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Mailbag: Week 18 Dolphins vs Patriots

It's the end of the week and that means it's time to answer your questions! The Dolphins are running it back at Hard Rock Stadium one last time this season against the New England Patriots, and as we do weekly, we want to hear from you!

We'll dive into three questions posed on the weekly Twitter thread (can be found on the timeline of @WingfieldNFL). We also answer a handful of your questions on the Friday edition of Drive Time with Travis Wingfield, your daily podcast on the Miami Dolphins podcast network.

Q: @miamikid88 - What is Miami missing to make the playoffs and be a Super Bowl contender?

A: The NFL is a funny league; 32 participants and only one gets to end the season on a happy note. What's more, just about every world champion has followed a different path to reach the mountain top. The same can be said of the 14 different playoff clubs each year.

I think it comes down to finding multiple ways to win. Adding to the cruelty of my first sentence in the opening paragraph of this response -- sometimes the razor-thin margin between the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat comes down to the way the football bounces. Most games come down to four or five critical plays that influence the final score.

With that variability, the best approach is to have as many ways to win as possible. Over a 17-game season, it's unreasonable to expect any one unit to hit peak performance in each showing, or even most of them. The best teams can win one way in a given week and then pivot and capture victory in different fashion the following game. I liken it to starting pitchers in baseball. They get roughly 30 starts per season and the old adage say they will have the A-plus stuff for 10 of them, average stuff for another 10, and then just not have it on that day for the remaining 10. I think, with some tinkering, the same theory can be applied in football.

So, for Miami, they have to run the football better. That's a collection of everybody, every unit on offense, performing higher. The passing game needs to be more explosive and consistent -- that's incumbent of the protection, the quarterback and the pass catchers.

Then, the defense needs to display more week-to-week consistency. The defense certainly held up its end of the bargain during the seven-game winning streak, but maintaining that level of performance between Weeks 1-8 and then again in the Week 17 game is the next step.

It's a team effort and everyone has to get better for the Dolphins to take the next step.

Finally, oftentimes the most a team can improve year-to-year is within their own roster. Consider the leaps we've seen guys like Christian Wilkins, Andrew Van Ginkel, Robert Hunt and so many others take through the first few years of their respective careers. The Dolphins have a young team full of green players who will only improve with more seasoning and experience.

Q: @WadeTripp1 - What do you need to see in this last game aside from a win to help carry you through the off season?

A: The previous question applies here -- it's easier to accept unfavorable results with the context of how difficult it is to win each week in the NFL. What keeps the anticipation rolling right into the offseason, for me at least, is knowing that the Dolphins are well-positioned to identify and address the primary causes that led the team to come up just short in some of those coin flip type of games.

As for the Patriots game, it would be nice to see the offense consistently execute in both the run game and some of the traditional drop-back game that we saw Sunday in Nashville. There were some opportunities in that regard and correcting those errors one week later would be awfully encouraging.

I'm also excited to see how they attack quarterback Mac Jones and the New England offense. Last time around, the Dolphins played excellent red zone defense, but struggled to get off the field on third down. Doing both of those things well would send us into the offseason on a high note.

Q: @mclifford36 - Who was your favorite player to watch this season?

A: I can unveil now that I voted for Jaylen Waddle as the Dan Marino Team MVP. From the first time I saw him step on the field back in minicamps it was obvious that he moved at a different speed -- and that was the pre-draft buzz on him with scouts and draft pundits who utilize GPS tracking.

But it's more than that. The way he attacks the football and has a "it's my ball or nobody's" mentality when the ball in the air is such a dangerous pairing with his speed and suddenness. The proof is in the pudding with the records he has set in his first year, and I think we're just scratching the surface on what he can do. He has the desire to learn and improve and the next step for him is to stay consistent with that regimen. ingfield.

To submit questions, keep an eye on the @WingfieldNFL Twitter handle each Thursday when the mailbag thread goes up.

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