Most people won’t even consider Miami as a playoff hopefull. Most will put them in last in the AFC East. The most optimistic might place them third and have them “improve” to a 7-9 season. All that makes perfect sense. Or does it?
The impression of the Dolphins to the mass media is a team starting over from scratch. New head coach in Joe Philbin. Traded their most well known offensive player, Brandon Marshall, to Chicago. Drafted a quarterback, Ryan Tannehill, in the first round. Clearly, a team going nowhere fast. Well, at least you’d think that if that was as far as you were willing to go.
Truth is, the Miami Dolphins are not rebuilding. There wasn’t a mass exodus of talent at the end of 2011 season. They (probably) aren’t going to be starting a rookie QB to begin the season, and may have actually upgraded at the position with David Garrard. The offensive line should be improved with the draft and free agency (2nd round pick RT Jonathon Martin and RG Eric Steinbach), the backfield should be deeper and improved (Lamar Miller, year 2 for Daniel Thomas), and the defense, especially the front seven, is stacked.
Miami finished 6th in points allowed last season. The run defense allowed the third fewest yards in the NFL. Miami started out 0-7, but finished 6-3. There are some reasons to believe they are trending up, and not down.
Now, the downside, or the stuff you already know. The WR-group could be amongst the worst in the NFL. Chad Johnson, Legedu Naanee, and rookies BJ Cunningham, Rishard Matthews, and Jeff Fuller were brought in to compete with Brian Hartline, Davone Bess, and Clyde Gates. Even if the former Ochocinco bounces back, and Bess (ACL) and Hartline (appendectomy) are okay, and a rookie or two emerges, Miami still will have one of the bottom third groups in football. So yeah, they probably aren’t scoring a lot of points.
The other weakness would be the secondary, that ranked 25th last year in passing yards allowed. CB Vontae Davis is one of the best in football, but the other 3-5 spots are questionable at best. CB Sean Smith shows signs of being solid, but being described as inconsistent is about as nice as you can be at this point. Veteran CB Richard Marshall was brought in, and probably is the favorite to win nickelback duties, but must beat out a bunch of youngsters for that right. The safety position ranged from mediocre to abysmal last season. On paper, it will be the same this year, so that could be a big-time problem.
I would expect Miami to fight for the playoffs this year. The schedule  is manageable for certain drawing arguably the two worst divisions in football in the AFC South and the NFC West. The defense should keep games close, and if Garrard or Matt Moore are careful with the football, Miami could squeak out a bunch of low scoring games, much the same way they did in 2008 when they stunned the world and won the division after going 1-15 the previous season.
The Dolphins don’t have enough talent to win a Super Bowl, and probably not enough to win a playoff game if they got there, but I’d be shocked if they wound up a 2, 3, or 4 win team. I think anything between 5-10 wins is possible. The AFC is so down right now, it could be much like last season when the 9-7 Bengals got in and teams like Tennessee, Oakland, Denver, Kansas City, and the NY Jets were alive in the final week of the season.
So before you pencil Miami in last place, think about some of those things.