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2 is TRIBALFUSION
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by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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We are long past meeting expectations.

 

Think back five months ago. It was the height of summer, and training camp was not yet underway. Through the various OTAs and minicamps, the Miami Dolphins still looked every bit the 1-15 mess they were the year before, punctuated by a shaky situation at quarterback. There was little evidence to suggest that anything more than six wins was possible. It was going to be another long season, and Dolfans were being told to be patient. Again.

 

Today we are, incredibly, looking at a 10-5 Dolphins team flush with victory in the coldest game of their 42 year history. A team that has now accomplished the greatest one year turnaround in NFL history, going from a single victory to ten. A team that is in first place in the division and in full control of their own playoff destiny. A team that has gone a stellar 3-0 thus far in December and has won eight of their last nine games.

 

And now it all comes down to this, a Week 17 game in the Meadowlands against their biggest rival, the New York Jets (4:15pm ET, CBS). Some thought that this game, when the season began, could have meaning.

 

Does it ever.

 

If the 10-5 Dolphins defeat the Jets, they will be AFC East Champions and earn the #3 seed in the playoffs even if the 10-5 Patriots defeat the Bills in Orchard Park (conference record tiebreaker). In this event, the Dolphins would host (host!) a playoff game the weekend of January 3-4 against either the Baltimore Ravens or the New England Patriots.

 

This is the table the Dolphins have set, though none of it will matter unless they get the job done this Sunday. It is, quite simply, the biggest regular season game this franchise has played in the new millennium.

 

Aside from the stakes (a playoff berth and a first round game at home) and the odds this team has overcome to get here, there are delicious side games in play.

 

One is the revenge of Chad Pennington, the long time Jet waived outright by his former employers upon the acquisition of Brett Favre in a desperate go-for-broke play that now seems ill-advised. Pennington was drafted by Bill Parcells and he was later signed as a Dolphin by Parcells. He rewarded Parcells' faith in him by having his best overall season. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to understand how Pennington would enjoy sticking it to his former team and Eric Mangini, the guy who, unceremoniously and stupidly, tossed him onto a trash heap. How ironic and altogether fitting it is for Pennington to get his chance at payback in this way, with these stakes in play.

 

Two is the rivalry, and what it would mean to the Dolphins, and Dolfans, to make the playoffs after their worst season by walking in the front door, by wiping their feet on their most hated rivals, on their way into the postseason tournament. It would be the greatest Dolphin win over the Jets since the Clock Play game 14 years ago.

 

Third is Parcells and his return to New York, where few are as revered and respected as he. A Dolphin win would further expand his legend, his reputation, and his stature, as the greatest football man in the game today.

 

Fourth is this emerging belief that the Dolphins have been charmed by destiny, a team that has had good fortune and perhaps divine intervention on their side all season long. If the Dolphins can win the division, the unthinkable becomes the thinkable. Just how far can this team go?

 

All of this makes for great drama. But first things first. Can the Dolphins defeat the Jets?

 

The odds seemed stacked in their favor, despite the hostile venue.

 

The Dolphins have been playing better football than the Jets for a month now. There are whispers that Favre's shoulder is bothering him again and their offense seems out of sync. The Jet defense looks vulnerable. There is immense pressure on the Jets from their fans, media, and themselves. Even the weather doesn't figure to be an advantage for the Jets as the Dolphins are now accustomed to winning in inclement conditions, having just endured the coldest game in team history.

 

So, yes, they can do it. They can (and should) win this game.

 

They'll look to do it by following the same winning formula they have all season long. Protect the football. Commit few penalties. Win field position and time of possession. Play good defense. Take well-timed risks. Coach smart and game plan smart. Remember "tough, smart, disciplined", the mantra of this team.

 

Enjoy this week, Dolfans. Meaningful, high stakes football in December and January is what the NFL is all about. The Miami Dolphins are a part of it once again.

 
     
   
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