THE CRYSTAL BALL

The Dolphins find themselves at a crossroads as they head to Tennessee for a battle against the Titans, where a loss could leave them having to scrap just to make the playoffs and a win could re-establish them as strong contenders in the AFC. Here's how we think the game will unfold.

It is indeed a very difficult assignment for a team that hasn't shown the ability to beat a quality opponent or win a close game this season.

The Dolphins' five victories this season have come against the Jets, Bills, Giants, Jaguars and Chargers are those teams, respectively, are 2-6, 4-4, 4-4, 1-7 and 1-7.

The Dolphins have played two teams with winning records and lost both games, to the Patriots and Colts.

The Dolphins also haven't done well in close games, going 0-3 in games decided by six points or less.

So there are two ways of looking at this. The optimistic view is that the Dolphins are three plays from being 8-0. The pessimistic view is the Dolphins are a mediocre team that can never come up with the big play.

One reason for optimism Sunday is the fact the Dolphins have played well against the Oilers/Titans of late, winning the last five games.

Titans coach Jeff Fisher and quarterback Steve McNair have never beaten the Dolphins.

But Tennessee probably has never played as well coming into a Miami game as the Titans are playing right now.

The Titans have scored 30 points or more in each of their last five games, and McNair is by far the biggest reason.

The Tennessee running game has become anemic, and it wouldn't figure to go anywhere against the Dolphins' tough run defense.

In fact, the biggest running threat for the Dolphins will be McNair's scrambling.

But it's McNair's passing the Dolphins have to be most concerned about. The Titans don't have a lot of marquee receivers, but they have some guys who can do some damage, starting with Derrick Mason but also including rookie Tyrone Calico.

The Titans receivers have a size advantage over the Dolphins defensive backs, and the Dolphins' task will be made that much more difficult if Patrick Surtain can't play because of an ankle injury.

The Dolphins really need for defensive ends Jason Taylor and Adewale Ogunleye to get pressure on McNair in this game.

On the flip side, the Dolphins need to keep Jevon Kearse and Kevin Carter off Brian Griese.

After what happened against Indy, it would be a shock if the Dolphins didn't give a lot of help to rookie left tackle Wade Smith.

Griese threw the ball well against the Colts, but he needs to be more careful with the ball if he does get sacked.

This game probably will come down to Griese's ability to make plays in the passing game because the Dolphins running game has stalled and it doesn't figure to get healthy against the top-ranked run defense in the league.

The Dolphins haven't gotten blown out all season, and we don't see it happening in this game. We also don't see Tennessee putting up 30 points, but the injuries to Surtain and Zach Thomas (groin) won't help, even though if both those guys wind up playing.

This has the makings of another close loss for the Dolphins, but it's certainly a winnable game.

The call: Titans 23, Dolphins 20.


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