Miami Dolphins: Hope Or Nope?

Nope. Fact is, this team isn't nearly as good as its record suggests. Overrated? Maybe, but you can't really over-rate a team that spent the previous season flirting with a record for professional football futility. So let's try this: If next week the Dolphins defeat the New York Jets, then the Dolphins will be the worst 11-5 team in league history.

Hey, I'd love to say we've got a contender on our hands. Since week three, when the Phins spanked the New England Patriots, South Florida football fans have been talking themselves into this team.

But the pleasant surprise of Chad Pennington and a ball-control offense; the tough, opportunistic defense: It's the stuff that pretenders, not contenders, are made of. The Dolphins haven't been beating teams. Rather, they've hung around till opposing teams have beaten themselves.

Look at the Dolphins' schedule. Who have they beaten? Can we count that game against the Patriots in week three, when that team was still numb from having watched its franchise quarterback carted off the field? That is the only team the Dolphins have beaten that currently has a winning record. And consider that in the rematch, after the Patriots had broken in a new QB, the New Englanders rolled, 48-28.

That said, the Dolphins should beat a Jets team that looked awful last week, managing just a field goal against the Seahawks. Plus, Brett Favre's recent performance in cold weather is spotty. If the Phins win, they're in. And they deserve it. The team can't be faulted for a weak schedule. But if you're a Phins fan, I'd hold off on making reservations in Tampa for Feb. 1.

-- Thomas Francis

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Thomas Francis