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Dolphins vs. Jets preview

11/28/2014

When: 8:30 p.m. ET Monday Where: MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford TV: ESPN

The Miami Dolphins and New York Jets find themselves in familiar roles entering their Week 13 matchup on ESPN's "Monday Night Football."

The last time these rivals met, the Jets were out of the playoff race in Week 17 of the 2013 season. The Dolphins needed a win to get into the postseason, but New York's 20-7 victory ruined Miami's season.

The Jets (2-9) are back in the spoiler role Monday and have a chance to put a major dent into Miami's fledgling playoff hopes. The Dolphins are 6-5 and must win this game to stay in contention in a deep AFC.

Who will prevail in this division matchup? ESPN Jets reporter Rich Cimini and ESPN Dolphins reporter James Walker debate:

Cimini: James, Ryan Tannehill appears to have improved and matured this season. Are the Dolphins convinced he's their long-term answer at quarterback?

Walker: Including last week, Tannehill has five games with triple-digit passer ratings. This is a strong step in the right direction. First-year offensive coordinator Bill Lazor has done a great job of pushing Tannehill to his limits since the spring. There have been some rocky moments, but the team is starting to see it pay off.

I've watched all 43 career starts for Tannehill, and this is as consistent as I've seen him over a long stretch. I don't expect him to become an elite quarterback who can single-handedly take over games. But Tannehill is at the point where he's becoming part of the solution, not the problem. Barring a complete meltdown in December, his improvements in Year 3 have earned him a fourth year as a starter. The Dolphins have bigger areas to address this offseason.

The Jets were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and embarrassed Monday against the Buffalo Bills. Do they have any fight left for Miami?

Cimini: You're right, James, they were embarrassed by the Bills, a team they used to handle easily. But that was back in 2009 and 2010, when the Jets had legitimate talent. Honestly, I don't know if they have anything left. For the most part, it's a team of proud professionals, but this kind of season can break your will. The roster is devoid of playmakers, so they can't find a spark anywhere. Once adversity hits, they crumble. This could be another Monday night debacle for them. The home crowd will turn on them quickly, and it could turn ugly. Correction: It will turn ugly.

It's tough to get a read on the Dolphins. They seem like an improved team, but they can't beat the big boys. What's your take?

Walker: I view them as right on the cusp of being a strong team, but they are still learning how to win. The Dolphins have the talent to play with just about anyone. The problem is they can't seem to win close games. Their six victories have come by an average margin of 19 points. All of their wins have been comfortable. Yet they tighten up in close games and are 0-3 in contests decided by four points or fewer. Those three losses came against likely playoff teams: the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and the Detroit Lions. Beating teams of that caliber is the next step in the Dolphins' maturing process.

This appears to be the final days for Rex Ryan as Jets head coach. How is he handling it?

Cimini: I've covered a lot of embattled coaches in my day, and Ryan is coping better than any of them. In terms of dealing with the media, he's courteous and professional, showing the same sense of humor (and occasional bravado) that made him a household name during the good times. He was dealt a bad hand, especially at cornerback, but he's never said anything that could be interpreted as criticism of his general manager, John Idzik. On the field, Ryan has had better years, obviously. The Jets commit too many penalties and they haven't been able to solve two nagging problems: red zone offense and red zone defense. Ryan knows he's toast, but he's continued the brave front -- good for the 'ol job résumé, I suppose.

This is a virtual must-win game for the Dolphins. They can't possibly lose to the 2-9 Jets, can they?

Walker: Although it doesn’t seem likely, I've learned in recent years that you can never assume anything with the Dolphins in division games. Miami hasn’t swept New York since 2009. This is a strong trend favoring New York. Strangely enough, the road team in this rivalry is 4-0 the past two seasons. The Dolphins desperately need to continue that streak. If Miami can't sweep the lowly Jets in two December games, it doesn’t deserve to be in playoff contention.

Finally, Rich, where does this team go at quarterback after the season? Geno Smith and Michael Vick aren't the answer.

Cimini: There's no way to predict what they'll do at quarterback because there will be a new head coach and, possibly, a new general manager. They have to create hope at the position, whether it's through the draft (Marcus Mariota?), free agency or the trade market.

Geno Smith is back in the starting role this week, giving the front office one last evaluation period before the offseason. The organization's hope is that he learned from sitting on the bench and that he can take it to the field. We'll see. It's hard to imagine him playing well enough to convince the powers that be (or will be) that he should be the undisputed starter in 2015. Late-season performances can be misleading; the Jets got sucked in last year by Smith's encouraging finish. They should draft a quarterback and create a competition with Smith, if he earns that shot over the final five games.