The Miami Dolphins are the quintessential average NFL team.
Fresh off a three-game winning streak, the fans might hope this is a sign they’re turning the corner. That they’re going to ride the beastly Jay Ajayi, a solid offensive line, and a shockingly decent defense to a potential playoff appearance, which would be the first since since 2008 and second since 2001. That sustainable winning is in the immediate future.
They have the weakest remaining strength of schedule in the AFC and it wouldn’t be implausible if — with some luck — won five or six of their final eight games and slipped in the playoffs as a wildcard team. And in that dream scenario, they’d still be an average football team and have no legitimate chance of contending.
The goal here isn’t to siphon every drop of hope from a fan base that’s been in an abusive, one-sided relationship for nearly 20 years. The point is to help explain that while this squad isn’t quite the dog many anticipated it’d be early in the season, it is far, FAR away from entering the realm of contender.
While the 15-point win over the Steelers was a sharp pivot in the right direction they beat the Bills and Jets by a combined seven points. In each of the past two games, they were one play away from an “L.”
In all sports, a team’s record is never the best indicator of strength. This is especially true in this game of inches. Point differential is a far better measure as it takes into consideration how a team wins or loses. It factors in slipping past an opponent with a last-second 60-yard field goal vs. flatlining one by 30. Not all wins, or losses, are equal.
Miami is a -9 on the season, meaning they’ve been outscored by nine points through the first eight weeks.
This ranks — yes, you guessed it — AVERAGE.
Technically, they’re a hair below average, possessing the ninth best point differential in the conference. The AFC is comprised of one elite team in the Patriots, some very strong teams (Broncos, Bills, Chiefs), some solid ones (Raiders, Chargers) and a big belly of mediocrity that includes the Steelers, Ravens, Dolphins, Titans, Colts, and Bengals.
The Dolphins are absolutely playing better amid their three-win spark but they haven’t been exceptional, showing no signs of impending greatness en route to a second-half surge and some courageous playoff run. If they pummeled the Bills and Jets, it’d be a different tale but we’re talking about two very close wins against division rivals on their home field.
In fact, if we remove the three points Vegas typically credits to the home team in their weekly lines, the Dolphins point differential falls to -24, relevant because five of their eight games have been at home and they haven’t won on the road. Still not convinced?
Let’s peel back their advanced metrics on offense and defense, per Football Outsiders. They rank teams by DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), adjusting numbers “to an average schedule of opponents and an average percentage of fumbles recovered by the defense.” They normalize production by removing lucky actions (like fumble recoveries).
Entering Week 10, Miami’s offense ranked 20th and their defense ranked 10th. After a mammoth return for a touchdown by Kenyan Drake against the Jets, their special teams ranks 7th. Improvement, no question, but still far from an imposing team.
The intent here isn’t to douse the winning streak in flames but to provide context to the winning trend and ground expectations for what is and likely will continue to be an average team. If they were to eviscerate San Diego and Los Angeles in the coming weeks, we can start to converse about shedding the mediocrity collar that’s been fixed to this franchise’s neck for over a decade.
Enjoy the games and root for your Dolphins but please recognize that this “hot team” is just another team.