The Miami Dolphins are in the same spot as they were at this time last year, as they are 8-3 again going into the last quarter of the season. The Dolphins have to do something they didn’t do last year: keep winning. I know, no kidding, but last year, the Dolphins looked like they were on their way to winning the division and securing a high seed in the AFC playoffs. However, they lost 5 of their last six games and got in by the skin of their teeth in beating the New York Jets in the season finale and having help from the Buffalo Bills beating the New England Patriots. Let’s hope this doesn’t happen again. There are reasons why I don’t think that will happen again. 

The Dolphins are a much better football team this year than last year. The offense is flourishing in coach Mike McDaniel’s second season. Much of that has to do with the players returning, but they are also being coached better, especially on the offensive line. McDaniel changed offensive line coaches, which has been a common theme the last five years or so, and at times, the line looks worse with change.

However, new offensive line coach Butch Berry (with some help from Frank Smith) has coached up this group very well, and it isn’t the weakness everyone thought it could be coming into the season. Berry has gotten Austin Jackson to become a competent and reliable right tackle, which no one saw coming. He’s also coached up Kendal Lamm at left tackle, with Terron Armstead playing basically three games this year and has been playing well. The Dolphins’ offensive line couldn’t function with Armstead hurt last year, but it’s the complete opposite this year. He’s also had center Connor Williams and Robert Hunt miss games, and guys like Liam Eichenberg, Lester Cotton, and Robert Jones have performed well. So was Isaiah Wynn when he started at left guard until he was lost for the season. This is the most functional offensive line this team has had in years and maybe decades, if I dare say.

The Dolphins are also committing to the run more, but the offensive line play has probably helped McDaniel have the confidence to call more running plays. The passing game isn’t making the big plays as it was earlier in the season, but that is normal as the weather gets colder and defenses adjust as the game goes on. 

The Dolphins defense is also better led by defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. The defense got off to a slow start, which was expected due to the defense learning a new system and certain players missing time with injuries, more later. The defense is starting to come around in recent weeks. They held the Kansas City Chiefs scoreless in the second half a few weeks ago, and while the Chiefs offense might not be what it has been in years past, that’s a big step against an elite quarterback in Patrick Mahomes. The Dolphins are getting more pressure on the quarterback and not giving up big plays. They are holding their own.

Plus, like on offense, other players have stepped up, such as Andrew Van Ginkel, Kadar Kohu, and Eli Apple, when forced into action with some injuries. Jalen Ramsey has been as good as advertised since returning from a knee injury in training camp, getting teamed with Xavien Howard, and letting Kohu return to the nickel. It’s a deep defense that is getting better at the right time. They will miss Jaelan Phillips, who was starting to come on, but Bradley Chubb has put together a terrific season and is showing why the Dolphins traded a 1st round pick for him and gave him the contract. 

The Dolphins outside of Phillips have avoided major injuries for the most part. However, they also manage injuries better than a year ago. Last year, Howard was not himself at times with a groin injury, and they didn’t sit him out to get healthy as well as others. This year, the Dolphins have been more cautious. Howard tweaked his groin, and they sat him for a game. Williams sat out with a groin so he could get healthy. The same goes for offensive lineman Robert Hunt. Earlier in the year, Phillips had a back and oblique and was starting to play his best football prior to the Achilles tear. The bottom line is the Dolphins are a much healthier team.

Last year, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was out. Armstead played through a nagging toe injury, and he’s hurt again this year, but they are managing his injuries. It helps the Dolphins be deeper, and it allows them to keep guys who aren’t 100% from playing so they can get healthy for the stretch run. The Dolphins have avoided the season-ending injuries for the most part outside of Phillips, and that’s a good thing as we enter the final quarter of the season. 

 The Dolphins’ schedule is favorable in the last month of the season because they play a few lesser opponents and have 4 of their last five games at home, which helps. Last year, the Dolphins had a 3-game road trip and 4 out of 6 on the road to end the year. The Dolphins have a two-and-a-half-game cushion lead in the division, so everything is looking up in that department. The Bills are 6-6 and still have some tough games. The Jets and the Patriots are bad and out of it.  

However, the Dolphins can’t take these things for granted. They must keep winning. I know the next three games, they are playing the Washington Commanders, Tennessee Titans, and the Jets, who all have losing records, but on any given Sunday, any of those teams can beat the Dolphins. The Dolphins must take care of business and should be 11-3 before the final three games, playing the Dallas Cowboys, Baltimore Ravens, and the Bills.

Speaking of the Bills, they can win the season’s final five games and should have beaten the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday. I know they are having a down year, but they still have won the division the last three years and have most of their players together. The Dolphins can’t slip up and leave an opening for the Bills to possibly steal the division. I remember years ago when the Dolphins were 9-2, lost the season’s final five games, and missed the playoffs. If the Dolphins have a repeat of last year, where they stumble and barely make the playoffs or miss it, it will be one of the biggest choke jobs in franchise history.

The Dolphins must just keep winning, and the rest will take care of itself. They must keep the pedal to the medal, not take their foot off the gas or take any of their next three opponents lightly, and be ready to play. Everything is setting up well for the Dolphins to win the division, host a home playoff game, and get one of the higher seeds in the playoffs. Now isn’t the time to go into funk and leave the door open for someone else. Finish the season strong.