After starting off the season 3-0, the Miami Dolphins have swum into colder waters since. Having dropped 4 of their last 5, they find themselves competing for a wildcard spot, and are two games behind the New England Patriots (7-3) in the AFC East. Miami is a bit hard to pin down. They’ve shown the ability to beat a top team like the Chicago Bears (who are 8-3), but have also been locked in tight battles or lost to sub-par teams like the Raiders and Lions. A lot of that probably has to do with Miami missing quarterback Ryan Tannehill who has not played since week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Up to that point Tannehill was playing pretty solid football. In five games played, he’s logged just under 1,000 yards, 8 touchdown passes, and has completed over 65% of his passes. While Brock Osweiler was serviceable in Tannehill’s absence, I’m sure the Dolphins are happy to have their starter back under center. Despite the recent slide, this Miami Dolphins team is not without its playmakers.
On the defense, star linebacker Kiko Alonso is currently second in the NFL in combined tackles (89), which sits behind only the Colts’ own Darius Leonard (104). Alonso has been playing very well in pass coverage this season, as he has compiled 6 pass deflections as well as 3 interceptions. He has also forced 3 fumbles this year.
On the offensive side, the Dolphins have a solid left tackle in Leremy Tunsil, that will help protect Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. Tunsil hasn’t allowed a sack all season, but did miss last weeks’ matchup against the Green Bay Packers. We’ll see if the week off will do anything to dampen his stellar performance this year. This will also be a return to Indianapolis for veteran Frank Gore. Gore 528 yards on the ground this year and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. While his yardage isn’t incredible this year, his ability hasn’t faded, and can’t be looked past by this Indianapolis defense.
For Indianapolis, they’ll be playing their third straight home game, and bring a four game winning streak into week 12. Right now, the Colts offense is firing on all cylinders, as they are averaging 36.5 points per game during their winning streak. The defense has also done their part, as they are giving up just 17.25 points per game and have forced 9 turnovers over the same stretch. There are multiple reasons for the Colts awakening from their 1-5 slumber. To start, Andrew Luck is playing MVP level football. Luck has 7 straight games of 3 or more passing touchdowns, and now has 29 touchdowns on the year.
One reason Luck’s stats are so good? The Indianapolis offensive line. The Colts have only given up 10 sacks this year (2nd in NFL and 1st in AFC). More impressive, is that they haven’t given up any sacks in the last 5 games. A clean pocket for Luck equals points on the board for the Colts. Another reason for the boost in Luck’s touchdown production is the excellent communication he has with Eric Ebron and the rest of his tight end group. Luck has connected 15 times for touchdowns to his tight ends, and a big part of that number is Eric Ebron having a career year. Ebron leads all NFL tight ends with 9 receiving touchdowns and also has 1 rushing touchdown.
As the Colts take the field today, they find themselves in a similar scenario as the Dolphins at this point in the season. Both teams are 5-5, both are tied for an AFC wildcard spot (with Titans, Bengals, and Ravens as well), and both are in second place in their respective divisions. The difference, is that Indianapolis is trending upwards, and Miami the opposite. As they meet at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon, both teams recognize this game could have major playoff implications.
My prediction: Miami has struggled on offense as of late. Averaging just 16 points over the last 3 games, Ryan Tannehill’s return couldn’t come at a better time. That being said, I don’t believe Tannehill will be able to cover up enough holes to keep the Indianapolis defense from collecting turnovers. The Colts defense has logged at least 1 turnover in every game this season, and I don’t think the Dolphins will put an end to that streak. The Colts offense is red hot right now, as they’re averaging over 36 points per game over their last 3. A hot offense paired with a defense who turns the ball over is a nightmare for opposing teams. I’ve got Indianapolis winning this one 34-20, and improving to 6-5 on the year.
Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/ Getty Images