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Just How Bad Are the Miami Dolphins?

The Miami Dolphins lost on Monday night. Again. That makes them 0-7 on the season.

It says something about the Dolphins’ performances this year that even when they took a surprise 14-0 lead on the Steelers in the first quarter — Pittsburgh fans booed the home team, an act quarterback Mason Rudolph said was justified given the early going — few thought Miami would actually hang on and win. Sure enough, the Dolphins did not score again and lost, 27-14.

The Dolphins seemed to have given up on the season long before Monday night, but the exact timing of that decision remains in dispute. Tuesday’s trade for cornerback Aqib Talib, who is on the injured reserve list, reportedly involved swapping a sixth-round pick for a fifth-rounder, a move that seems to lay bare the team’s strategy of collecting assets.

But some would say the team forfeited way earlier, when it traded away left tackle Laremy Tunsil and wide receiver Kenny Stills to the Houston Texans for picks before the first regular season game. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick was sent to the Steelers in September (he had two interceptions on Monday) and running back Kenyan Drake got traded to the Arizona Cardinals for a conditional draft pick this week.

All that talent leaving has caused plenty of speculation that the Dolphins are losing now to set up their franchise’s future. The Miami Herald reported last month that owner Stephen Ross said last January that the team’s goal was to position itself to take a top quarterback in 2020.

Who knows what the team’s moves will yield? Anyone watching the Dolphins play this season is confronted with a more answerable question: Are they the league’s worst? The Cincinnati Bengals (0-8) haven’t won yet either, and there are some other pretty poor teams. And if the Dolphins are the worst of the 2019 season, could we go further and say they are the worst N.F.L. team of all time?

The Dolphins’ dodgy off-season moves seemed to indicate a coming fall. Despite being a respectable 7-9 last season, they were the longest shot to win the Super Bowl before any games were played this season, at 500-1. If you still want to bet them to win the Super Bowl, you can get 2,500-1 or more. (Frankly you might want a lot more than that.)

With eight weeks of the season played, the Dolphins are without a win, joining the Bengals. In the past 10 years, 11 teams have gone winless to this point, including the Dolphins themselves in 2011. (The Browns in 2016 and 2017 are the other team to do it twice in that span).

An 0-7 record means a team is bad, but it doesn’t tell us how bad.

One way to determine the quality of a team without a win is strength of schedule. The Dolphins’ schedule so far comes out a bit tougher than average: 21st in the league, according to Pro-Football-Reference. It includes the mighty Patriots (a 43-0 loss) as well as the Cowboys (31-6 loss) and the Ravens (59-10 loss). But it also includes the woeful Redskins (the Dolphins lost, 17-16, at home).

Another method to sort the abysmal teams is margin of victory (or in this case, margin of loss). The Dolphins have thus far lost by a startling average of 23 points. The next worst figure is the Jets (1-6), at -15.3, while having the easiest schedule in the league. The winless Bengals are a comparatively decent -10.8 thanks to losses of 1, 3, 4 and 6 points. Aside from that 1-point loss to the Redskins, the Dolphins’ best effort was a 10-point loss.

Last year, the worst margin of victory figure was the -12.5 average posted by the 3-13 Arizona Cardinals. The 1-15 Rams of 2009 were averaged -16.3 — yes, even the 1-15 and 0-16 Browns of 2016 and 2017 were a little better.

Other legendarily poor teams like the 1981 Colts (2-14, -17.1) and the 1976 Buccaneers expansion team (0-14, -20.5) also fall short of the Dolphins. Miami has time to turn that around some, perhaps.

Answer: The 23-point average margin of defeat is probably the biggest marker that the Dolphins are the worst team of the year, and even a historically bad team.

Good news: The Dolphins are not the worst team on offense or defense. Bad news: They are the second worst in both. Offensively, the Dolphins are averaging 4.3 yards a play and 4.8 net yards per pass, both second worst in the league to the Jets. Defensively, they surrender 6.5 yards per play and 8.3 yards per pass, a little better than the Bengals.

How about the pass rush? Their hurry percentage of 6 percent and pressure percentage of 14.8 percent are both second worst to the Oakland Raiders. Their turnover percentage (21 percent of drives) is second worst to Giants. At forcing turnovers (3.9 percent of drives) they are second worst to the Atlanta Falcons.

The trouble with being second worst at almost everything is that the teams in last tend to be at least decent at some things. The Jets defense is about average, and the Bengals offense, while not good, is at least ahead of a few teams. The Dolphins are the one team that seems to always be at or near the bottom.

Answer: The Jets, Bengals, Raiders, Giants and Falcons are worse than the Dolphins in particular categories. But looking at everything, no team is as bad all around.

No position is more important to an N.F.L. team’s success than quarterback, and the Dolphins have tried two. Among passers with at least 100 attempts, their current starter, Ryan Fitzpatrick, is the third worst in adjusted yards per pass, ahead of Sam Darnold of the Jets. In last place is the other Dolphins quarterback, Josh Rosen.

It’s not surprising that the handful of categories in which Dolphins are among the leaders are negative ones, like interceptions and interceptions returned for touchdowns. One tiny bright spot is Jakeem Grant, who seems to be good at returning kicks. He certainly gets a lot of practice.

Computer rankings almost all have the Dolphins at the bottom. Jeff Sagarin ranks them last, 4 points worse than the Redskins, and the Massey ratings also have them at the bottom. The Elo system at FiveThirtyEight is the contrarian, projecting them to actually win three games and placing them above the Bengals.

Answer: There is a pretty solid consensus among computers, as among people, that the Dolphins are very, very bad.

The good news is that there are some easier games on the schedule for the Dolphins, including two against the Jets and a Week 16 matchup against the Bengals at home. But based on current form, they should be underdogs in every game, according to Inpredictable, which tracks lines. The best bets for a win are the Jets and Bengals home games, in which Miami could be 4-point underdogs.

The preponderance of the evidence certainly points to the Dolphins being the year’s worst team and perhaps the worst in a decade or more. If that becomes the case, it might provide a glimmer of hope as the franchise looks at how college football’s Heisman race is shaping up.

Answer: Sure. The 2020 N.F.L. draft starts on April 23.

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