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A New December
11/29/02

Once again, the Dolphinsí season has made a sudden change, this time for the better. They now have gone from atop the AFC, to out of the playoffs, to back atop the AFC just within a few weeks. While the Dolphins have just completed perhaps the most dominant back to back performances in recent history and all is exciting again, there is still a very long ways to go. With the way the AFC is shaping up, the Dolphins could be right back outside the playoffs with one loss.

And now December is upon us and this is where the Dolphins traditionally struggle. Will it be any different this year? Well there are reasons for both optimism and pessimism for the 2002 Dolphins. The addition of Ricky Williams and a resurgent defense lead the way for the optimism. The defense has played terrific the past few weeks and seem primed to carry the team if need be. Ricky Williams, along with the return of LT Mark Dixon, has really rejuvenated the running game which is going on all cylinders now. With Ray Lucas finally looking comfortable and playing mistake free football, the Dolphins are looking like a Super Bowl favorite again.

For the pessimist in us, it is December. But this team has the makeup to succeed and to finally break that December slump. Still the return of Jay Fiedler will be key. The biggest concern is, how rusty will he be when he comes back? The Dolphins can not afford another slump while the starting quarterback tries to get comfortable in the offense like it did when Lucas took over. The success or failure with the immediate return of Fiedler could be the deciding factor in the fate of the Dolphins.

The remaining schedule can be looked at either way. First the negatives. Three of the five games are on the road, including the final two, where the Dolphins havenít been near as consistent. Two of those three games are in cold weather cities which can affect a warm weathered team like Miami. One of the home games is against the Raiders, who too are a Super Bowl contender and are playing for home field. The positives? Well that Raider game is at home where the defense has been phenomenal this year and held the Raiders offense in check last season. Other than the Raider game and the Patriots finale, the other opponents (Buffalo, Chicago, and Minnesota) are considered weaker teams and the Dolphins should win. The Dolphins have already suffered a loss to Buffalo, but have claimed victory over New England, both at home. Of the four games, the only game Miami will be an underdog in is the Patriot game in the final week of the season and that game could be for the AFC East title as well as for home field in the AFC. But this is the NFL where very little is what it appears to be. Even the Vikings can be a very dangerous team, especially at home, and the Bears have a solid defense when healthy. So the Dolphins canít afford to take anyone lightly.

With five games left in the regular season, the Dolphins playoff fate is still very much up in the air. First up, the Bills up in Buffalo and like I said they already knocked off the Dolphins in Miami. But that was Ray Lucasís first game as a starter and he was without both starting receivers. Ray has since turned his game around and the Dolphins season with it. Itís now December football, every game is now a playoff game. Thatís the mindset the Dolphins need if they want that bye week and success in the real playoffs. This team appears more focused and hungrier than past teams, only time will tell. It all starts Sunday in Buffalo.

--Killah Sith