DAVIE, Fla. – The playoffs arrived early in South Florida, and you can feel the increased urgency in the Miami Dolphins' locker room on Wednesday.
Many view Sunday's game between the Dolphins (7-5) and Baltimore Ravens (7-5) as a playoff eliminator. There is a six-way tie for the final wild-card spot in the AFC, and the Dolphins currently own the tiebreaker. The loser of this matchup will fall behind a crowded field with just three games remaining.
In the past, these are the type of games the Dolphins often lose. Last year, Miami needed to win one of its final two games to get into the postseason and dropped both in Week 16 and Week 17.
The Dolphins have a chance to prove Sunday that this is a different group.
“I think we’re not the same team from last year,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “I think we’re a team that can rise to this occasion and win the football game and just get over this hump.
“It’s our time. It’s now or never.”
The Ravens are well-versed in winning big games late in the season. They’ve never had a losing season under head coach John Harbaugh. Baltimore has been to the playoffs in five of the past six years, including a Super Bowl championship following the 2012 season.
While the Ravens have a quality track record, most pundits nationally aren’t sure what to make of the Dolphins. They are 5-2 in the past seven games, which puts them in position to push for the playoffs.
Miami players made it clear Wednesday that this upcoming game will have a playoff-level intensity.
“It’s a huge game,” Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. “I think we all realize at what point we are in the season. Every game has another level of importance. This is a December game, a conference game and we’re both fighting to make the playoffs with the same record.”
Wallace knows the Ravens well. He has played them every season in his six-year career, including twice a year as a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers from 2009-2012. Baltimore beat Miami 26-23 last season.
“Definitely, it’s going to be a physical football game,” Wallace said. “But we can’t get into their game. We have to play our football game, whatever our coaches design the game plan to be.”
The Dolphins haven't made the playoffs since 2008. Their schedule is favorable, with three home games in the final four weeks. A win Sunday puts Miami in a good position down the stretch.
Wallace summed up the mood of the team best.
“If we don't win now [in December], I mean, when are we going to win?” Wallace said.