Dolphins’ path to AFC East title and a possible Top Seed begins Sunday vs. Raiders

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Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) runs a play during the first half of an NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens, Sunday, Sept. 18, 2022, in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — Mike McDaniel knows the history: It’s rare for a wild-card team to progress all the way through the playoffs and win the Super Bowl.

So now that his Miami Dolphins have a 1 1/2-game lead over the Buffalo Bills in the AFC East, they want to keep it. The Bills have won the division the past three seasons; the Dolphins haven’t won it since 2008.

“The goal is to win the division,” McDaniel said. “That is the only way you ensure that you’re, for one, in the playoffs, you have a home game in the playoffs and you set yourself up for a journey, not a game.”

The Dolphins (6-3) are in position to reach that goal. Their offense leads the league in several statistical categories.

The second half of Miami’s season starts Sunday when it hosts Las Vegas (5-5), a team two games removed from firing its coach.

Antonio Pierce, the Raiders’ interim coach, has appeared to energize the locker room and has Las Vegas on a two-game winning streak with victories over the Giants and Jets.

“The thing that I always notice when it does occur, when you have a coaching change and then have immediate success followed by another game of success, is that the locker room feels some energy,” McDaniel said. “It galvanizes people. It brings people together. No one likes to say bye to people that they know and work with. I don’t care what you say. Even if you’re going through hard times, it’s tough to say goodbye to people.”

The Raiders have a tough task against the Dolphins, who are one of three teams who haven’t lost at home this season (Dallas and Philadelphia are the others).

“You got a little bit more of the burden to make sure you’re handling your business,” said Davante Adams, who leads the Raiders with 659 yards receiving. “What we did last week is not necessarily going to work on paper against these guys. If our defense goes out and handle their business and we keep coming off the field, that doesn’t make it easy.”

A GROWING CONNECTION

When Raiders rookie quarterback Aidan O’Connell was first getting to know his teammates, the veteran receiver Adams could sense his timidity.

“It’s always funny coming in and you see the young guys come in and they come and play with me,” Adams said, “whether it’s D-linemen or whatever, they always look a little different at me when they’re walking through the hallways, and he’d been like that for a while.”

The quarterback and receiver are developing a close relationship since O’Connell made his first NFL start over a month ago. Now, O’Connell said he considers Adams someone who is “easy to talk to” and who he enjoys joking around with.

O’Connell and Adams’ connection is also translating on the field. Adams was targeted 13 times against the Jets last week and caught six passes for 86 yards — his highest yardage total since Week 3. Three of O’Connell’s first four passes went to Adams.

“It just allows the number one receiver to feel a little bit more welcomed into it and warm up the hands early,” Adams said. “It’s not easy catching the ball when you haven’t seen one in 30 minutes. So, it’s something that I definitely like and look forward to doing moving forward.”

MAKING PLAYS

Linebacker Robert Spillane leads Las Vegas with three interceptions.

Not bad for someone whose ability to cover receivers was considered a weakness when he played for Pittsburgh.

Pierce, who coached linebackers before being elevated to interim coach, worked with Spillane after the Raiders signed him in the offseason.

“I told him, ‘Hey, that’s the knock, probably why you went a little bit later as far as free agency and getting picked up,’” Pierce said. “But all last offseason and in the spring and OTAs and minicamp, training camp, that’s all we worked on.”

ACHANE’S STATUS UNCERTAIN

Dolphins rookie running back De’Von Achane returned to practice Monday, beginning his 21-day window to return from injured reserve. Achane missed the past four games after injuring his knee in Week 5 against the Giants.

Achane, a third-round draft pick, was leading the NFL with 12.1 yards per carry before the injury. He rushed for 460 yards with seven total touchdowns in four games.

McDaniel said Achane has not “looked like a rookie” in Miami’s locker room and continues to impress his teammates and coaches.

“That’s what the locker room needed from him,” McDaniel said Wednesday. “We don’t have time for rookies anymore. This is pro ball. And he acted like a pro on Monday.”

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AP Sports Writer Mark Anderson in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl  by Taboola