NFL Preview - Minnesota (6-8) at Miami (7-7) (ET)
(SportsNetwork.com) - Mike Zimmer is approaching the waning days of what he hopes is the first of many years as the Minnesota Vikings head coach. Joe Philbin is likely in the death throes of his three-year stint in Miami.
Such is life in the NFL where 6-8 is considered progress in one city and being a tick better at 7-7 is a disappointment in another.
The Dolphins and their lame-duck head coach will try to halt a two-game losing streak on Sunday when they host a Vikings team excited about the development of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, a Miami native.
Philbin's ultimate fate was probably sealed last weekend when Miami faltered in the second half and was doused by AFC East-rival New England, 41-13, in Foxbrorough.
Tom Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes during a 24-point third quarter, as the Patriots clinched their sixth straight division title.
Ryan Tannehill completed 29-of-47 passes for 346 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for Miami, which had beaten New England in the season opener 33-20 but saw its already slim playoff hopes dashed further with the second straight loss.
The Dolphins outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half back in September but had the tables turned this time to the tune of 27-0 in the final 30 minutes of this one.
"We have to play 60 minutes of football," Philbin said. "You can't make the mistakes that we made."
Miami is technically still alive in the postseason race but must win its final two games -- against Minnesota and the New York Jets -- and receive plenty of help elsewhere to get in.
"I believe in the players," Philbin said. "I have confidence in the players. We have an outstanding locker room."
The Vikings, meanwhile, had 10-4 Detroit on the ropes last weekend but faltered thanks in large part to a blocked, fourth-quarter field goal.
The Lions' Matt Prater hit his late field goal to lift Detroit to a 16-14 victory over Minnesota in the NFC North matchup.
Bridgewater went 31-for-41 for 315 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Vikings, who had won their previous two coming into the game.
Leading by one Minnesota went on an impressive long drive that covered 75 yards over 18 plays and ate up 11 minutes, but the team came away empty as Blair Walsh's 26-yard field goal was blocked by Jason Jones. Detroit then countered with the march that won the game, culminating with Prater's 33-yard field goal for a 16-14 lead with 3:38 to play.
The Vikings had chances, getting the ball back near midfield thanks to a big return from Cordarrelle Patterson, but Patterson fell on a fourth down passing play to give the ball back to Detroit.
Minnesota forced a punt and got the ball back with 45 seconds, but they were only able to get to midfield and Walsh's 68-yard field goal attempt fell well short to end the game.
"We led almost all the way, but we can't turn the ball over twice and we can't miss field goals," Bridgewater said. "We're just going to continue to try to get better."
The Dolphins lead their all-time series with Minnesota by a 6-4 margin, winning the last two. The teams haven't played since Sept. 19, 2010 when Miami edged the Vikings, 14-10, in Minneapolis. They haven't tussled in South Florida since 2006.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Philbin has been the definition of mediocre as the Dolphins coach, compiling a 7-9 record in 2012 and upping that to 8-8 last season before settling in at 7-7 with two weeks left in the current campaign.
A 5-3 start and some improvement by Tannehill has many thinking Miami was ready to take the next step this season but that's been tempered in the last two weeks as the Dolphins have been outscored by a 69-26 margin in losses to playoff- caliber teams, Baltimore and New England.
"Players were disappointed. Coaches are disappointed. Owners are disappointed. "I think that's understandable," Philbin admitted.
The main issue has been the offense which can't get the running game going and hasn't topped 16 points in any game during the month of December. The Dolphins have mustered only 71 yards on the ground per game this month, making the team one-dimensional and easy to figure out especially when it falls behind.
With opposing defenses content to pin their ears back Tanneheill has been sacked 10 times during Miami's two-game skid.
The Vikings' strength, meanwhile, is its defense, not a surprise considering Zimmer's reputation as a blitz doctor. Minnesota has improved from 31st in the NFL to 11th in defense in one-year under Zimmer, who is on the verge of turning young players like defensive end Everson Griffen, defensive tackle Shariff Floyd, linebacker Anthony Barr and cornerback Xavier Rhodes into stars. Safety Harrison Smith, meanwhile, is already entrenched as one of the NFL's best.
The unit has continued to be stingy despite being without Floyd and Barr recently due to knee injuries, holding Detroit to a season-low 233 yards.
Offensively Minnesota isn't very dynamic because of the year-long absence of Adrian Peterson due to off-the-field issues. Things are starting to click for Bridgewater, though, who will be aiming for a third straight game with a completion percentage over 70.0 and more than 300 yards passing.
"The good thing is Teddy is getting a lot of these experiences," Zimmer said. "The on-the-job training he's getting I really believe will bode well for him in the future and for us as an organization and as a team."
Bridgewater, meanwhile, is excited for his chance to play in South Florida.
"I'm pretty loved back home in Miami and a lot of people tell me that I'm a role model in my community," Bridgewater said Wednesday. "So it'll be amazing to see how many turn out there and get to see me play in person for the first time for some people."
The Vikings may have found something in first-year receiver Charles Johnson, a lengthy and speedy target who has an innate feel for running routes and creating separation. Johnson has quickly become Bridgewater's favorite target, snaring 20 balls for 355 yards and two TDs over his last five games.
The Dolphins' defense is talented but has stalled recently, forcing just five turnovers in the past six games as the pass rush has slowed. Miami has also struggled against the run in recent weeks because of injuries at the linebacker position.
"Part of my job is to get the team to play up to their potential each and every week," Philbin said. "To that degree, certainly I feel like we could do better."
The Vikings are headed in the right direction but still haven't figured out how to close in tight games. Figure on the growing pains to continue here on the road as Miami wins a field-gal game late.
"Right now what's relevant is getting our team to play up to their potential for 60 minutes against the Minnesota Vikings," the embattled Philbin said. "That's really all that is important to me right now."
Sports Network predicted outcome: Dolphins 20, Vikings 17