Monday, November 08, 2004

Stiff competition

I have something bad to admit. When Miami was playing Arizona this past Sunday, I found myself pulling for the Cardinals to win. At this point, Miami does not benefit from additional wins. The absolute best-case scenario is 8-8, which is far short of playoff material. Fans will be no happier with five wins than they are with one.

So I’m left looking at draft positioning. Instead of studying over team rosters, I find myself scouring over possible tiebreakers for the draft. Miami is 1-8 going into the bye week. Currently, they would have the overall #1 draft pick. Strength of schedule is the first tiebreaker. Miami’s opponents have a combined winning percentage of .533. Carolina trails at .505, while SF’s opponents have a winning percentage of well below .500 (.457).

Miami has a considerable edge in obtaining the first overall pick. But it’s not a certainty as of yet. Miami can win no more than three games, IMO. Some possible traps include games versus San Francisco, Buffalo, Seattle, and Cleveland. I include Seattle because their team is so inconsistent. For me to sleep easy, Miami needs to have two or three wins going into Week 17. We also must start rooting for teams that have played the Dolphins this season. We benefit when teams that we have played win. It elevates our overall strength of schedule.

There are a huge amount of three-loss teams (12). Frankly, it scares me. If even one of them collapses and goes winless in the next 8 weeks, then Miami has a considerable challenger for #1. Provided each of these teams wins a minimum of one more regular season game, then Miami is in great shape. Miami will have breathing room when they return from the bye week. Either Carolina or San Francisco will end Week 10 with two wins. That will leave Miami and one other team with two losses.

Deep down, I’m hoping that Miami keeps Dave Wannstedt on as coach for the remainder of the season. I don’t know how it works in football, but in baseball a new manager usually means a brief winning streak. We cannot afford to have even a two-game win streak. The Dolphins must remain totally demoralized to have any chance at being #32 in the league.

Miami can actually improve this team in the off-season. Once Wannstedt and Spielman are fired, a new group can take over and hopefully pick a star #1 pick.

One-loss teams

Carolina Panthers (1-7): They have played a decent schedule and lost to some very good clubs. But I am disappointed that they could not beat Oakland at home. Looking at their schedule, I see some openings. Next week’s game in San Francisco is one that they must lose. I am confident that Miami can hand the 49ers their second win when they play in three weeks. If Carolina cannot win against SF, I see a schedule that provides for a few wins. They have Tampa Bay, Arizona, and New Orleans at home. On paper, this team scares me. But their schedule should provide for a minimum of two or three wins, just enough to get the 2nd overall pick.

San Francisco 49ers (1-7): The Dolphins have destiny in their own hands. On November 28, Miami travels to the Bay area to meet the 49ers. They play Tampa, Arizona, Buffalo, and Washington in the second half. But they key for Miami is finding a way to lose this game to San Francisco in three weeks.

Three-loss teams

Miami has some breathing room here. There are no teams currently with two losses. Barring a major calamity, the competition is between Carolina and San Francisco. But be warned. There are enough three-win teams that if even one of them breaks down, Miami has some worries.

Dallas Cowboys (3-5): Parcells should muster up another win or two.

Washington Redskins (3-5): Gibbs should muster up another win or two. And these two teams play each other once more this season. Hopefully we see no ties.

Chicago Bears (3-5): Strong performances against SF and the Giants elevate Chicago a bit. I was worried for a while, considering Craig Krenzel is their starting QB. But he’s been decent so far.

New Orleans Saints (3-5): Benefit from easier schedule.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5): Ditto

Arizona Cardinals (3-5): Miami dodged a huge bullet in their 24-23 loss on Sunday. Had they managed to win, Arizona could have easily slid ahead of the Dolphins. Thank God for the ineptitude of veteran Miami defenders.

Buffalo Bills (3-5): I’m not too worried about this team. Mike Mularkey has them playing just well enough to win four or five games. The win over the Jets was huge. The Dolphins still have one game left versus Buffalo.

Cincinnati Bengals (3-5): I don’t have much to say.

Cleveland Browns (3-5): Not much to say.

Tennessee Titans (3-5): A Steve McNair team will win more than three games a season.

Kansas City Chiefs (3-5): Enough offense.

Oakland Raiders (3-6): Win over Carolina helps.


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