The Miami Dolphins got everybody’s attention in free agency this summer, signing multiple high-priced starters headlined by wide receiver Mike Wallace. They believe that these new players, combined with the development of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, will lead them to a winning record and playoff berth in 2013.
Tannehill was not quite on the level of classmates Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III in his rookie season, but he still turned in a very promising first campaign. His continued development is the single most important factor in the success of the Dolphins this season, which is why the team gave Wallace $60 million.
Defensively, the team is switching to a 4-3 alignment, and they added Dannell Ellerbe, Philip Wheeler, Brent Grimes and Dion Jordan this offseason. Those new players came at a very high price, so they must produce quickly, or the Dolphins will be in big trouble. This team believes it can contend now, and they spent like it in free agency.
So what does Miami’s schedule say about them becoming a playoff team? First off, they play in the significantly weaker AFC, which gives them a much better shot at the playoffs. Beyond that, they play in the AFC East, arguably the worst division in football. However, Miami still drew a fairly challenging schedule for this season.
The first thing that jumps out about Miami’s schedule is how difficult the beginning is. They open against the Cleveland Browns, and then face a brutal four-game stretch at the Indianapolis Colts, home versus the Atlanta Falcons, at the New Orleans Saints and home against the Baltimore Ravens. There is a very good chance the Dolphins will be 1-4 heading into their bye week.
Even if that happens, however, this team will still have a shot at the playoffs. Their schedule gets significantly easier following that, with four games against the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, as well as home contests with the Carolina Panthers and San Diego Chargers. It is imperative that the Dolphins win all six of these games, or they will really struggle to stay in playoff contention.
Unfortunately, I don’t believe that the Dolphins will be able to pull that feat off. Divisional games tend to be much more difficult, and they will likely let at least one slip away. When you throw in two games against the New England Patriots and a few other tough matchups, the Dolphins have the look of an 8-8 team.
That being said, the Dolphins are in a unique position because they will play almost every team that is believed to be a wild card contender in the AFC. That gives them total control over their own destiny, and they could make a strong push for the playoffs. They must have success in the division to go with those games, and going 4-0 against the Bills and Jets is essential.
However, the Dolphins look like a team that is still a year away, and although they will be much improved this season, their record may not fully reflect it. There are good times coming for Miami, but they have to get through this season first.