Dolphins season – and jobs – on the line

They should win. But Steve Ross has some decisions to make if they don't

It was in the minutes after their worst Sunday of the season, amid the cold and clutter of a silent locker room in Buffalo, that Dolphins coach Joe Philbin made the survivor's proclamation.

"Leave this game here," he told his team a week ago, "and think of the game that matters."

The options for this final Sunday of the regular season against the New York Jets are not complicated, though the team owner Steve Ross' decisions if the Dolphins lose very well could be. They should be if the Dolphins miss the playoffs.

It's a nice job, working for the Dolphins, what with the good pay, celebrity standing and healthy downtime during the offseason. This final Sunday of the regular season we'll see how much several Dolphins, from Philbin on down, appreciate all that.


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Almost every matchup and tangible statistic suggests the Dolphins should win this game. They should beat an overachieving Jets team. They should go to the playoffs, the way this Sunday stacks up across the league.

The Dolphins are an average team having another average regular season. That conclusion doesn't change if they beat the Jets to go 9-7 and to the playoffs or lose to go 8-8 and miss them.

But take a final step into the playoffs and Ross' one-word mandate for this year of, "progress," is met. Lose to the Jets, and there's no playoffs, no progress, nothing but wondering what Ross will do — about who Ross is, actually.

Ross said in team circles in November he had faith in General Manager Jeff Ireland and Philbin despite them overseeing the Jonathan Martin debacle. But would he trust them after another missed playoffs? Should he trust them after spending more than $200 million on free agents last offseason?

Think of this: Jets coach Rex Ryan has been to two AFC championship games and has his team on the cusp of a .500 season with the worst quarterback play and worst offensive playmakers in the league. And his job isn't secure today. He's coaching for his career.

But Ryan and Philbin can have the same 8-8 record depending on Sunday's game. And if that would be an achievement for Ryan, it's an indictment of Philbin.

The Dolphins have better talent than the Jets. It's more than their four Pro Bowl picks Friday to the Jets' none. It's more than the Jets being 1-6 on the road this season.

At quarterback, at receiver, in the secondary, at pass rusher — at virtually most all of the touchstone positions that should decide games in today's NFL — the Dolphins have an edge.

Yet these teams can have the same record after Sunday.

If I'm Philbin, I'm like Ryan today: I'm coaching like my job is on the line. I'm coaching to make the decision easy for the owner. I'm coaching like a win is needed to keep this great job.

Maybe it's not. Maybe Ross will stick to his November thoughts. But if Philbin loses to two limited teams, Buffalo and the Jets, on the final Sundays of the season, what's that say about him as a coach?

"We've won three [games] out of four, and we need to go out there and play our best game of the year,'' Philbin said. "I think everything else would take care of itself from there."

No doubt. It should. The one situation the Dolphins need to avoid is a two-way tie for the final playoff spot with Baltimore. A San Diego win can prevent that. And San Diego plays a Kansas City team resting its starters.

So everything is set up for the Dolphins to make the playoffs right down to the Jets having no playoff motivation.

"This is our last game of the year," Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie said to the New York media this week. "We want to make sure it's their last game, too."

Philbin should coach like it could be his last game, too. His team is good enough and its motivation strong enough to beat these Jets. It should take the progressive step into the playoffs.

Here's something else that should happen: Ross' decisions get far more complicated if the Dolphins don't win.

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