After 11 weeks, the Miami Dolphins are 6-4 and fighting for an AFC Wild Card spot. They’re also 1-1 against the NFL’s elite quarterbacks, counting a Week 1 33-20 demolishing of Tom Brady and the rival New England Patriots and a narrow 27-24 loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
Now the Dolphins, who are second in the NFL in total defense, third in sacks and fourth in points allowed per game, get their crack at Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos in Week 12.
There are six games left in the regular season, but the 6-4 Dolphins are two games back of New England for the AFC East crown and will most likely need to outlast Pittsburgh and Kansas City for one of the two Wild Card slots. As of now they are one game back of both teams, and hold the head-to-head advantage over San Diego right behind them.
Thwarting Manning, who’s had his fair share of troubles in Denver’s recent 1-2 slide, could not only boost Miami’s confidence as the playoff race heats up, but prove to the rest of the conference that their defense is one to be feared.
Miami enters Sunday afternoon’s game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High with a clear cut game plan for Manning, and it’s likely very similar to how they handled Brady and Rodgers. The Dolphins totaled 7.0 sacks and another 12 quarterback hits combined on Brady and Rodgers, though they failed to pick off either of them. However the Dolphins secondary has totaled 10 interceptions in the seven games since, five of which belong to eighth-year cornerback Brent Grimes.
But Grimes could be under intense pressure this week, with corner Cortland Finnegan's status unknown. Finnegan missed last week’s 22-9 victory over Buffalo with an ankle injury, and the Dolphins relied on second-year corner Jamar Taylor, who filled in well according to head coach Joe Philbin.
“He’s a developing player,” Philbin said to the Miami Herald. “His play speed was good for a guy that had his first full start. He played decisively for the most part. I thought his fundamentals were good. I liked the ways our [defensive backs] played.”
Taylor and Grimes will certainly have their hands full with Manning, but the five-time MVP could miss some of his top targets in receiver Emmanuel Sanders and tight end Julius Thomas. Accounting for 19 of Manning’s 30 touchdown passes this season, the duo of Sanders and Thomas went down with injuries in last week’s shocking 22-7 road loss to St. Louis.
Sanders suffered a concussion after a violent hit, and Thomas sprained an ankle as Denver put up a season-low in points and fell behind New England in the race for the top seed in the AFC. According to the team’s official site, Sanders is following the league’s post-concussion protocol and his status is unclear, while Thomas said he was “day-to-day”.
Manning can still rely on Pro Bowl receiver Demaryius Thomas, but Denver is very thin at running back. Ronnie Hillman was already ruled out for the second straight week with a foot injury, the Denver Post reported, and Montee Ball re-aggravated a groin injury against St. Louis. That moves second-year back C.J. Anderson and rookie Juwan Thompson up the depth chart. Anderson is second on the team with 201 yards but hasn’t recorded a rushing touchdown, while Thompson’s taken 30 attempts for 121 yards and three scores in his first year out of Duke.
The Dolphins have already shown some resiliency to injury. Left tackle Branden Albert, who was enjoying his first year in Miami , was placed on injured reserve after tearing the ACL and MCL in his right knee in the 20-16 loss to Detroit in Week 10. Albert was brought in to help a Dolphins offensive line that allowed a league-worst 58 sacks last season, and with Albert in the lineup they allowed 20 sacks.
With Ja’Wuan James inserted in the lineup, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked five times against Buffalo’s top-ranked pass rush, but the running game was still fruitful with Lamar Miller gaining 86 of the team’s 125 rushing yards.
Start Time: 4:25 PM ET
TV Channel: CBS
Betting Odds: Denver -7
Over/Under: 49 points
Prediction: Denver 24, Miami 20