We take a look ahead to the game between the 3-4 New York Jets and the 3-3 Miami Dolphins.
In the Rex Ryan Era, the New York Jets have never swept the Miami Dolphins. Yet, the Jets have the chance to do just that this weekend in East Rutherford, New Jersey. In week three, the Jets beat the Dolphins in Miami by a score of 23-20 in an overtime win. The game was costly, with the Jets losing CB Darrelle Revis for the season with an ACL injury, and the Dolphins temporarily losing RB Reggie Bush to a knee injury.
With a win this week, the Jets will be 3-1 in the division, and 4-4 on the season before heading into the bye. The second half of the season should be significantly easier than the first half (having already played the Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Houston Texans, and the New England Patriots once, four of the best teams in the league), so a victory for the Jets will put them in a great position to make a late season run for the playoffs. Considering the Patriots have yet to play the 49ers or Texans, winning the AFC East is still a possibility. Even without winning the division, the AFC is extraordinarily weak this year, meaning nine wins should be enough to get a wildcard spot.
Where Each Team Is
Most sane people considered 2012 to be a "rebuilding" year for the Dolphins, focused around the development of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill. However, as much as it pains me to admit it, Tannehill has looked much improved each week of the season and is looking like a potential franchise quarterback. He's gotten better in every game since the last time the Jets and Dolphins played. Reggie Bush is back from the knee injury he sustained against the Jets in week three, and the Dolphin's defense is as stout as always.
I discussed this a little in last week's preview, but the Jets have continued to improve each week since the collapse against the San Francisco 49ers - the week after the ugly victory over the Dolphins. The run defense, in particular, has gotten significantly better than where it was the last time the Jets and Dolphins played, as has the run offense. Shonn Greene and Joe McKnight (assuming he plays again with his high ankle sprain) look to be getting into a groove, as does the offensive line's run-blocking. In the last game against the Patriots, Mark Sanchez threw a 68% completion percentage, his best since week one against the Buffalo Bills, and arguably his best all-around game all season.
Attacking the Dolphins
In the past three weeks, against the Texans, Colts, and Patriots, WR Jeremy Kerley is in the top ten in the league in receiving yards with 238, and top fifteen in targets and receptions, with twenty-six and fifteen respectively. Kerley's development is incredibly important for the Jets, with WR Santonio Holmes out for the season. After publicly talking about how he was going to beat up on a weak Dolphins secondary, Holmes had nine catches for a monstrous 147 receiving yards. Now that Holmes is out, Kerley is going to have to step into Holmes' role and continue his fantastic performance of the past few weeks.
Furthermore, the Jets are going to have to continue to try and keep their running game on track. Although Ground & Pound started off Grunting & Punting, the past few weeks it has looked significantly better. Shonn Greene, in particular, has looked infinitely better than he did in the beginning of the season. Joe McKnight is still dealing with his high ankle sprain, but if he is healthy enough to play, look for him to get more carries than the seven he had last week, with the bye and plenty of time to rest upcoming. The Dolphins have a fantastic run defense, however, and the Jets are going to need to continue their success against the better defenses if they want to have a shot at the playoffs.
On defense, the number one priority will be to stop Reggie Bush. In the beginning of the season, quick backs that could get into space gave the Jets fits. However, since the Dolphins game, really, since the 49ers game, the Jets have gotten much better at the fundamentals of tackling, maintaining their gaps and lanes, and controlling the point of attack. This is going to be a huge matchup this week. With LB Demario Davis now receiving 90% of the total defensive snaps, look for him to be put on Reggie-watch as a spy to keep the speedy running back in check.
We've discussed at length the absurd and completely unexpected level our secondary has risen to in the absence of Revis. As always, tight coverage is necessary against an improving Tannehill. If the defensive backs can force Tannehill into making rookie throws where he doesn't want to put it, the surging Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson could have a field day against the Dolphins passing offense.
Finally, the defensive line. With a run-heavy offense, we might be seeing less of Quinton Coples this week and more of Damon Harrison and Daniel Muir, two bigger bodies that can clog up lanes and blockers. Muhammad Wilkerson, improving each week, should do well against the Dolphins' interior line and I expect him to get his fair share of tackles, as well as a few tackles-for-loss.
Despite their overtime win against the Dolphins a few weeks ago, the Jets are only favored at home by 1-2.5 points. Furthermore, the early predictions nearly unanimously (from what I've seen) from the "experts" have the Dolphins winning this one, as well as ranked significantly above the Jets in the power rankings. I don't buy it. Both teams have improved since the last time they met, but for now, I'll take Sanchez over a rookie, and our receivers over that of the Dolphins (considering the cornerbacks facing them). The biggest change since last time is the Jets defense, which should be significantly improved, mostly in the run game. But, as always, the Dolphins will be a challenge to beat. Other than the Patriots, no other team plays the Jets as consistently well as the Dolphins. Games against them are always close, and extraordinarily competitive.
The other thing worth mentioning is that the Jets will retire Dennis Byrd's #90 jersey at halftime. If you recall from two years ago, the Jets honored Byrd (who was paralyzed in a horrible play in the early 90s, which you can read about here) before the AFC Divisional playoff win over the Patriots, carrying his tattered jersey out at halftime. Byrd is such an inspirational figure, and he has all of my respect. I'm excited to see his number officially get retired by the team.
My official prediction: 20-17, New York Jets.