This Sunday, in this city, we finally get some clarity. If the Dolphins win, they advance to the final stretch run against the three AFC East teams with a legitimate chance for the playoffs.
If they lose, it suggests they're the same old re-run we've been watching for most of the past 15 years.
That simple, right?
You beat a mediocre Pittsburgh team on the road, maybe in the snow, and you will have done just enough in the last month to set up a run for the playoffs. And if it seems we've moved back and forth over this tired ground forever, there's a reason.
"Progress," is the word Dolphins owner Steve Ross stated as his goal in August.
After all they've been through — all they're still going through with the Jonathan Martin investigation — they deserve credit for keeping their season together. But credit is a Sunday-to-Sunday proposition at this point.
Progress would be making the playoffs even by a thread. Progress would be for coach Joe Philbin to take a team that has more talent than its record bears. Progress would be for this defense to Sunday against a one-dimensional Pittsburgh team do what it did to a no-dimensional Jets team last week.
Pittsburgh's one dimension is Ben Roethlisberger's arm. When the Steelers started 0-4, the question was if Roethlisberger was aging, at 31, before his time. He's thrown 13 touchdowns and three interceptions in the past five games and no one's saying that.
"We see what he's doing, we know how good their passing game is," Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes said.
Roethlisberger has thrown 18 of his 21 touchdown passes this year to receivers. The Dolphins secondary has given up one touchdown to a receiver all year. Answer who wins that matchup and you'll decide what team advances in the knockout phase of December.
And answer this: Is Ryan Tannehill ready to be the tide that lifts this offense?
Before you answer that, consider this: A second-year quarterback lost a top receiver, a couple of offensive lineman, has a bad running game and in his past five games has thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions to help his team to a 3-2 record.
That's not Tannehill.
That's Indianapolis' Andrew Luck.
All the same facts fit for Tannehill except he's thrown six touchdowns and four interceptions in the past five games. Tannehill isn't Luck. He doesn't have his talent or portfolio. But the point here is developing quarterbacks develop more steadily when good pieces are around them.
Maybe Tannehill and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman have found something of late. Tannehill has completed at least 62 percent of his passes in the past five games and his rating in each game has been above his 83.2 for the season (Luck's rating: 82.4).
Some of that is the offensive line has settled down. "I don't know how many times I hit the ground — maybe two or three tops," Tannehill said of last week's Jets win.
Pittsburgh presents an inviting target, too. Two years ago, it had the top-rated defense in the league. But it got old quickly and ranks 13th now (the Dolphins are 14th). In the pesky sack statistics that has troubled the Dolphins, the Steelers rank an unthreatening 27th.
Last year, the Dolphins had a 5-7 record at this point and talked of running the table. That didn't come. In 2009 and 2010, they were this same 6-6 and talked of making a run that also never happened.
We could turn the pages through the years. And turn them. But what's the point? Everyone's weary of the Dolphins of the past decade.
"We're in a win-or-be-home-in-January [mode] and we want to keep playing," Tannehill said.
Pittsburgh has the same idea. A week ago, the Dolphins knocked out a bad Jets team. Now they try to do the same to a better Steelers team. Progress? This is a Sunday to show some.