of being in the league,” Dolphins defensive lineman Earl Mitchell said. “I’ve been places where you’re hot and cold and fans are going to love you one week and be not pleased with you the next. That’s not surprising at all. That’s just a part of being a fan.”
But Dolphins fan, you should make room for this day’s grand possibilities after you consider its possible consequences.
Think of it: If the Dolphins are indeed the team players feel certain they are, if they can travel across two time zones and beat the Broncos at a venue where the home team is 5-0 this season, everything will change about how South Florida views the Dolphins.
Wait. That’s wrong.
Everything will change about how the entire country views the Dolphins.
So far this season the Dolphins are, to quote Bill Parcells, what their 6-4 record says they are.
They’re good enough to have the Green Bay Packers on the mat but not good enough to keep them there. They’re good enough to have beaten elite quarterbacks such as Tom Brady and Philip Rivers but not so good that they lost to EJ Manuel, who is now on the Buffalo bench.
This team has done enough to be in the playoff conversation. But it hasn’t done enough to currently be one of the AFC’s six postseason qualifiers. (Miami is currently seventh.)
The Dolphins, in summary, have been straddling the fence between being relevant and being dismissed.
But a win over the Broncos? Over Manning? In Denver?
“It’s definitely a huge opportunity for us,” Mitchell said. “A win against these guys would be very convincing for our fans to solidify ourselves as a good team and defense in this league.”
The Dolphins would be making the transition from team with promise to one that fulfills promises. From budding to blossomed.
No, a November victory does not guarantee a February championship or even a January playoff spot. But this one against an elite opponent would guarantee the Dolphins are surely, finally pointed in that direction again.
So the logical question that follows is, can it happen?
Is it possible?
It is surely not possible if you’re trusting reputation and history. If that’s how this is going to be decided, the Broncos, a whopping touchdown favorite, will shove the Dolphins back onto the scrap heap of also-rans.
Manning, a five-time NFL MVP, hasn’t lost to the Dolphins since 2002. The Broncos average a touchdown more a game than Miami. Their defense boasts stars such as DeMarcus Ware and Von Miller and even has a guy nicknamed Pot Roast, for goodness sake.
And did you forget that part in the first paragraph that mentioned the Broncos went to the Super Bowl last year?
So, yes, on the surface the Dolphins are poorly matched. But the Dolphins nonetheless like their chances, and for good reasons.
The Broncos are 7-3 and lead the AFC West. But they have lost two of their past three games, including last week’s upset at the hands of the St. Louis Rams. They have lost their toughness on offense. They’re struggling with significant injuries. And Manning is in something of a drought.
Manning has thrown two interceptions in each of the past three games after throwing 22 touchdown passes and only three interceptions the first seven games. He had never thrown multiple interceptions in three consecutive games as a Bronco, and it’s the first time he has done so since 2010.
The offensive line in front of Manning is also problematic.
“It’s worse than bad — it’s horrendous,” Mark Schlereth, the ESPN analyst and ex-Broncos Pro Bowl offensive lineman, told the Denver Post. “I watch every game of every team every week. It’s bad technique-wise, athleticism-wise, toughness-wise. If I were grading, giving an F would be kind.
“I went back and looked at the last three games — they don’t block anybody.”
If that continues, the Miami defense wins at the line of scrimmage. And the Dolphins have a chance to win on the scoreboard.
What would that do beyond improving Miami’s record?
It would change the way the nation views these Dolphins.