This is it. Sunday's season-finale between the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins is the final chance for players (and maybe a coordinator) to shine.
After this game both teams will go into the offseason with uncertainty. The Jets will go into a search for possibly a general manager and head coach.
The Miami Dolphins will go into the offseason in search of answers to why this team has failed to be in the playoffs every year since 2009. Six years out of the playoffs is quite a drought and ties the franchise record, set in the 2002-2007 seasons for longest stretch out of the playoffs.
But before we get to thinking offseason and which players are going to be cut for salary cap purproses and which free agents will be signed -- issues that will be covered here -- there is the season-finale.
This is how that game breaks down:
When the Jets pass the football: The Jets don’t just suffer from bad quarterback and inconsistent receiver play. They suffer from a lack of self-awareness. Last week, trailing New England by one point with six minutes to play they have the football at the Pats’ 30. What does one do with a terrible pass attack late into such a close game? Run, run, run. OC Marty Mornhinweg got it two-thirds right. He ran on first down, ran on second, but on third-and-4 he decided to put the game in Geno Smith’s hands. Smith held the football and took at 10-yard sack. What might have been a 42-yard field goal attempt (at worst) for the lead turned into a 52-yard attempt. Nick Folk missed the kick. Do these guys not watch their own games? The Jets should never put the game in Smith’s hands if they can help it because he has in the past found a way to fumble it, or hand it over via interception or take a sack or simply throw where he never meant it to go for an incompletion. The Jets are last in the NFL in passing, 29th in sacks per pass play, and 21st in third down efficiency. But they apparently aren’t aware of this. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Jets run the football: Here lies the strength (relative term) of the New York offense. The Chris Combo (Johnson and Ivory) has combined for 1,435 yards and New York is No. 3 in the NFL in rushing yards and No. 2 in rush average. The Dolphins got a first-hand view of the New York run game’s potential in the first meeting between the teams when the Jets rushed for 277 yards (most allowed this season by Miami) and Johnson had 105 yards and Ivory contributed 62 more. The Jets clearly identified something in the Miami run defense that day but the Dolphins seem confident the holes the Jets saw have since been plugged. The Miami argument is backed up by the fact the Dolphins gave up 210 of those 277 yards in the first half and then allowed only 67 rushing yards in the second half. ADVANTAGE: New York.
When the Dolphins pass the football: There is one game this season in which Ryan Tannehill did not throw a TD pass – against the New York Jets. That stuns given the fact the Jets secondary has been the weak link in their defense the entire season and Tannehill, Miami’s MVP, is already guaranteed his most productive season of his three-year career. It is encouraging for the Dolphins that receiver Mike Wallace has caught three TD passes the past two games, meaning 30 percent of his TD total for the year has come the past two weeks. The Dolphins did not have tight end Charles Clay against the Jets in their first meeting but he has 12 catches for 173 yards the past two games, his best two-game stretch of the season. That will put pressure on the New York safeties and linebackers. Look for Clay to be a major target on plays the Jets blitz. The Jets lack an elite edge rusher so that should mitigate the Miami coaching staff’s decision to play either Dallas Thomas or Jason Fox at right tackle. Fox was good last week against Minnesota, a game Thomas missed while injured. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Dolphins run the football: The Jets may struggle in the back end of their defense but their front seven have been very good overall and excellent against the run. New York is No. 3 against the run this year and this game may get some help from Muhammad Wilkerson, who missed the first meeting between the teams and has been dealing with a toe injury for nearly a month. The Dolphins decided to settle their interior line last week by calling an end to the shuttle system they’d been using at left guard. Daryn Colledge and Shelley Smith had been switching off every two series but that stopped last week and is not part of the plan this week, either. Colledge will play every down. The Dolphins will continue to use multiple backs. Lamar Miller gained 92 yards last week, his best game since September but coaches sat him near the end of the game because he’d apparently surpassed his play count. He had 19 carries at the time. The Dolphins run game eclipsed 100 yards in eight of the first 10 games but last week was their first over 100 yards in the last five games. ADVANTAGE: New York.
Special teams: The Dolphins won their game last week on special teams – getting a punt block for a safety against Minnesota. The Jets lost their chance to take the lead and possibly beat New England on special teams last week when a 52-yard fourth-quarter field goal missed the mark. Both teams have been up and down on special teams this year, but generally the Dolphins have been more up than down and the Jets have been more down than up. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
Coaching: Rex Ryan was said to have cleared out his office recently, per reports in the New York media. So he's likely coaching his final game for the Jets after four consecutive seasons out of the playoffs. The team still plays hard on his behalf. The defense is still trouble for opposing coaches but Ryan never figured out the QB situation during his tenure. That’s a sin in today’s NFL. Joe Philbin is coming back to the Dolphins for at least one more year despite missing the playoffs in each of his first three seasons. He can go into the offseason feeling good about finding a keeper at quarterback in Ryan Tannehill. But, um, the defense is aging and never responded in key moments and important games this season. So which team ending its season plays hard for its coach today? ADVANTAGE: Even.