Buffalo at Miami

Breaking down the Bills and Dolphins

Focal Point: Flutie vs. Miami corners

No. 13 ready to change his luck

AFC: Four on the floor

Inside the Dolphins playbook

Scouting report

Who you calling short? Dolphins return Flutie's barbs

  Wednesday, Dec. 30 9:42pm ET
Better Fish? Jimmy thinks so
Associated Press

DAVIE, Fla. -- Jimmy Johnson said it on the first day of training camp, he said it all season, and he said it again this week: The Miami Dolphins have their best team since he became coach in 1996.

 Jimmy Johnson
Jimmy Johnson says the Dolphins have made a lot of progress in his three seasons as coach

They'll try to prove it Saturday in a first-round playoff game against the Buffalo Bills.

"I said from day one we would have our best team in my third year, and that's what has happened," Johnson said. "We're gone from 8-8 to 9-7 to 10-6 this year.

"Obviously we're not at the level of some of the upper-echelon teams, because we haven't been consistent. But when we're playing at our best, I like our chances."

The next step for the Dolphins is to win a playoff game, something they haven't done since 1994, two years before Johnson replaced Don Shula as coach. Last year Miami was eliminated in the first round at New England.

"The atmosphere and the conversations around here are a lot better," cornerback Terrell Buckley said. "Everybody's thinking we're better, and we are better. Now all we have to do is take advantage of our opportunity. We're in the playoffs and playing at home against a team we've beaten."

The Dolphins defeated the Bills in Miami and lost at Buffalo. That's the pattern Johnson's team followed most of the season, going 7-1 at home and 3-5 on the road.

Miami was routed Sunday in its final regular-season game at Atlanta 38-16.

"We're obviously not going into the playoffs with a lot of momentum," Johnson admitted.

Still, he sees improvement over last year, despite declines in points scored, total yardage and passing yardage.

"We're more effective throwing the ball," Johnson said. "We're better at protecting the passer. We led the NFL in scoring defense. We're better on punt returns. We're better on kickoff returns. We're better on interceptions. We're better at rushing the passer.

"So I think we're a better team."

The biggest improvement has been by a young defense that allowed just 277 yards per game, third-best in the NFL, and a league-low 265 points. At home, the defense gave up just six touchdowns in eight games.

"We've had some flashes of brilliance, especially with our defense," receiver Lamar Thomas said. "We know what they can do."

On the other hand, the Dolphins are 3-6 against playoff teams and a mediocre since a 3-0 start. Johnson made little headway in his efforts to upgrade the running game, Dan Marino's quarterback rating was his lowest since 1989, and special teams struggled at the end of the season.

Defensive end Trace Armstrong, a 10-year veteran, said it's too early to say the Dolphins are a better team this year.

"We'll find out Saturday," he said. "We'll be judged by what happens Saturday and thereafter."

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