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Underdog Dolphins now look like the favorites

There was a time the Dolphins were a quaint little story about a team that turned a 1-15 disaster into a feel-good rebound. That improbable team insisted it had a faint and distant hope of making the playoffs and, frankly, not too many folks paid attention for a while.

Well, to heck with that junk.

We've graduated, ladies and gentlemen.

It says right here the Dolphins are not only the best team in the AFC East right now, they should win the division because they are getting better while everyone else is barely surviving the last couple of weeks.

I grant you the Dolphins cannot be confused with last season's Patriots or this season's Giants or Titans. They're not even be the equal to this season's Steelers. But the struggling Pats? The collapsing Jets?

The Dolphins are today better.

Think about this: Miami's defense is working on an eight-quarter string of not allowing a TD. The pass rush was the best it has been in weeks against Buffalo Sunday. The secondary has been solid in six of the past seven games (with the exception of the New England game). The special teams is improving to the point I don't get palpitations every time the Dolphins have to cover a kickoff or punt. And the offense, for all it's patchwork substituting on the offensive line and need for upgrading at receiver, simply does not make any mistakes.

The Dolphins lost go-to receiver Greg Camarillo and found a new go-to receiver in Davone Bess. Chad Pennington is playing better than Brett Favre. Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are healthy and the schedule seems favorable the final three weeks.

The Dolphins should win the AFC East. They should be the favorites.

One cannot say that in a vacuum, of course, so let us take an overview of the Pats and Jets for the sake of comparison.

New York is a mess right now. It has lost two consecutive games and done so in hideous fashion.

Start with the New York offense: Favre is coming off a game in which he was outplayed by some dude named Shaun Hill of San Francisco. It probably has something to do with the fact Jets receivers have apparently quit on the season.

On Sunday, Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery combined for two catches. Two catches! Last I looked the 49ers have a terrible secondary and they were without injured cornerback Nate Clements, who is their best player back there. The NYJ running game is good, but the coaching staff seems to be abandoning it way too early and way too often for it to matter. Good stuff!

New York's defense? The anchor of that unit is NT Kris Jenkins and after playing great in September and October, the man the size of a bear has apparently gone into winter hibernation. The stats credited him with more penalties (two) than tackles (one) against S.F.

The Jets pass-rush is a mirage with Calvin Pace, who the Dolphins chased in free agency, becoming something of a ghost of late. Rookie first-round pick Vernon Gholston, meanwhile, has been a bust. Yeah, I said it. I predicted it in the preseason and it is happening, Jets fans.

And with little to no QB pressure, is it any surprise the Jets have yielded an average of over 300 yards passing the last four games?

There's something stinky in Gotham and it has nothing to do with the late garbage pickups. The Jets are reeling, friends.

Then there is New England. Have I ever made the point to you that they cheated all those years? OK, never mind.

The Patriots beat Seattle, 24-21, in Seattle on Sunday and there is nothing wrong with that because the Seahawks are tougher than folks acknowlege. I predict they will beat the Jets Dec. 21st. You heard it here first. I think that team will lay its soul on the line in Mike Holmgren's final home game and the coach knows a thing or two about Favre, so watch for that upset.

Anyway, back to the Patriots: They are still the AFC's best team if it weren't for injuries. No one in the division can compete with Tom Brady and Adalius Thomas and Rodney Harrison and Laurence Maroney and the rest. But all those guys aren't playing any longer this year.

Instead the Patriots are playing with an inconsistent Matt Cassel, and recently signed throwbacks Junior Seau and Rosevelt Colvin. Oh, and speaking of injuries, Tedy Bruschi injured a knee Sunday. The Boston Herald is reporting Tuesday that Bruschi will be out 3-4 weeks. Ouch.

Anyway, the Patriots are spending the week on the west coast because they play at Oakland Sunday. They should win that one, but I look forward to seeing how they handle the Arizona Cardinals the following week.

New England started a rookie corner in place of Deltha O'Neal on Sunday because coaches aren't happy with Deltha. (I don't know how they feel about American or Southwest.) Anyway, if the change to rookie Jonathan Wilhite stands through that Arizona game, watch for the track marks on that rookie left by Larry Fitzgerald and Co.

The key to New England's defense is that first-round-pick studded line. Except that Ty Warren has been injured lately and Vince Wilfork suffered a shoulder injury against Seattle. Against a Seattle offensive line starting four backups, the Patriots could muster very little QB pressure. And if Wilfork's injury is serious, the Pats are through as a viable playoff defense.

New England's running game, never a strength it seems, is merely plodding along now. There was reportedly a LaMont Jordan sighting against Seattle, but he fumbled one of his four carries -- not the way to earn more carries. Obviously, the New England receivers are the strength of that team and that remains unquestionable after Wes Welker had 12 catches Sunday. Randy Moss, I am told, is also pretty good. So the Pats can flat out throw the football when Cassel is right.

But Cassel is inconsistent. It said so four paragraphs back so it must be true. Just look at his game logs here and you'll understand what I mean. He's up, he's down, he's up, he's down again.

It's not a pretty picture is it?

Now, please understand. I am having a little fun. And I am spinning a bit. But none of what I've just written is untrue. The Jets are indeed struggling and the Pats are just treading water. The Dolphins, winners of six of seven games, don't remind of the Perfect Season team, either. They have their own issues, but those seem minor compared to inconsistency at QB, injuries galore, and poor December showings.

So in this improbable season, it is the Miami Dolphins, the gang that couldn't shoot straight a year ago, that has the AFC title in its sights. They look like the best team in the AFC East today.