Game Preview: Miami at N.Y. Jets

The Dolphins are one game away from accomplishing the seemingly impossible, winning a division title one year after finishing 1-15. Only the New York Jets stand in the way, with the teams facing at The Meadowlands late Sunday afternoon. What follows is a complete breakdown of the matchup.

KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET

Site: The Meadowlands; East Rutherford, N.J.

SURFACE: FieldTurf

TV: CBS (Jim Nantz, Phil Simms)

SERIES: 86th regular-season meeting. Jets lead series, 46-38-1. This rivalry has become quite lopsided, as the Jets have won five straight and eight of the last nine meetings.

KEYS TO THE GAME: Dolphins QB Chad Pennington has spent much of the week downplaying this as a personal revenge game, but there's little doubt emotion will play a role in his return to the Meadowlands with the playoffs at stake. He's second in the NFL with a 96.4 passer rating, and has excelled in great part due to the Dolphins' consistent ground game. The Jets won the first meeting by holding Miami to 49 rushing yards, and Pennington isn't nearly as effective without a strong running game to support his short- and medium-range passes. ... Jets QB Brett Favre has one touchdown pass and six interceptions the past four weeks. While he isn't receiving the pass protection he enjoyed earlier in the season, he has also alluded to a shoulder problem and has been guilty of under-throwing several deeper passes. RB Thomas Jones rushed for 101 yards in the first meeting and while Miami is ranked 10th against the run, the Jets' line is far better in run blocking and can help take the onus off Favre to create plays on his own.

NEED TO KNOW: The Dolphins clinch the AFC East with a win. ... The Jets clinch the AFC East with a win and a loss by New England. They can reach the playoffs with a win and a loss by Baltimore. ... The Jets have scored a franchise-record five defensive touchdowns.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Dolphins:

-- CB Will Allen is hobbling around with a sore groin. He has been playing Pro Bowl-caliber ball for two seasons now, but in recent weeks he has been slipping, possibly because of a sore knee and groin.

-- CB Jason Allen, who has never lived up to his first-round draft status, has been a solid special teams contributor, but this week with Will Allen clearly not at 100 percent, Jason Allen has been working out in the base defense. His size and athletic ability would match up well with Jets WR Jerricho Cotchery.

-- LB Derek Smith was signed Tuesday but there's an excellent chance he'll be on the field Sunday with MLB Channing Crowder still not right with that ailing left knee. Smith has plenty of 3-4 experience and is in excellent shape despite not playing since the Chargers cut him last month. The Dolphins weren't happy with the combo play of LBs Akin Ayodele and Reggie Torbor in last week's wild win over the Chiefs in which they gave up a season-high 492 yards.

-- RB Patrick Cobbs has become a versatile member of the offense since that season-opening loss to the Jets when he was primarily a special teams player. Cobbs has been effective as a blocker, rusher and receiver in the Wildcat formation. And last week he took over the kick return chores from WR Ted Ginn Jr., who was ranked last in the NFL in that department. Cobbs immediately ripped off a season-high 60-yard return to set up Ginn's 31-yard flanker-reverse TD just 18 seconds into the game.

-- WR Davone Bess has also become a major component to Miami's offense since that Jets loss in September. He has 48 catches for 515 yards and averages 10.7 yards-per-catch. His style has been compared favorably with top slot receivers such as Wes Welker and former Jet Wayne Chrebet. Bess is the second-most prolific undrafted rookie receiver in NFL history, behind Chrebet's 66 catches.

Jets:

-- QB Brett Favre has struggled recently, which puts coach Eric Mangini in a difficult situation in this must-win game. Will he have the guts to pull the living legend and try backups Kellen Clemens or Brett Ratliff if the Jets are losing and Favre obviously isn't on his game?

-- RB Thomas Jones, who leads the AFC with 1,289 yards rushing, is in position to win the rushing title for that conference. Tennessee's Chris Johnson is 61 yards behind Jones, but isn't expected to play the whole game against Indianapolis because the Titans already have clinched home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

-- RB-KR Leon Washington's numbers on kickoff returns have gone down toward the end of the season for the second straight year. He is averaging 25.9 on the season, but only 21.1 over the last five games.

-- DE Shaun Ellis, who was fined $10,000 by the NFL for throwing a chunk of snow at Seattle fans, has a team-high eight sacks. But he has only one in the last seven games.

