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I keep hearing the music from the end of the first Rocky as I look over what the Miami Dolphins have in front of them. They've had the benefit of a few soft matchups but otherwise have shocked the NFL after a dismal first two games of the season. Can they hold until the final bell to secure the respect of the league? Wait, is Brian Flores' wife by chance named Adrian?

There are several playoff formulas for Miami to get in but the best bet is to win the division. Standing in their way are the Chiefs, Patriots, Raiders and Bills. The Bills have a one game lead in the division. Like Miami, the Bills have a tough opponent in the Steelers this Sunday followed by weak opponents in the Patriots and Broncos. Side note, has any offense looked more pathetic than the Patriots last night against the Rams? Talk about no faith in your QBs.

Miami will have to pull the ultimate Rocky move this Sunday and hang tough against Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs. Thankfully this matchup is on their home turf and the Chiefs may be slightly vulnerable after an ugly, grueling win over Denver. These are the type of trap games you hope for this time of year so Miami will need to be laser focused. The Chiefs rushing offense is mediocre and their rushing defense is bottom tier. Those are positives for Miami's weaknesses. Can the secondary contain Mahomes and can Tua put up touchdowns instead of field goals? It will probably come down to those questions. God help us if Chan Gailey decides to go vanilla in this one.

Its never safe to look beyond a game but if Miami pulls off the upset and Buffalo loses to Pittsburgh it will change the entire narrative for this final stretch. I think New England is cooked now that they are eliminated from any playoff hopes. I've maintained my opinion that the Raiders are frauds and very beatable. Their defense is 28th in points allowed and 22nd in yards allowed. Outside of a stat piling game against the Jets, their passing offense is ice cold. Their ground game can be dangerous, but has rushed for less than 100 yards in four of their last seven games. They also put up over 200 yards recently against Cleveland and Denver, so I won't get too cocky there. This leads us to the showdown in Buffalo...

I just have a gut feeling the stars are aligning for this game. The improbable Miami Dolphins earning the respect of the league against the preseason darling Buffalo Bills. And you know what? THEY SHOULD BE ALIGNING! Brian Flores has built a respectable defense albeit with some flaws. Can't ask him to perform miracles in less than two years. Tua Tagovailoa has answered the huge question of whether he can physically hold up in an NFL game. Nothing would make me happier than watching Miami wipe the smirk off of Josh Allen's face and making him the next Joe Flacco/Jared Goff/Kirk Cousins overrated wonder who begins his descent. When I think of what will define Miami's 2020 season it is this game. Can they prove that Going The Distance is something they are capable of? Previous seasons would watch them wilt down the stretch and I just don't see it happening this time. Not with Brian Flores at the helm.

Rocky didn't win a title in the first movie. He proved you don't underestimate someone who is determined. I have no delusions that Flores will be hoisting the Lombardi trophy in two months. Miami isn't there yet. But I want this team to punch their upcoming opponents, two of whom are among the best, so hard that they'll be whimpering "ain't gonna be no rematch" by the end of the game. The Dolphins have slugged their way through some tough games this year and have shown they are determined. They are not the merry band of misfits from 2019. This is their chance to show people they have arrived and will only get better in the next few years.

The Good

Outside of a 72-yard TD catch by Tyler Boyd, the Dolphins defense was monstrous. The Bengals had 196 total yards and only ran for 40 yards. Cincinnati had -4 yards in the 3rd quarter and almost no yards in the entire second half. The Dolphins had 6 sacks and 2 interceptions. Kyle Van Noy (3 sacks) and Shaq Lawson (2 sacks) in particular were on fire. Xavien Howard brought in his league leading 8th interception. But I was most impressed by the Dolphins having 11 tackles for loss and completely shutting down the Bengals running game.

2nd Half Tua, please let's see more of this. In the second half, Tua looked decisive and was able to move the chains consistently. It only translated to 13 points in the 2nd half, but the difference in play was remarkable.

The running game was productive enough. I can live with 110 yards on 28 carries. Myles Gaskin looked decisive in and out of the hole, but did have one fumble.

The Bad

1st Half Tua, please go away. No more. Thank you.

The Ugly

We almost had an all-out brawl on the field and Brian Flores may have been leading the way on that while standing up for Jakeem Grant, who was illegally hit by Mike Thomas while trying to field a punt. It was nice to see a head coach with balls for once, but we also need one that maintains his cool.

Overall

The Dolphins are well-positioned to make the playoffs, sitting at 8-4 (their best record since 2003) and deep in the thick of the wildcard race.... except for the fact that they play the defending Superbowl champs, the surging Patriots, the competitive Raiders and the tough rival Bills over the next four weeks. The Dolphins will need to buck up significantly, in stopping the run, in moving the ball and in a lot of other areas to make the playoffs. 2nd half Tua will need to stay permanently. There are no gimmes.

I personally think the Dolphins will fall short. Despite their record, the talent flaws on this team are apparent and good teams will exploit them. Here is to hoping I am wrong.

Phinfever, Miami Dolphins, Rich RodriguezThe Good

The Defense only allowed 3 points (in two games) against the Jets. Held the Jets offense under 300 yards, 3 of 13 on third downs, had 3 sacks and 2 interceptions. Xavien Howard continues intercepting passes at a high rate.

Devante Parker had a big game (something he seems to do more of when Fitz is the QB).

The running game was decently productive, gaining 104 yards on 25 carries.

The Bad

The offensive line struggled in pass protection, allowing 4 sacks.

The offense fumbled 4 times, losing 2 of them.

The Ugly

As much of a mixed bag as Fitzpatrick is, the offense is clearly more productive with him under center at this point. Obviously all of the caveats exist for Tua being a rookie QB who didn't play football for a year. It would be nice to see him improve when he returns, though.

Overall

The Dolphins are right in the mix of the wildcard. They have one more "easy" game next week against the Bengals before the schedule toughens up considerably. But the Dolphins are a team full of holes and don't show the strengths that take teams deep into the playoffs such as run defense, running the ball or elite QB play that masks these issues. As happy as we should be with the progress from Flores in year 1, there are still a lot of questions that remain unanswered. The next few weeks will give us a clearer picture of how far we are from being real contenders.

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