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Chris Perkins: Dolphins, if they can get to the Super Bowl, would do something no team has ever done

Sun Sentinel logoSun Sentinel 3/24/2023 Chris Perkins, South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel talks with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 23, 2022 in Miami Gardens. © John McCall/South Florida Sun-Sentinel/TNS Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel talks with quarterback Tua Tagovailoa against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Hard Rock Stadium on Oct. 23, 2022 in Miami Gardens.

If the Miami Dolphins advance to the Super Bowl next season they’ll make history in impressive fashion.

No team has ever advanced to the Super Bowl the year after going winless in December of the previous season. The Dolphins were 0-4 last December.

Oh and four — that’s still startling. For me, it remains one of the most significant events from last season, ranking right up there with making the playoffs.

I’m encouraged by the Dolphins’ offseason moves. That’s real. It appears this team has a solid blueprint. It appears this team has amassed its best talent in perhaps decades. There’s a well-deserved buzz around this squad.

But I can’t get away from that winless December.

Among the 114 previous instances of teams advancing to the Super Bowl (two teams per Super Bowl for 57 Super Bowls), no team has ever been winless in the December of the season before its Super Bowl appearance.

That stat, of course, has no effect on the 2023 Miami Dolphins.

But it’s tough to ignore.

Think about it. One hundred fourteen consecutive instances. That’s more than a coincidence. That’s practically a guarantee. Heck, that’s about as close as you get to a can’t-miss bet in Vegas — a team goes winless winless in December, it’s not going to the Super Bowl the next season.

It should be noted 20 teams have had a one-win December and advanced to the Super Bowl the following season, most recently the 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, who were 1-3 in December 2016 and won Super Bowl 52. Before that it was the 1999 St. Louis Rams, who were 1-3 in December 1998 before winning Super Bowl 34.

The Dolphins’ winless December isn’t brought up to take a shot at the team, coach Mike McDaniel, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, the offense, the defense or anyone in particular.

The winless December is brought up because whatever caused the malaise needs to be addressed and fixed during the offseason.

And before you sing the common refrain of, “But Tua …,” understand something: Tagovailoa, who was 3-0 in December starts in 2021 and 3-1 in December starts in 2020, was healthy for three of the Dolphins’ four December losses last season.

In fact, Tagovailoa was playing the best football of his career heading into those games when the losing streak began with those road losses at San Francisco and the Los Angeles Chargers, continued against Buffalo and ended with Green Bay. The Dolphins, led by Tagovailoa, were riding a five-game winning streak at the time.

I mention the winless December never leading to a Super Bowl appearance the following season to reinforce a point — the Dolphins need to understand they’re more than a healthy Tua from competing for a Super Bowl berth, and understand their offense needs more than Tua’s good health.

There might be an issue with a team’s DNA when it goes winless in December.

We know December football is meaningful. Coaches tell us that all the time. So do players. These are among the biggest games on the schedule.

Teams that play in the Super Bowl have a combined .673 winning percentage in December of the season before their appearance. On average, they win two out of three December games.

Winning December games says something about your team.

And losing December games also says something about your team.

Are the Dolphins hearing it?

Are they addressing it?

Those are the things that make me wonder.

Here’s something else that made me wonder: Who are these teams that go winless in December?

Well, we know many of them.

The 1993 Dolphins had a winless December. They started 9-2, lost their last five and finished 9-7, missing the playoffs. They went 10-6 in 1994 and lost in the wild-card round of the playoffs.

We know some of the most worst winless December teams. They’re among the most infamous winless NFL teams, such as the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-14), and 2008 Detroit Lions (0-16), and 2017 Cleveland Browns (0-16). There are other winless teams, such as the 1960 Dallas Cowboys (0-11-1) that were obviously winless in December, but those are really bad teams, historically bad.

The Dolphins (9-8) were a fairly good team last season. They made the playoffs. They had a successful year.

And they have interesting company among other teams that were also winless last December.

The Washington Commanders (8-8-1) were winless last December. They went 0-2-1 in December, with a bye, before also losing on Jan. 1, and then winning their Jan. 8 finale.

The New York Jets (7-10) were winless in December. They finished on a six-game losing streak, including an 11-6 loss to the Dolphins in the finale that allowed the Dolphins to secure a playoff berth.

Tennessee (7-10) was winless in December and ended on a seven-game losing streak.

Indianapolis (4-12-1) was winless in December and ended on a seven-game losing streak.

Arizona (4-13) was winless in December and ended on a seven-game losing streak.

Chicago (3-14) was winless in December and ended on a 10-game losing streak.

How many of those teams have legitimate Super Bowl hopes during the 2023 season?

Before the Dolphins can get to the doorstep of a Super Bowl, they must first climb the stairs. It can be done. But their winless December in 2022 puts them at the bottom of a historically steep staircase for a Super Bowl appearance next season.

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