The Miami Dolphins look to stay in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt when they take on the New York Jets on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.” The Dolphins (6-5) need a win to not only keep pace with the AFC East-leading Patriots (9-3), but also to join the pack of five teams sitting at 7-5 jockeying for one of the Wild Card spots. The Jets (2-9) are really just playing for pride and draft positioning from here out.
This is the first of two meetings this month between these longtime divisional rivals, as they will close things out Dec. 28 in Miami. Because New York’s game against Buffalo last week had to be moved to Monday night due to the snowstorm, the Jets will become just the fourth team in history to play consecutive games on a Monday. This could be a good sign of things to come for Rex Ryan’s beleaguered team, as Miami has lost five straight Monday night games. Then again, perhaps not since the Dolphins’ last Monday night win was against, that’s right, the Jets back in Week 5 of the 2009 season.
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
Kickoff: 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Miami -7
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Miami’s Key to Victory: Play Four Quarters
It may sound cliché to remind an NFL team that a game lasts 60 minutes, but these Dolphins have had their problems in the fourth quarter. In each of Miami’s past three losses, the Dolphins coughed up late leads and two of these were in road games. In Week 6, Aaron Rodgers threw a game-winning touchdown pass with just three seconds left to cap Green Bay’s 10-point, fourth-quarter comeback in Miami. About a month later in Detroit, it was the Lions’ Matthew Stafford snatching victory from the Dolphins’ hands, by way of a game-winning touchdown pass with 29 seconds remaining. But perhaps the cruelest blow came last week in Denver. Miami entered the fourth quarter at Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a 28-17 lead after outplaying the defending AFC champions on their own turf for the first 45 minutes. Unfortunately Peyton Manning and unheralded running back C.J. Anderson owned the final period, as the Broncos scored 22 unanswered points and wound up winning 39-36. It should be pointed out that the Packers, Lions and Broncos are by far better teams than tonight’s opponent. But the Dolphins can’t afford to treat any team, including the 2-9 Jets, lightly, as they need to win just to keep pace with the pack of Wild Card-contending teams. And as Miami is well aware by now, sometimes it’s not how you start that’s most important. It’s how you finish.
[inline_team_schedule team-id=05 date=20141030 sport=nfl upcoming=1 limit=8][/inline_team_schedule]
New York’s Key to Victory: Run, Run, Run
No matter how you slice it, the situation looks bleak for the Jets. Rex Ryan is a lame-duck head coach and because of injury, he has to turn the offense back over to the quarterback (Geno Smith) he benched four games ago. The Jets were embarrassed on this same stage a week ago and it’s really hard to find any aspect of the team to have a ton of confidence in. For example, even though the defense is ranked among the top 10 in total (324.8 ypg) and rushing (86.2 ypg) defense, New York is 28th in scoring (27.5 ppg) defense. An inefficient and turnover-prone offense can be assigned some of the blame here, which brings us back to the quarterback. The reason Smith was benched in the first quarter of the Jets’ Week 8 43-23 home loss to the Bills was that he had thrown more interceptions (three) than completions (two). For the season, Smith has more turnovers (12) than touchdowns (8), which is why it would behoove New York to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible. That means a healthy dose of Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and maybe even wide receiver Percy Harvn coming out of the backfield. The Jets are averaging 136.5 yards rushing per game, which places them near the top of the league. On the other hand, one consistent theme in Miami’s losses has been its struggles stopping the run. Overall, the Dolphins are giving up an average of 104.1 yards rushing per game. However, in their five losses that number jumps to 134.4, including the 201 they surrendered to the Broncos last week. Given the discrepancy between New York’s rushing and passing production, the return of a benched quarterback and a potential weak spot in Miami’s defense, it’s pretty clear that the Jets would be wise to take the air out of the ball tonight and take their chances.
Miami needs to bounce back from another fourth-quarter collapse and get a win on the road to stay in the thick of the playoff hunt. New York is in the thick of the race for the No. 1 pick in next year’s draft and has to settle for playing the role of spoiler the rest of the way. The Jets are a mess on offense and will be missing one of their best defensive linemen (Muhammad Wilkerson) tonight. Because of last week’s tough loss to the Broncos, I don’t expect the Dolphins to take the Jets lightly. These two teams are no strangers to this stage, as this will be their 13th time playing on Monday night. New York leads these matchups 7-5 and Miami hasn’t won a Monday night game in more than five years, but I think both of these streaks come to end tonight against an overmatched Jets team.