Greg Cote

Enjoy the weekend, Miami. Here’s why Dolphins in great draft shape despite ‘costly’ win | Opinion

Miami as a sports town can be an easy target for derision, so when we get a weekend the like the one just past, it is worth savoring by a collective fan base that deserves the respite, the feel-good.

Hurricanes crush Florida State 27-10 in Tallahassee, running Noles coach Willie Taggert straight outta town.

Panthers blank Detroit 4-0 for a first Florida shutout by new goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.

Heat dominate a strong Houston team 129-100 behind a record-setting 46-14 first quarter.

And Dolphins turn back bitter-rival New York Jets 26-18 for their first win of the season.

It had been more than two years, since Oct. 21-22, 2017, since a Saturday and Sunday delivered wins by all four South Florida teams.

The notable difference in those wins? Canes, Panthers and Heat fans are purely happy today. Dolphins fans — at least a good portion of them — are wondering if this will prove to be a win too costly.

It is perfectly fitting for the snake-bit Fins: At midseason they finally win a game to shed the specter of 0-16, and half of their fans are wringing hands, caught between pumping fists and wondering, “Oh what have we done?”

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So let us recalibrate the Race to the 2020 NFL Draft. It is the dubious race for the No. 1 overall pick (worst team wins), but not every team is eyeing a quarterback, a distinction that works in Miami’s strong favor.

Sizing up the five teams best-positioned for No. 1 at midseason, based on records:

Cincinnati Bengals (0-8): Most winnable remaining games: Dec. 1 vs. Jets, Dec. 22 at Dolphins, Dec. 29 vs. Browns. QB situation: Bengals just benched veteran Andy Dalton for Ryan Finley, their 2019 fourth-round pick. If Finley excites Cincy and looks like The Man, they’d likely not go QB with their top pick. If Finley does not wow ‘em, then Bengals become Miami’s biggest rival for Tua Tagovailoa or Justin Herbert.

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Washington Redskins (1-8): Most winnable remaining games: Nov. 17 vs. Jets, Nov. 24 vs. Lions, Dec. 22 vs. Giants. QB situation: With Case Keenum a stopgap, the Skins hope Dwayne Haskins — their 2019 No. 1 draft pick (15th overall) — is the answer. But will he be? Haskins has been awful (zero TDs, four INTs) in limited action. The guess is they’ll have patience with him and not spend a second straight No. 1 on a passer.

Miami Dolphins (1-7): Most winnable remaining games: Dec. 8 at Jets, Dec. 15 at Giants, Dec. 22 vs. Bengals. The latter could be the Tua Bowl - loser take all. Question is, who’ll wanna win? QB situation: Veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick has proved himself a keeper as a backup, with Josh Rosen looking like the odd man out. Fins desperately need a quarterback of the future, with ‘Bama’s Tagovailao the obvious grand prize.

New York Jets (1-7): Most winnable remaining games: Nov. 10 vs. Giants, Dec. 1 at Bengals, Dec. 8 vs. Dolphins. QB situation: Sam Darnold was the third overall pick in the 2018 draft, but with more interceptions (24) than TDs (23) thus far, is NYJ sold on him? Likely answer: Enough to not go QB No. 1 again.

Atlanta Falcons (1-7): Most winnable remaining games: Nov. 24 vs. Buccaneers, Dec. 22 vs. Jaguars, Dec. 29 at Bucs. QB situation: The problem is not four-time Pro Bowler Matt Ryan, who remains really good at 34, with a 70.9 completion percentage and 98.7 passer rating. Look for Birds to think defense with top pick.

The three two-win teams are the Browns, Giants (entering Monday night’s game) and Bucs. But Cleveland and NYG have big investments in young QBs Baker Mayfield and Daniel Jones, and it would surprise if Tampa moved on from 25-year-old Jameis Winston.

Cincinnati, then, appears to be Miami’s biggest rival for Tagovailoa/Herbert, meaning Dolfans should hope Finley plays really well over the next several weeks.

Draft trades are possible, of course, but two factors favor Miami.

1. There simply are not many teams left with as glaring a need as Miami to top-draft a QB in 2020. Titans, Broncos and Bears come to mind as possibilities, but they’d have to spend a ton to trade up high enough.

2. With a stockpile of two first-round and two second-round picks in the 2020 and ‘21 drafts, Miami is well-positioned to bump up a few spots in the draft if absolutely necessary.

One more reason Miami fans should relax and allow themselves to, you know, enjoy the win: ESPN’s updated Football Power Index computer model’s projected draft order still has Miami today at 37.4 percent the likeliest to get the overall No. 1 pick, with Cincy (34%) second.

Then it’s Jets (11.3%), Redskins (10.9%), Giants (4.2%) and Falcons (1.9%), with others below 1%.

Bottom line: The Dolphins winning Sunday made the path to Tua Tagovailoa a bit more complicated and a lot more interesting. But it did not (at least for now) displace Miami as the frontrunner.

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Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2018 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.
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