Indianapolis Colts are surprise playoff threats, as are opposing Miami Dolphins

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If the NFL playoffs were to start next week, today’s 1 p.m. matchup between the Indianapolis Colts and the Miami Dolphins, both 4-3, would decide a wild-card spot.

The two franchises were a combined 8-24 in 2011.

But their surprising presences in the postseason conversation — albeit in a weakened AFC — go to show that the nature of the NFL game (and impressive rookie quarterbacks) allow for such turnarounds if a team has underrated talent elsewhere on its roster.

That is the case with these two clubs, who according to NFL.com will participate in the first-ever meeting between two top-10 draft-pick quarterbacks with winning records at this point in their rookie seasons.

The Dolphins, who have been trying to find Dan Marino’s successor since the iconic quarterback retired following the 1999 season, appear to have hope with Ryan Tannehill, although the rookie from Texas A&M is questionable to play today due to a knee injury he sustained last week during Miami’s victory against the New York Jets.

Tannehill has managed to complete 59.1 percent of his passes at 7.3 yards per attempt this season. He has thrown four touchdown passes against six interceptions, but three of those came in the Dolphins’ season opener. In his last three full games, Tannehill has seen his completion percentage progress from 63.4 to 65.4 to 72.4. Familiar with the offensive system instilled by Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman — Tannehill’s college coach — the kid has Miami fans thinking their long-maligned quarterback position might be stabilized.

That would be good news for the Dolphins, who have an underrated defense, especially against the run. They rank second in rushing yards allowed per game (82). Additionally, Cameron Wake has continued to assert himself as a pass-rushing threat. He has 7.5 sacks on the season, including 4.5 against Arizona.

This combination could present a challenge for promising Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, who appears on pace to break Cam Newton’s record for rookie passing yardage with room to spare. Granted, he’s among the league leaders in attempts per game, but he has enjoyed a much-improved running game of late especially in the Colts’ previous two wins against Cleveland (148 rushing yards) and Tennessee (171). The matchup with Miami’s stingy run defense will be intriguing.

The two teams have tried for the past two seasons to utilize an underrated talent level of defense (the Colts could return Robert Mathis and Fili Moala to a defensive line that already features Dwight Freeney and Cory Redding), and the two rookie quarterbacks have played impressively enough to make this a showdown for an advantage in the playoff hunt.

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