Ryan Tannehill is finally back. After missing the last five games with a shoulder injury, the Miami Dolphins will finally have their starting quarterback back in the fold. At 5-5 and still alive in the playoff hunt, Tannehill's return couldn't come at a better time for the team. In a larger sense, however, Tannehill and Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase are heading into arguably the most pivotal stretch of their career.

The Dolphins started off the 2018 season strong, coming out of the gates 3-0 and sitting atop the AFC East for the first time in several years. Those first three games weren't always pretty, but they always came out on top. And then the injuries came. Injury after injury has decimated this team, and the frustrations have mounted as the team has gone 2-5 since their opening success.

Those frustrations have led both fans and analysts alike to ponder what the future holds for Gase, Tannehill, and the Miami Dolphins as a franchise. On one side, you have a sizable group of the mindset that, should the rest of the season go down the drain as it has in recent weeks, it's time for a hard reset. A contingent that believes Tannehill isn't the quarterback to take this team to the next level, and that Gase hasn't delivered on the promise of an improved offense that he was brought in to produce.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

On the other side of the argument, you have an equally large contingent who believes that Tannehill can be the guy to push this franchise back to prominence. And that Adam Gase is the coach to bring out the best in Tannehill in the process. They'll point to the fact that Gase has a great winning percentage with a healthy Tannehill. They'll also point to how, despite being decimated by injury, Gase still has this team in playoff contention.

No matter where you fall in the debate, it's nearly impossible to overstate just how important the next six games are to the future of this franchise.

Should the team falter repeatedly with a healthy Tannehill at the helm, it becomes much easier to make the case for hitting the reset button. Should Gase and Tannehill rally and secure a playoff spot down the stretch, it becomes just as easy to justify the belief that they can get the job done if they just have the time together.

Adam Gase, Ryan Tannehill

The road ahead isn't easy. That road starts Sunday against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts are one of the hottest teams in the league right now. Few quarterbacks in the league are playing better than Luck. The Colts are an explosive offense who will give the Dolphins defense fits. They are by no means unbeatable, but it won't come easy.

After Indianapolis, the Dolphins finish the stretch run with three key divisional games. They square off against the Buffalo Bills twice, and have their second matchup with the Patriots. In the AFC East, nearly every game is a toss-up. Miami could just as easily walk out of those games 3-0 as they could 0-3. If they have any hope of making the playoffs, they can't come out of that stretch with anything less than 2-1.

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Mixed into the schedule are games against the Minnesota Vikings and Jacksonville Jaguars. Neither team is living up to expectations this season, but that doesn't make either matchup any easier.

Jacksonville still has a great defense, and the Vikings have arguably the best wide receiver duo in the NFL. Winning both of those games is going to be critical to the Dolphins' playoff hopes.

Adam Gase, Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

Ultimately, the Dolphins likely need to finish this stretch run no worse than 4-2 to have any playoff hopes. Even at 4-2, the likelihood of making the playoffs with a 9-7 record isn't great. Not only is the schedule against them, so is history. Since joining the NFL in 1966, the Dolphins have started their season 5-5 eight times prior to this season. In those eight seasons, Miami failed to make the playoffs in each of them, finishing no better than 8-8 in any season.

What does play into Miami's favor is that they're starting to get healthy. Daniel Kilgore, Josh Sitton, and Albert Wilson are still lost for the season, but in addition to Tannehill, the Dolphins should also be adding Ju'Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil back to the lineup.

The offense should also have a healthy DeVante Parker again, which makes a big difference. Parker hasn't been able to stay on the field consistently, but he's a difference-maker when he's there.

Ryan Tannehill, Dolphins

On the other side of the football, the Dolphins should also be getting former first-round pick Charles Harris back. Harris has had a disappointing second season in Miami. If he is going to turn it up, now is the time. Pass rush has been sorely lacking in recent weeks, but having three healthy defensive ends to rotate helps immensely. A solid pass rush should do nothing but help Tannehill and Gase turn in a solid performance down the stretch.

Both their jobs could depend on it. It's now or never for the tandem.