The Miami Dolphins last won the AFC East in 2008.
That was the year Chad Pennington arrived in South Florida after being kicked to the curb by the New York Jets when they acquired Brett Favre. It was the year Tom Brady tore his ACL and MCL in the first game of the season, which paved the way for Miami to take control of the division.
Yes, it’s been that long since the Dolphins were AFC East Champions. It was also the only time the Dolphins have won the division since 2001.
Since Brady and Bill Belichick paired up to form one of the greatest quarterback-head coaching duos in NFL history, the New England Patriots have dominated the East. In fact, since 2001 when Brady became starting quarterback, the Patriots have won the AFC East 11 of a possible 13 times — the 2002 season in which the Jets won the division, was the only other season in the past 13 years where the Patriots have not won the division title.
There is no question the Dolphins can beat the Patriots; they’ve done so on an annual basis despite the Patriots being Super Bowl contenders every year, whereas the Dolphins have been mired in mediocrity over the past decade.
The question is: Are the Dolphins ready to win the AFC East?
Though the Dolphins never really had a legit chance at winning the East toward the end of the 2013 season, they did beat the Patriots in a pivotal Week 15 matchup with playoff implications on the line. As everyone knows, however, the Dolphins blew an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth when they lost their remaining two games with the Buffalo Bills in Week 16 and the Jets in Week 17.
The Dolphins have a solid nucleus entering the 2014 season. It’s clear they are on the cusp of being a playoff team. They made worthwhile additions in the offseason by adding franchise left tackle Branden Albert, running back Knowshon Moreno, wide receiver Jarvis Landry and defensive players such as Louis Delmas and Cortland Finnegan.
However, the key to the Dolphins winning the division will depend on how they fare against their AFC East brethren. In 2013, the Dolphins went 2-4 when facing their division rivals, including being swept by the lowly 6-10 Bills.
Despite the glaring disparity between the quality of teams within the division, all four teams play each other close when they play one another.
In 2014, the Dolphins will have as good of a chance as they have ever had in winning the AFC East during the Brady era. It’s clear the Patriots’ window of dominance within the division is closing, while teams such as the Dolphins, Jets and Bills are all up-and-coming teams with young franchise quarterbacks.
The race for the division title will be closer than it has been in recent years. Three teams — the Patriots, Dolphins and Jets — will all have their shots at winning the East.
If the Dolphins hope to end the season as division champions, they will have to learn how to win close games against their divisional rivals. Assuming Miami can go at least 4-2 in those games, the franchise should lay claim to their first division title in six years. It will all depends on the Dolphins’ performance against the Patriots, Jets and Bills when it really matters.