A year after going 1-15, Miami won the AFC East for its first division title since 2000. The Dolphins, who were 0-13 in 2007 before beating Baltimore 22-16, won their final five games of 2008 to become just the second team in NFL history to post a 10-win improvement.
Miami's unlikely turnaround came after an overhaul in the offseason under the guidance of Bill Parcells, who was named executive vice president of football operations. Under new coach Tony Sparano, who took over for Cam Cameron -- now the offensive coordinator for the Ravens -- the Dolphins still got off to a rough start, losing four of their first six games, but after a 27-13 loss at home to the Ravens on Oct. 19, things rapidly began to improve.
"It's a great accomplishment. With it comes more motivation to keep winning games."
Quarterback Chad Pennington deserves much of the credit for the turnaround, and on Wednesday he was named the AP's 2008 NFL Comeback Player of the Year -- the second time in three years he's received the award.
"He's vital to this team, he really is," Sparano said. "With Chad coming in here and doing what he's done right now and bringing a bunch of people together, these young players, what he's brought to them from a leadership standpoint."
"Underdog, not, one way or the other, we kind of feel like we know where we stand," Sparano said. "What I mean by that is I think the more we keep doing what we're doing, the more credibility that we get with our opponents, but still I think people look at you and they're still not sure one way or the other, but we have every right to be where we are right now in this ballgame."
AFC wild-card breakdown
Like the Dolphins, the Ravens' turnaround comes in part due to the success of their quarterback. Joe Flacco was the 18th overall pick in this year's draft out of the University of Delaware and originally expected to back up Kyle Boller. However, Boller was placed on injured reserve before the season due to a shoulder injury, pressing Flacco into the starting spot.
He responded like a seasoned veteran, completing 60 percent of his passes for 2,971 yards and 14 TDs with 12 interceptions.
"Joe has come a long way. It's like night and day," Boller said. "Seeing him now, he's ready for the playoffs."
"The Miami game was a turning point. We all bought into that brotherhood of fighting," offensive tackle Willie Anderson said. "Everything was against us."
Unlike Pennington, who has some postseason experience, Flacco's rookie status has the Ravens leaning one of the league's best defenses to help guide them in the playoffs. Baltimore, which was second in yards allowed (277.1) and third in scoring defense (15.3), held three of its final six opponents to 10 points or less.
As the six seed, Baltimore must play all of its playoff games on the road, but the Ravens have won five of their last six road games, outscoring opponents by an average of 12 points.
Baltimore has lost its last three playoff games since winning at Miami in the 2002 wild-card game.
"Our team's prepared for anything right now," said first-year coach John Harbaugh. "Our team feels very confident in any kind of circumstance or situation they would face.
Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press