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The Miami Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars may not seem like rivals to many, but they are in many ways. The Dolphins and the Jaguars both call Florida home and the matchup represents a very natural rivalry that many Floridians are all too aware of. Simply put, it represents a battle between North Florida and South Florida. A rivalry that has been represented on the collegiate level for decades but not as harshly in the NFL.
The Jaguars entered the NFL in 1995 and have only played the Dolphins eight times (not counting the preseason), but the series has had its moments. Interestingly, many older Jaguar fans were once Dolphin fans before Jacksonville had a team. In-state bragging rights are always on the line when these two teams meet.
By the time the Dolphins and the Jaguars first met in 1998, the infant Jaguars had already developed a very good team. The first matchups between the teams would go the Jaguars’ way in a 28-21 win and Jacksonville would dominate the early years of the series. Nothing made that clearer than the teams’ playoff matchup in 1999. It was the only ever playoff meeting between the in-state rivals and the Jaguars made sure that it would be historic. The teams had both began that season with 7-1 records before they went in opposite directions. Jacksonville ended 14-2 while the Fins backed into the playoffs at 9-7. They met in the divisional round in front of a packed stadium of Jaguar fans the Dolphins were demolished 62-7. That is not a misprint, and it really was every bit as bad as the score suggests. It would be head coach Jimmy Johnson’s last game in the NFL as well as the legend Dan Marino’s. That playoff defeat stung, and it was never the way that Marino or Johnson should have ended their great careers. It is a moment that is not mentioned among Dolphins fans and a true blemish on the history of the franchise.
The Dolphins would finally beat the Jags in 2003 but Miami truly did not start doing well in the series until close to a decade later. The record between the teams now stands at 4-4, with Jacksonville winning in an upset in 2015 after three successive Dolphin wins. At the beginning of the season, this year’s matchup seemed like it could possibly be flexed to a primetime spot. Jacksonville’s problems and Miami’s inconsistency prevented that from happening. Still, this matchup has all the ingredients to be a thrilling one. Miami needs to win to keep their playoff hopes alive while Jacksonville will be looking to play spoiler to their Southern neighbors. If I had to predict, I’d say that it would be a one-score game in favor of Miami.
When the NFL realigned in 2002, they made some exceptions to the geographic divisions. Miami was one such exception. Miami stayed in the AFC East with the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and New England Patriots. The reasoning behind Miami being kept in the AFC East was their historic rivalries with the Jets and Bills as well as their history of being the best team in the AFC East historically (the Patriots had not become a dynasty yet). The Baltimore Ravens would have made more sense geographically for placement in the AFC East, with Miami moving to the new AFC South, but that never happened.
Had Miami been placed in the South Division, they would have been division rivals with Jacksonville and met twice a year. An in-state rivalry with regular matchups could have been just what the doctor ordered for both teams. Instead, Miami has been stuck behind the Patriots in the AFC East for the past 16 years while Jacksonville has been in the same situation with the Indianapolis Colts (who would have been in the AFC North otherwise).
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Jalen Ramsey: The 2016 NFL Draft was very cornerback heavy and Jacksonville took the first one off the board when they took Jalen Ramsey with the fifth overall pick. Coming out of Florida State, Ramsey immediately made a name for himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league. He has appeared in the Pro Bowl and has nine career interceptions to his name. Ramsey has a way of getting under wide receivers’ skin and will no doubt be a problem for Ryan Tannehill and the Miami Dolphins’ offense.
Xavien Howard: After Ramsey, four other cornerbacks were drafted in the first round of the 2016 draft but none of them has been as good as Xavien Howard, who the Dolphins drafted 38th overall. Howard’s 11 career interceptions are better than Ramsey’s total and he is the current league leader in the category. He has just been selected to the Pro Bowl and will look to return from an injury against the Jaguars with hopes of picking up where he left off. Perhaps the most compelling part of the Miami-Jacksonville rivalry is that they will showcase these special young talents on their respective defenses.