- Eric D. Williams, ESPN San Diego Chargers reporter
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Both teams sit at 4-5 and a game behind the New York Jets (5-4) for the last wild-card spot in the AFC. A setback on Sunday could drastically affect the losing team's playoff fortunes for the rest of the season.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, nine teams playing in Week 11 are either 4-5 or 5-4. Under the current playoff format which began in 1990, only 7 percent of teams to start 4-6 went on to make the playoffs. That number jumps to 29 percent for teams starting 5-5.
So the team that improves to the .500 mark has much better odds of grabbing a postseason berth.
ESPN.com Chargers reporter Eric D. Williams and Dolphins reporter James Walker break down the matchup.
Walker: Eric, with Philip Rivers' numbers, you would think San Diego would have a better record. What's gone wrong?
Williams: That's a fair question. Rivers is having one of his best seasons of his 10-year career. He's first in the NFL in completion percentage (71.6 percent), second in quarterback rating (72.6), fifth in total passing yards (2,691) and fifth in passing touchdowns (18). Where San Diego has struggled is finishing games and playing consistently on the defensive side of the ball. Three of San Diego's five losses have come in the final 15 seconds of the fourth quarter or in overtime. The Chargers are allowing a league-worst 6.4 yards per play. Opponents are converting 42 percent of the time against San Diego's defense on third down, which is 27th in the league. And San Diego's defense has forced a league-low six turnovers this season.
The Dolphins are losers of five of their past six games, and appear to be struggling in dealing with the distraction created by the Richie Incognito-Jonathan Martin situation. James, what's the situation like in the locker room? And can Miami's players solely focus on playing against San Diego on Sunday?
Walker: The Dolphins are trying to put a good face on the situation. But truthfully, it's weighing on them. More than anything, players are constantly peppered with questions about Martin and Incognito, who are currently not with the team. There have been reporters here from CNN, ABC News and other major news outlets to find out what is going on in Miami's locker room.
On the field, Miami lost two of its top starters on the offensive line. It's not a coincidence the Dolphins rushed for a franchise-low 2 yards in Monday's loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Dolphins' offensive line was dominated. I also don't think it's a coincidence Miami started the game flat and fell behind 15-0 early. I think the Dolphins are shaken up right now, and I'm not sure which team to expect on Sunday.
Is it possible Miami is a trap game for San Diego with the Chiefs coming up next?
Williams: The Chargers are not in a position to overlook anyone. San Diego has defeated just one team with a winning record this season -- Indianapolis. And with the loss to Denver, the Chargers are in the middle of a two-game losing streak for the first time this season. West Coast teams traveling to the East Coast traditionally struggle, although San Diego is 2-1 in those contests this season. The Chargers understand if they want to hold on to postseason aspirations they have to win games like this one on Sunday, so the Dolphins will have their full attention.
What's your evaluation of the progression of Ryan Tannehill in his second season?
Walker: Tannehill got off to a fast start during Miami's 3-0 run. But since then he's been average and too turnover prone. Tannehill has most of the tools you want in a quarterback. But he also has some weaknesses that are concerning. Tannehill's deep ball and pocket presence must improve if he wants to take the next step.
However, I sometimes refrain from fully evaluating Tannehill because his supporting cast is so inconsistent. As I mentioned earlier, the running game produced all of 2 yards on Monday. How can a quarterback win with that kind of production? The offensive line is the weakest unit on the team, and Tannehill has been sacked 37 times already this season. Both of those factors have led to a lot of his mistakes.
How much will the time change to 4:05 p.m. ET help the Chargers?
Williams: It should help players adjust their body clock to the time change. The Chargers usually travel on Friday for East Coast games, and will do so again this week. San Diego coach Mike McCoy also holds morning practices, so the players are used to getting up and practicing around that time. Although it's sunny in San Diego, there will be more humidity for the players to deal with in Miami. So players are making sure they drink enough water this week so they do not get dehydrated on Sunday. The late afternoon kickoff could help with that.
At 4-5, Miami is one of a handful of teams fighting for a wild-card spot in the AFC. In his second season, does coach Joe Philbin have what it takes to lead the Dolphins to the team's first playoff berth since the 2008 season?
Walker: An NFL head coach usually gets three years to implement his program and prove his worth. But due to extenuating circumstances with the Incognito-Martin scandal, the time is now for Philbin. How Philbin handles these final seven games and leads Miami through adversity will say a lot about his future. He is 11-14 as a head coach since taking over in 2012, which is not good enough. The NFL investigation also is a huge concern for the entire organization. If Philbin and his staff were part of any wrongdoing, jobs could be lost. The Dolphins remain in the playoff hunt. But it's hard to view them as a serious contender after they just lost to the winless Buccaneers.
Teetering on the edge of the AFC wild-card picture, the San Diego Chargers travel across the country to face a Miami Dolphins squad embroiled in turmoil.