Week 18 was supposed to be the perfect finish to the NFL regular season with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins battling for the playoffs. Now, it will just be a meaningless Sunday.
The Patriots could still win the AFC East if the Bills lose and they still might be able to climb up a spot in the seeding but other than that, the Patriots are going to the playoffs and the Miami Dolphins are not. So much for watching the Patriots drown behind a rookie quarterback.
Mac Jones did well enough this season to not make critical mistakes and behind the Patriots defense, New England was able to overcome the ones he did. Miami couldn’t overcome their problems, or the incredibly bad start.
When it all comes down to the 2021 season, it wasn’t about losing to the Tennessee Titans, it was about the 7 game losing streak that Miami suffered through after their week one win in Foxboro.
So what are the Dolphins playing for on Sunday? For starters, they are playing to win. That’s what you do. But what else is there?
Draft slotting: Miami doesn’t own their own draft pick so a win would serve to move Philadelphia back a spot or two. Other than that, losing on Sunday does nothing for the Dolphins.
Evaluations: Typically, head coaches would sit some starters to evaluate other players on the roster ahead of the off season. This is a good time in a meaningless game to give players a better look. In Miami, there really are no players in need of evaluation. Miami has had to use most of their players throughout the season and they don’t have many younger players that need the evaluation. Maybe more work.
Respect: That fall under the “you play to win” mantra and the Dolphins are not going to simply fall down for New England.
Fans: The Fans want a win. Losing to the Patriots is never fun and Miami fans will show up on Sunday to hopefully watch Miami beat them only then to hear Patriot fans remind them that the game was meaningless.
The reality of it all? The Dolphins are heading into off-season mode. The evaluations that will take place over the next month will be to determine players that should be re-signed ahead of free agency. Players that are showing signs of developing and identification of areas of need. The team will then put in a game plan to address those needs, whether through free agency or the draft.
Regardless, Sunday is non-important in the overall scheme of things. It will, however, give Brian Flores a second consecutive winning season, albeit without a playoff appearance.