I know the song says, “when you’re talking Miami Dolphins you’re talking Super Bowl,” but for a team that has only made the playoffs once in the last decade, you have to start small. After a very busy offseason, the Dolphins are ready to make a run at the playoffs.
Things are always changing, but the way things sit right now in the AFC, Miami would likely fall in the middle of the pack. Let’s assume New England, Denver, and Houston are likely playoff-bound. That leaves 3 spots open. The AFC North will be a dog-fight. The Ravens did an excellent job of rebuilding and will be in the hunt for the division crown along with the Bengals and Steelers. You’d also throw-in the Colts as a playoff contender and then there is Miami.
Advantages for Miami include both playing in the AFC (still clearly the inferior conference top to bottom) and in the AFC East where Buffalo and New York are clearly going through some growing pains.
I thought Miami did a terrific job of addressing needs this offseason. The offensive weapons are much better with Mike Wallace, Brandon Gibson, and Dustin Keller. Lamar Miller is a question mark, but showed plenty of flash as a rookie. Florida’s Mike Gillislee was an interesting choice, but the Gators RB should push Daniel Thomas for playing time. Drafting TE Dion Sims is a very good run blocking tight end, but he can catch and will serve a nice compliment to Keller as the #2 TE. The offensive line will be a concern, but I am optimistic. Jonathon Martin was a solid right tackle as a rookie. He was forced to switch sides and play a spot he never practiced late in the year and the results were not great. But he did play left tackle at Stanford, and now gets an entire offseason to learn the spot. I think he’ll be better than most. Picking up Tyson Clabo to play right tackle is the perfect one-year solution. If things work out, then great. If they don’t, they’ll adjust again next offseason. As long as Ryan Tannehill gets better, the offense should easily grow and score more points.
Defensively Miami got a lot of younger, and faster. Wheeler and Ellerbe should prove an upgrade on Dansby and Burnett at linebacker. DE Dion Jordan, CB Jamar Taylor, and CB Will Davis acquired in the draft should all play right away. The corners, along with free agent signee Brent Grimes should improve one of the leagues worst secondaries. All the corners are known for their “ball skills” so they should be a good fit in defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle’s aggressive scheme and should benefit and what is expected to be an improved pass rush.
The drafting of K Caleb Sturgis certainly puts Dan Carpenter on notice. I always thought of FSU’s Dustin Hopkins as the better of the two state kickers, but we’ll see how it plays out. Sturgis does has an accurate leg, and a big foot in his own right. Drafting kickers is always risky because if it doesn’t work you look like a dummy.
To bottomline it in May, it looks like 8 wins should be the minimum this team has in mind. With good health, good play, and a little luck 10 or 11 wins might be possible. Without any of that, repeating 7-9 could be a challenge in ultra-competitive NFL.
A Super Bowl never seems out of the question for any NFL team in this era of parity. I don’t think this team is that close to that. I just know, for the first time in a long time, my expectations for the Dolphins going into the year includes a 17th game in January.