Bradley Chubb’s answer to what he wants for Christmas may have best captured the mindset of the Miami Dolphins heading into the holiday as the team’s path to the playoffs becomes clearer.
“If Christmas was in February, I’d want a Super Bowl ring,” the edge rusher whom Miami acquired at the trade deadline said, “but it’s in December, so I just want a win against the Packers.”
The Dolphins (8-6) aren’t yet in a position where they can clinch a playoff berth — a prerequisite to any Super Bowl run — but a win against Green Bay (6-8) in a nationally televised 1 p.m. Sunday kickoff at Hard Rock Stadium can put them on the verge of it.
Miami’s simplest path to the postseason, after the New York Jets’ embarrassing Thursday night loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots’ Saturday loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, is to win any two of its last three games.
If the Dolphins beat the Packers on Sunday and the Patriots in New England on Jan. 1, and their playoff spot is secured before their regular-season home finale against the Jets. Entering Saturday, Miami had a 78 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to FiveThirtyEight. That number increased to 81 percent after Saturday’s 1 p.m. slate of games.
“There’s one team on our schedule. Nothing matters beyond that. I don’t care about scenarios,” Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said. “The point is that you have to win a game to get in the playoffs. I know that much. We have to win. But you don’t want to get in the playoffs trying to pull yourself out of a slump.”
Right now would be a good time for Miami to pull itself out of its current slump.
At the start of December, the outlook was more about competing with the Buffalo Bills atop the AFC East as both teams were 8-3. Three Dolphins losses and four Bills wins later, and that idea has been crushed. Buffalo clinched the division with Saturday afternoon’s win in Chicago.
So now, with the Dolphins clinging on to the AFC’s No. 7 seed despite their three-game losing streak, their path to the postseason is strictly about getting in as a wild card.
The three-game skid doesn’t feel like so after the Dolphins showed some resiliency competing in Buffalo until a last-second field goal sunk them against the mighty Bills. But let three turn into four against a sub-.500 team at home, and then it’s really looking grim. At that point, you can toss out any leeway Miami bought itself by playing Buffalo tight. The Dolphins have to win Sunday to prove any encouragement from the effort at Orchard Park was warranted heading into the final playoff push.
The Christmas Day matchup against the Packers is an interesting one in how its perception has transformed over the course of the season. Given the original schedule, it was one of the Dolphins’ more challenging games after the Packers were the No. 1 seed in the NFC last year and were going on three consecutive seasons of 13 wins, although quarterback Aaron Rodgers lost star receiver Davante Adams in the offseason. As a five-game losing streak sent Green Bay to 3-6, though, it was clear these weren’t the same Packers. Now they’re fighting for their slim playoff hopes.
But even at 39, you can never count out the 10-time Pro Bowler Rodgers, who has thrown 23 touchdowns to 10 interceptions as he has completed 64.9 percent of passes.
“He’s a Hall of Fame quarterback,” Miami defensive coordinator Josh Boyer said. “There’s nothing he can’t do, and there’s not much that he hasn’t seen.”
Added cornerback Xavien Howard, who is fresh off his fourth Pro Bowl selection: “He can do it all. He still can run. He also can sling it. We got to be on our toes.”
The Dolphins defense needs to perform better as it ranks 26th in scoring defense and 23rd in total defense. The unit is third-to-last in the league in takeaways.
Miami, among many deficiencies defensively, must improve at covering pass-catching running backs, and the Dolphins will have their hands full with Aaron Jones out of the backfield. Perhaps there’s an opportunity to get pressure on Rodgers with left tackle David Bakhtiari doubtful due to knee and abdomen injuries. The pass rush is an area that has the potential to take off down the final stretch if the trio of Chubb, Jaelan Phillips and Melvin Ingram can bring it all together. Chubb and Phillips, though, are questionable to play Sunday.
“I want to be more dominant,” Chubb said, assessing his first six games with Miami. “I want to be taking over games more, and that’s kind of the reason they brought me here is to do that — to help this defense take it to the next level.”
Offensively, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle go against the NFL’s second-ranked pass defense. Green Bay could be vulnerable on the ground, however, ranked 29th in run defense, so another big game could be on tap for tailback Raheem Mostert. It would be a welcome sight, too, if Jeff Wilson is able to return from his hip injury.
Hill, one of three Dolphins to make the Pro Bowl with Howard and left tackle Terron Armstead, said he has a “crazy” celebration ready if he ends up scoring on Christmas.
Dolphins fullback Alec Ingold, a Green Bay native, faces his hometown team for the first time since his rookie season in 2019 with the Raiders.
“You look at my Halloween costumes, I was either Brett Favre or Aaron Rodgers for five years straight,” Ingold said.
McDaniel and Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur face off for the first time as head coaches after the two spent time together as assistants on coaching staffs in Washington, Atlanta and Houston.