The Miami Dolphins will look to climb back above the .500 mark on Sunday as they host the Carolina Panthers. (Hector Gabino/MCT)
Sunday's match-up in South Florida could have huge playoff implications for both teams as the Carolina Panthers face the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins survived a late rally from the San Diego Chargers on Sunday to improve to an even 5-5 while Carolina defeated New England on Monday in a game that was decided on a controversial call in the end zone that resulted in a Panthers' interception.
Miami's 20-16 victory over San Diego came just six days after the Dolphins became the first team in 2013 to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. At 5-5, the Dolphins are tied for the final wild card spot in the AFC and for second place in the AFC East with the New York Jets. Both the Jets and Dolphins trail the New England Patriots by two games in the division.
For Miami being within two games of New England, the Dolphins have Carolina to thank. The Panthers beat the Patriots 24-20 on Monday night and sit at 7-3 on the season. Following New Orleans' 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night, Carolina sits a game and half back of the Saints in the NFC South. The Panthers are second in the division and currently hold the top wild card spot in the NFC.
The meeting between Carolina and Miami will be the first in four years. The Dolphins won the last meeting 24-17 on a Thursday night in Charlotte back in November of 2009. Ricky Williams rushed for 119 yards and scored three total touchdowns in the win. The last game between the teams in Miami also ended in the Dolphins' favor with Miami pulling off a late 27-24 victory. The Dolphins lead the all-time series 4-0 and Carolina is the only of the 31 other NFL teams never to beat Miami. For the Dolphins to make it 5-0 all-time against the Panthers, here are Sunday's keys to a 'Fins win:
Carolina quarterback Cam Newton is one of the best athletes in the NFL to play the position and can make plays not only with his arm, but with his legs. For Miami to be successful on Sunday, the Dolphins will need to collapse the pocket around Newton without letting him get out and run or extend plays with his scrambling ability. Miami struggled earlier this season getting Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck to the ground and Newton will present a similar challenge. Miami will need a solid day getting pressure from blitzing linebackers Koa Misi, Philip Wheeler and Dion Jordan. A big day from Miami's own "Cam", defensive end Cameron Wake wouldn't hurt either.
Run for the Century
Balance on offense will be critical for Miami to improve to 6-5 on Sunday. Carolina has one of the NFL's premier defenses and for the Dolphins to have success, Miami must find a way to keep the Carolina defense on its toes. After a two-yard rushing effort against Tampa Bay, the Dolphins broke the century mark rushing for 104 yards in last week's win over San Diego and have done so in three of their five victories this season. If Miami cannot find a way to generate some sort of ground game for Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas, it could be a long day.
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With a stout Carolina defense and a Miami offense that has lacked big play capability, winning the turnover battle on Sunday will be vital for a Dolphins victory. That means the Dolphins will need to force some turnovers and offensively, particularly quarterback Ryan Tannehill, will need to take care of the ball. Miami has yet to win a game this season when losing the turnover battle.