-- CB David Barrett has been a healthy scratch the last three games and likely won't be a Jet after this season.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Dolphins:

As the titanic clash between the Dolphins and Jets approaches, the storyline revolves around the 'R' words.

Revenge, rebirth and redemption for Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington, who was tossed aside by the Jets two days after aging legend Brett Favre came along after several good years of service, including three playoff runs when he was healthy.

Retirement for the 39-year-old waffling Favre, who once again is mulling getting out of the game. Only this time, Jets fans may purchase the rocking chair if he continues his horrid play of late Sunday and adds to his league-leading 19 interception total.

Resurrection, rebuilding and respect for a Dolphins franchise that hasn't sniffed the playoffs since 2001 and who is coming off an embarrassing 1-15 season.

Resiliency for a Dolphins team who has figured out how to win, pulling out six games by seven points or less. One week, it's Pennington and the offense bailing out the defense with their efficient, ball-control, error-free attack, and the next it's the revamped defense not allowing a touchdown for a three-game span until the Kansas City meltdown last week.

All the delicious subplots are there and why NBC didn't choose this riveting matchup for its final prime-time telecast Sunday night over a couple of .500 teams out of the AFC West is an absolute mystery.

No problem. Their loss is CBS' gain.

For the surging Dolphins, winners of eight of their last nine, win and they're in with their first AFC East title since 2000.

For the tail-spinning Jets, loser of three of their last four -- and even that victory was handed to them by Bills quarterback J.P. Losman -- win and they're possibly in, depending on the outcome of the Patriots-Bills and/or Ravens-Jaguars games.

Big Tuna in the Big Apple, although Dolphins architect Bill Parcells, a New Jersey native, hasn't attended a road game yet this season.

Tony Sparano vs. Tony Soprano in Jersey.

It doesn't get any better.

Jets:

Eric Mangini often preaches to his team about avoiding distractions. That advice will be particularly important this week.

Besides the obvious and most important storyline of the Jets (9-6) needing to beat visiting Miami (10-5) and then get help to qualify for the playoffs, plenty of other issues are swirling about this team in freefall.

Take your pick. There is the precipitous decline in the play of 39-year-old Brett Favre, who sounded like a man on the verge of retirement when he met the media Wednesday.

There are the growing questions and whispers about Mangini's job security, even though many insiders don't believe owner Woody Johnson has the gumption to fire him. And there is the belief that Mangini has lost the team.

One observer who feels that way is a Jet whose number has been retired by the team, former defensive line standout Joe Klecko. In an interview with New York radio station WFAN this week, Klecko made it very clear how he feels about Mangini.

"They haven't changed any of the players," Klecko said of the recent slump. "That's the only thing to point the finger to, to me. They haven't been getting ready for the games. The game plans that have been implemented seem to be very vanilla, both offensively and defensively.

"I think he's lost (the players)," Klecko added. "I don't think he's done a good job with them. ... This team has not come to play almost three weeks in a row now. That only falls on one guy."

Mangini said he doesn't listen to sports talk radio, preferring instead NPR. But he won't be able to block out the noise from the home crowd if the Jets are behind on Sunday.

Jets players are used to playing through boos from the Meadowlands crowd, but they also will have to resist the temptation to scoreboard watch. New England (10-5) visits Buffalo (7-8) at 1 p.m. If the Patriots win, the Jets will have no chance to win the AFC East when they take the field at 4:15 p.m.

However, they still would have a chance at the playoffs as a wild card if they win, provided Baltimore (10-5) loses at home to Jacksonville (5-10). That game also will start at 4:15 p.m., and even if the Jets don't glance at the out-of-town scoreboard, crowd reaction could provide clues to how that game is going.

Right tackle Damien Woody said he wouldn't be checking for scores.

"No, I'm going to focus on what we have to do," he commented. "Like I said, all the scenarios do not even matter unless we take care of it on our end. All we can do is control what happens against Miami."

Tight end Chris Baker agreed.

"We can't really worry about that," he said. "Our major focus is getting to 10-6. The way the NFL is, it's hard to win every week. No one has a gimme game. Obviously if we get the news that something good happens for us, good. If it doesn't, it doesn't. We're not going to just not play."


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