The Miami Dolphins are tied for the final wild card spot in the AFC with just one quarter of the 2013 season remaining. (Photo: NFL Rush)
12 games down and the Miami Dolphins are an even 6-6. After a promising 3-0 start, the Dolphins had dropped six of their last eight games before their most dominating effort of the season on Sunday in a 23-3 victory over the New York Jets. Four games remain for Miami and the Dolphins are very much in the thick of things in the AFC playoff race.
The second half of the season could not have begun much worse for Miami as the Dolphins fell to the previously winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Since however, Miami was able to notch huge victories over San Diego and the New York Jets with a heartbreaking loss to the red-hot Carolina Panthers in between.
At 6-6, the Dolphins are in second place in the AFC East behind the New England Patriots and are tied with the Baltimore Ravens for the final wild card spot although Baltimore does hold the tiebreaker. The remaining schedule however appears favorable as three of Miami's final four opponents currently have losing records.
Third Quarter Team Awards
MVP - Ryan Tannehill, QB
An often overlooked member of the 2012 quarterback class, Ryan Tannehill has blossomed into a real leader for the Miami Dolphins. Tannehill has had little help from his ground game or pass protection this season, but has Miami in the thick of the playoff race. Tannehill has already eclipsed last season's total for touchdowns, and with a strong finish could hit the 4,000-yard mark for the season. On four occasions this season, Tannehill has thrown for at least 300 yards including in each of the last two weeks.
Rookie of the Year - Caleb Sturgis, K
After an outstanding start in which he made his first 10 field goal attempts, rookie kicker Caleb Sturgis has struggled of late, but has still been the Dolphins' most productive rookie. Sturgis is 23-for-30 on field goal attempts this year with a long of 54. While Sturgis has missed some key kicks, he's made some big kicks as well including a 44-yarder on Halloween that forced overtime in a win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
Most Pleasant Surprise - Olivier Vernon, DE
While Miami's other defensive end, Cameron Wake, steals most of the headlines, Olivier Vernon is emerging as an excellent pass rusher. After 5.5 sacks in the last three weeks, Vernon leads the Dolphins and ranks sixth in the NFL with 10 sacks. Vernon is also Miami's fifth leading tackler.
Biggest Disappointment - Tyson Clabo, T
Though he's played much better of late, tackle Tyson Clabo has had a season to forget for Miami. Clabo has recently been placed back in the starting lineup thanks to Jonathan Martin checking himself into treatment, but Clabo has been horrendous in pass protection for most of the year. Clabo, a former Pro Bowl right tackle with the Atlanta Falcons, was so bad early on in 2013 that the Dolphins had to pull the trigger on a trade for tackle Bryant McKinnie.
Best Offseason Acquisition - Brent Grimes, CB
A former Pro Bowl cornerback with the Atlanta Falcons, Brent Grimes has made a real impact this season for the Miami Dolphins. Grimes is consistently matched up against opponent's top receivers and of late, Grimes has really come on strong with three interceptions in his last five games, one of which he returned for a touchdown. Grimes is tied for the team-lead with four interceptions this season and with much of the secondary including Miami's other starting cornerback, Dmitri Patterson banged up, Grimes has been as steady as they come all season long.
Most Encouraging Statistic - The Sacks
Despite only 6.5 sacks thus far from All-Pro Cameron Wake, the Dolphins still rank fifth in the NFL in terms of getting to the quarterback. Miami has 37 sacks on the season with Olivier Vernon leading the way with 10. Seven different Dolphins have multiple sacks this season.
Most Discouraging Statistic - The Sacks Allowed
While the Dolphins have been able to get to opposing quarterbacks, they have struggled to keep opponents off their own. By a large margin, Ryan Tannehill has been the most sacked quarterback in the NFL this season going down 45 times. The Dolphins are giving up nearly four sacks-per-game although Miami gave up just one, a season-low, in Sunday's win over the New York Jets.
After dealing with the first locker room bullying scandal in NFL history, a lackluster running game and a number of off-the-field distractions, head coach Joe Philbin and the Dolphins have to like their chances at 6-6.
While the Dolphins are in a tie for the final wild card spot, an October 6th loss to the Baltimore Ravens could prove costly as the season winds down. While Baltimore certainly has the edge in experience coming down the stretch having been to the playoffs five straight times and winning the Super Bowl last season, the remaining schedule favors the Dolphins.
Two of Miami's final four games will come at home while the other two are on the road. Miami will make cold weather visits to Pittsburgh and Buffalo while hosting the AFC East-leading New England Patriots and New York Jets. Miami can tie last season's win total with one victory in its final four games and can avoid a losing season for the first time since 2008 by closing the year 2-2.