Here are the stakes for the Miami Dolphins Sunday:
A win puts them right in the thick of the NFL playoff hunt and potentially just a game out of first place in the AFC East.
A loss could usher in the Tua Tagovailoa era — not to mention trigger a wave of questions and likely a healthy serving of ridicule.
Vegas is betting heavy on the former.
The Dolphins are not only favorites for the first time in since Brian Flores took over in 2019, no team as of Friday afternoon was laying more points (9 1/2).
Sure, the Jets are a disaster and Adam Gase is on his way out.
But the Dolphins look like a playoff contender, even if their record (2-3) is mediocre.
Their losses were to team that are a combined 11-3. Their wins are by a combined 44 points.
And with the first-place Bills (4-1) hosting the Chiefs Monday, odds are good that the Dolphins will go into their bye with a real chance to win the division for the first time since 2008.
Which is totally ridiculous, considering last year at this time it wasn’t crazy to ask if Miami had the worst team in NFL history.
After five weeks in 2019, the Dolphins’ point differential was a league-worst minus-138. Entering Week 6 of the 2020 season, they’re 11th in all of football at plus-23.
“Winning last week was a good start, but we’ve got to take care of business this week, then we’ve got a bye,” Dolphins center Ted Karras said. “I’m having a lot of fun. I love all the guys on this team. It’s been a great start to the year. Obviously we left a few things out in a couple of the early games, but we’re going to continue to work our hardest and prepare and then go out there on Sundays. That’s the only way to turn any tide, is to go out there and perform your best on Sunday, so that’s what I’m focused on every day.”
Karras speaks from experience. He spent his first four years with the Patriots, losing a total of 14 regular-season games in that time.
He wasn’t part of last year’s pain.
Jesse Davis was, however.
He knows what it’s like to open the season with seven straight losses. To get embarrassed by 49 points in the opener and then 43 points the week after.
But he also knows what it’s like to be part of a team that gets hot in the second half of the season. Davis was on the Dolphins’ practice squad late in 2016, when they won nine of 10 games to make the playoffs.
And he knows exactly the kind of momentum a win like last week’s against the 49ers can create.
“It was an important [win], especially with that opponent and who it was, that was a good measure of where we were, I guess,” Davis said. “I know they are beat up as well; but actually every phase of the game, I think everybody played really well. I think instead of having one or three quarters of pretty good ball, we had a full four quarter game that was actually pretty good ball. We haven’t really played — I wouldn’t say the best opponents this year — but we kind of know who we are and moving forward, we have a long season left. I think it’s a good benchmark there to set a tone for us.”
Which brings us to the second biggest issue facing the team: When should they make the switch to Tagovailoa?
Ryan Fitzpatrick will remain the starter if he’s playing well and the team is winning. But if he’s not playing well and they lose to the league’s worst team, Brian Flores could be tempted to make a switch during the upcoming bye.
“There’s a fine line for us between carrying some of that momentum over and being excited about the way that we played and trying to build on it,” Fitzpatrick said. “The word ‘complacent’ or patting yourself on the back and being happy with last week and not focusing on what we need to focus on this week. So we’ve made this week a lot about us and getting better on the practice field and continuing to take those next steps to just get better as an offensive unit, defensive unit and obviously as a team.”
Do that Sunday, and Fitzpatrick will be the Dolphins’ quarterback and the Dolphins could be playing postseason football.