My prediction for Sunday's game between the Dolphins and Carolina Panthers? It should be close. It will come down to the fourth quarter. It might come down to the last possession for each team.
That's how the Dolphins have played a majority of this season.
That's how the Panthers have played a majority of this season.
The difference between Miami's 5-5 record and Carolina's much more appealing 7-3?
“I think the biggest thing is for some of our games we won the close ones," Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. "Especially the last two weeks, was winning the close ones. My first two years we didn’t win the close ones. Our second game of the year this year against Buffalo we had an opportunity to win and we didn’t win the close ones. We’re in position now that we’ve won the close ones. We’ve done some things in the fourth quarter. We’ve done some things in earlier parts of the game that have given ourselves a chance to win and walk away winners."
Consider how much different the Dolphins season would feel if they had made plays rather than given up plays late against Baltimore.
And Tampa Bay.
Those were three winnable games. Indeed, I'd offer the Dolphins should beat Buffalo and Tampa Bay most of the time. But they lost those games because they simply didn't make plays late.
Miami did make plays late against Indianapolis and Cincinnati and San Diego. And the resulting victories suggest that if the Dolphins are going to enjoy any success the remainder of the season, they need to get used to the idea of finishing strong.
"We have been stressing, if you look at our schedule and our games, it’s really come down to execution in the fourth quarter and stepping up and making plays when the game is on the line," coach Joe Philbin said. "I was pleased that Sunday against San Diego that’s what we did, we made enough plays in the fourth quarter to win the game."
It should be noted the Dolphins have won two of three games and those victories brought late playmaking by Cameron Wake, Brent Grimes and others.
That needs to continue. And against Carolina, the Miami offense could certainly use some late heroics as well. Ryan Tannehill is due. A back-breaking and unexpected long run would be welcome. Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline need to step up.
That's what it's going to take because the Panthers have been getting that kind of performance from Cam Newton, mostly everyone on defense, and even Ted Ginn Jr. last week. The Panthers believe they can make plays late to win games now.
I don't know if the Dolphins believe. I know they have to get to that point to save this season.
You, meanwhile, should believe this:
The team that makes plays late this game will be a winner by Sunday evening.