By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts Miami Miracle Worker (@colonelcomey)
Miami Dolphins fans haven’t had much to crow about lately, and might be hesitant to really celebrate their 3-0 start.
When you haven't won a playoff game since the 2000 season, "gun-shy" is your middle name.
Caution is a good thing, although history is on their side: Since 1990, 75.4 percent of teams (86 of 114) that started 3-0 made the playoffs.
Is there any reason to believe Miami will be one of the 25 percent who don’t make it?
Well, there are some causes for concern. Through three games against a standard set of opponents (CLE, IND, ATL), they’ve been outgained significantly on offense, 1,116-958, and they’re only +2 in turnover ratio. That establishes them as being pretty average.
They've also been outgained significantly in Total Team Yards Differential (-238), 27th in the league through three weeks.
But they’re also doing real well in the most important single stat we track: Passer Rating Differential, the Mother of All Stats.
We cal it the Mother of All Stats because more than one in three NFL champions since 1940 (36%) have finished No. 1 in that single indicator; 44 of 73 (60%) finished in the top three.
Ryan Tannehill has been good (94.3 rating), opposing QBs haven’t -- they’re at 68.7, a whopping difference of +25.6 rating points. That disparity puts Miami at No. 5 right now in Passer Rating Differential.
Those are the numbers you see from teams that don’t only make the playoffs but make runs -- and they’re a far cry from last year’s numbers (-6.75 in PRD, 20th in NFL).
The offensive improvement in the passing game isn’t a huge surprise. Everywhere you turned in the summer, you heard talk that Tannehill had “made the leap,” and sure enough, he has. Two of his three games were against above-average pass Ds (Indy and Cleveland), and his completion percentage is at 66.4 from 58.3 last year.
Sacks are a problem (14 so far, most in the league), and so is the running game (3.2 YPA), but Tannehill is doing his job and that’s the most important one out there.
The pass D turnaround is more of a surprise, considering the fact that No. 3 overall pick Dion Jordan has been a non-factor through three games and starting corner Sean Smith left for free agency in the offseason.
But Smith was replaced by a rejuvenated Brent Grimes, who is back to a Pro Bowl level next to Chris Clemons. And the Dolphins quietly upgraded their linebacking corps with Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler, which is obviously making a difference in the back end as well.
The schedule the rest of the way isn’t particularly easy, and with 10 winning teams in the AFC right now -- including 3-0 New England and 2-1 New York -- it's a crowded race.
That said, only one of the current top 10 QBs in passer rating remains on the schedule (Philip Rivers), and so Tannehill and the offense will have to take a mighty step back for the Dolphins to fall into Flukeville.
So don’t print the playoff tickets yet. But stay thirsty, my friends.
Oh, and speaking of celebrating, and drinking, will the 1972 crew pop champagne if it’s their Dolphins that are the last undefeateds standing?