Although the National Football League is widely considered the sports league with the most parity, that perception is far from reality. Seemingly there are a few teams that jump up or down to surprise every season, but there are several staples that have proven to be good or bad in recent years.
Here are some things we know for an absolute fact.
The New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos, Atlanta Falcons and Baltimore Ravens will all be highly competitive.
The Oakland Raiders, Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, Arizona Cardinals and Cleveland Browns will not be.
The reason why the above statements are correct is simple– the NFL is simply all about the quarterback. If you have one, you have a chance. If you don’t, you simply have no chance. It doesn’t matter how deep the rest of your roster is, if you have a Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning, Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco you will win games. If you put guys like Blaine Gabbert, Jake Locker, current day Carson Palmer, Brandon Weeden and Matt Flynn on good teams you still won’t win very often.
Since we have a pretty good idea who should be playing meaningful games in January and an excellent theory on who will be doing their work on Jadaveon Clowney and Teddy Bridgewater in January, we are going to explore a few teams that could simply go either way and you shouldn’t wager on. The next team is the Miami Dolphins.
The Miami Dolphins look to be much improved (on paper) and with the New England Patriots suffering from injuries and a very notable arrest, many feel that the time for mighty “Belichickian Dragon” to be slayed is now and the slayers mostly reside in Dade County. Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill showed a lot of promise in his rookie season of 2012 despite having one of the league’s worst set of targets to throw to.
With GM Jeff Ireland clearly on the hot seat, he did what most heated seat general managers do- spend as much of his owners money as possible. Ireland snagged the speedy Mike Wallace to give Tannehill a legitimate target and followed up by tight end Dustin Keller, formerly of the Jets. The Dolphins also signed wide receiver Brandon Gibson, right tackle Tyson Clabo and guard Lance Louis in free agency. Add in defensive improvements in cornerback Brent Grimes and Richard Marshall, alongside linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler and there are many new faces near South Beach.
All of that activity kept fans of the team checking the internet every day and rejoicing as Miami celebrated it’s first offseason championship in some time (which was actually the first Dolphins title of any kind in a very long time?.
So how wouldn’t the offseason title-holders be improved and ready to make a run in 2013?
There is that glossed over subject of who the team lost to make room for all of those shiny new parts. Former first-overall draft pick Jake Long is gone and the Dolphins will be auditioning Jonathan Martin at left tackle. Pro Bowl linebacker Karlos Dansby (a once expensive signing by Jeff Ireland) is now history, as is his partner Kevin Burnett. Reggie Bush isn’t worthy of his lofty second-overall draft status, but he is an offensive weapon- now in Detroit. Cornerback Sean Smith took his talents to Kansas City and finally the solid but unspectacular Anthony Fasano who had 23 touchdowns in Miami from 2008-2012 also moved his work address to Arrowhead.
With all the comings and goings, the Dolphins will have a difficult time early on trying to find roles for everyone and maintaining consistency. Another factor with Miami will be players stepping into expanded roles due to the departures of the aforementioned free agents. Jonathan Martin who struggled at right tackle as a rookie last season will now be counted upon to replace Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long. Lamar Miller and his 250 career rushing yards will now be the Dolphins primary ball-carrier. Where others such as wide receiver Brian Hartline will move back into a more palatable role as a complement to Mike Wallace, the team may be biting off more than it can chew with these younger players.
Miami has four games on its schedule with Buffalo and New York where they could be facing E.J. Manuel and Geno Smith. Add in sub-.500 teams from last year such as Cleveland, Tampa Bay, San Diego and Carolina and the Dolphins have a balanced schedule which gets easier in the second half of the season.
If Miami is going to push the New England Patriots in the AFC East as many have predicted, they will need Ryan Tannehill to be great in his second season. They will also need a large percentage of their free agency acquisitions to work out, and history tells us that isn’t likely to occur. With some good breaks and the handling of lesser talented opponents the Dolphins could contend for double-digit victories. If they were wrong on some of their moves it will likely be Miami’s fifth consecutive losing season and Jeff Ireland will be shown the door.
The Charlie Bernstein Show can be heard on Sportstalk 1040 The Team Monday through Friday from 3-7 pm. You can listen live by clicking here.