NFL Preview - Miami (5-6) at N.Y. Jets (5-6)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - And just that quickly, we're back to the real Jets and Dolphins.
Though both Miami and New York have teased their respective fan bases with occasional playoff worthy play thus far in 2013, the two teams enter a Week 13 matchup at New Jersey's MetLife Stadium trending much closer to what the fatalists would have predicted.
The Dolphins are 2-6 in eight games since a heady 3-0 start, while the Jets have lost two straight for the first time this season while seeing their quarterback look not just like a rookie, but a badly overmatched one at that.
Still, neither team is all that far from getting right back in the AFC playoff chase. Miami and New York are two of six squads locked at 5-6 through 11 games, which means the sixth and final postseason berth - held at the moment by the 6-6 Baltimore Ravens after a win on Thanksgiving Day - is surely within reach.
So much so, in fact, that it was the Jets who actually held the No. 6 spot heading in to last week before a 19-3 loss at Baltimore dropped them all the way to No. 10 in the conference.
Miami, incidentally, is No. 11.
New York had been the first team since the 1970 merger to alternate wins and losses through its initial 10 games of a season before meeting the Ravens and dropping a follow-up to a 37-14 Week 11 disaster at Buffalo.
Quarterback Geno Smith completed only nine passes against Baltimore and was intercepted twice while the Jets managed only 220 total yards, a season low.
The sudden onset of mediocrity has forced coach Rex Ryan to field questions about whether Smith, drafted in the second round as the heir apparent to Mark Sanchez, is truly the right man for the job in either the short term (over backup Matt Simms) or the long term.
"The mistakes we made, they're not on one person," Ryan said. "Offensively, as it always does, it seems like we talk about Geno all the time and that stats are out there for the public awareness, I guess. Here are the facts: He was 9 for 22, but it doesn't paint the whole picture. It's certainly not on one guy."
Smith's 18 interceptions are most in the league and he's no longer been producing big plays. He had 17 completions of 20 yards or more in September and 10 more in October, but only five in November. In fact, he completed only 25 passes in three November games overall.
Miami has intercepted 14 passes and allowed 12 TD passes, the third-best ratio in the league.
"The precision is huge, especially when you talk about lower-percentage passes like those ones going downfield," Smith said. "It's something we've been working on. I don't think we've shied away from it or gotten away from it. I just think we haven't executed it as well as we've done in the past."
Not helping matters is the questionable status of running back Chris Ivory, who dinged up an ankle against the Ravens. In two games before heading to Baltimore, Ivory had averaged 7.2 yards per carry and scored twice. If Ivory can't go, it's up to Bilal Powell.
"At this point every game is a must-win," defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said. "These last five games, it's at the end now. We've definitely got to make sure we get these wins. We've got to make sure and prepare real well and execute our game plan and get the win against Miami. It's a division opponent so we have to make sure we get this win."
For the Dolphins, points of any sort - ground, air or otherwise - are welcome.
The Dolphins lost 20-16 last week to Carolina, the eighth consecutive game in which they failed to exceed 23 points. Not surprisingly, that stretch corresponds to their 2-6 stretch.
"It's hard to score 20, 17, 23, 19, 22 and consistently win games in the National Football League," coach Joe Philbin said. "That's hard to do, so we have to score more points."
Doing so will presumably mean running the ball, which Miami has simply not done very well in 2013, and could suffer more so this week in the absence of Daniel Thomas with an ankle injury.
His load will be taken by Lamar Miller, who's averaging 43.2 yards per game, and Marcus Thigpen, who's earned a chance thanks to inspired play in other roles.
"We've all seen his speed flash at certain times on special teams," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "He's a weapon we can use in this offense. It's going to be exciting to see what he can bring to the table."
Miami had two rushing yards in a Week 10 loss at Tampa Bay, then gained 52 against the Panthers.
"You have to be able to run the ball to be effective," offensive coordinator Mike Sherman said. "We just have to find a way to get the balance that we so desperately need. We don't have that balance right now."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Ground and pound.
The Jets will try to wake echoes of their rushing past against the Dolphins, who are just 26th in the league stopping ground gainers, but held their own against the Panthers. The needle tips in Miami's favor, presumably, is Ivory is not available.
Down the field.
Tannehill connected on a pair of long balls to deep threat Mike Wallace last week and figures to till the same ground this week against Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie, who's struggling with a hip injury and has slumped badly in the absence of previous cohort Darrelle Revis.
After titillating the fans early on, the Jets are beginning to far more closely resemble exactly what the world expected from them going into the year. With Ivory banged up and Cromartie inconsistent, a sudden stop to the downward momentum doesn't seem imminent.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Dolphins 17, Jets 10
11/29 09:28:54 ET