While the attention of Utah football fans is understandably focused much more on the Las Vegas Bowl, where Brigham Young University is playing against the University of Arizona beginning at 6:00 P.M. MST (Arizona won 31-21), Florida football fans are focusing on one of the best-kept secrets in the National Football League this season - the Miami Dolphins.
Piquing my interest was a slide show published on the Sports Illustrated website highlighting the most successful one-season turnarounds in NFL history. Twelve teams are highlighted, and not necessarily in order of success. Two of the teams listed turned around from 1-15 records the previous seasons; the 1992 Indianapolis Colts and the 1997 New York Jets. Each compiled a 9-7 record the following season.
The Miami Dolphins, as of this post, are 9-5. They finished 1-15 in 2007.
In pure mathematical terms, here are the best one-season turnarounds in NFL history:
-- 10-game turnaround: 1999 Indianapolis Colts 13-3 (3-13 in 1998).
-- 9-game turnaround: 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers 15-1 (6-10 in 2003).
-- 9-game turnaround: 1999 St. Louis Rams 13-3 (4-12 in 1998).
-- 9-game turnaround: 1963 Oakland Raiders 10-4 (1-13 in 1962).
To end up with a 10-game turnaround, which would tie them with the 1999 Colts for the best turnaround in NFL history, the Dolphins would have to win both remaining games, which happen to be on the road. Kansas City is the next opponent, and the Dolphins have a good chance of beating them, since the Chiefs are 2-12. However, their last game is against the New York Jets, quarterbacked by the wily veteran Brett Favre. That could be a tougher nut to crack.
But is the Dolphins' 2008 turnaround really unexpected? Were the 2007 Dolphins as bad as their 1-15 record? At first glance, the answer is Yes. They scored 267 points and allowed 437 points, one of the worst negative differentials in the league. However, a game-by-game analysis of the 2007 NFL results tells a slightly different story. Here are the results of six of the games:
New York Jets 31, Miami 28
Washington 16, Miami 13
Houston 22, Miami 19
New York Giants 13, Miami 10
Buffalo 13, Miami 10
Pittsburgh 3, Miami 0
The common denominator? A single Dolphin touchdown in each game, even without the extra point, would have changed the outcomes. In short, the Dolphins were only 36 points away from changing a 1-15 season into a 7-9 season.
The bottom line - the Dolphins weren't as far away from respectability as many believed. And while I didn't expect them to make the playoffs at the beginning of 2008, I did expect a return to respectability, perhaps even as much as a 7-9 record. The Dolphins have already exceeded expectations. Not only do they have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, but they could even win their division title. The New York Jets and the New England Patriots also have 9-5 records as of this post.
They've concluded their season series against New England, splitting 1-1, but outscoring the Patriots 66-61. So if the Dolphins were to end up tied with the Patriots, it would be resolved in favor of the Dolphins. However, the Dolphins lost their previous game to the Jets, 20-14. So they would not only need to defeat the Jets, but to win by more than six points to resolve a prospective tie in their favor. Winning the division would give the Dolphins a bye in the first round of the playoffs and a badly-needed week to rest from various aches and pains. The various playoff scenarios are further discussed HERE. See the 2008 Dolphins' schedule HERE.
So what explains the Dolphins' turnaround. USA Today says it's because of quarterback Chad Pennington, chased out of New York by Brett Favre. The Miami Herald says it's the Dolphins' red zone defense. The Canadian Press attributes it to rookie coach Tony Sparano. Another Miami Herald article says it's a team effort from the top to the bottom of the roster. The facts are that all of these factors contributed to the Dolphins' success to one degree or another.
And while it won't get them a division title, because I can't see them getting past the Jets in New York in game #16, it will get them a 10-6 record and a playoff spot.