The Miami Dolphins were a disappointment to some in 2013, as they only managed to finish 8-8 following a huge free agency spending spree. The team actually began the year 3-0, but then lost four straight games before the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying scandal broke and derailed the team. The Dolphins are hoping to put the past behind them and make a run at the playoffs this year, and they feel they have the talent to do it.
The Dolphins are expecting big things from Ryan Tannehill in his third season, following a decent second season that saw him complete 60.4% of his passes for 3,914 yards and 24 TDs. However, Tannehill threw 17 interceptions and fumbled 9 times, and he badly needs to cut back on the turnovers. The team brought in Knowshon Moreno to try to boost their 26th ranked rushing attack, while also signing new starters Branden Albert, Daryn Colledge and Shelley Smith and drafting Ja’Wuan James to completely rebuild an offensive line that allowed the most sacks in the NFL last season.
Defensively, the Dolphins finished 21st in total defense but 8th in scoring defense. The team re-signed Brent Grimes to be their No. 1 corner and added Earl Mitchell, Cortland Finnegan, Louis Delmas to try to solidify their defensive unit. Mitchell in particular should be a big asset as the Dolphins try to fix their 24th ranked rush defense. On paper, the Dolphins should be much better defensively, which would go a long way towards covering their offensive shortcomings.
The Dolphins feel they have improved, but they are facing the league’s 12th toughest schedule in terms of last season’s win percentage. Their difficult opponents are spaced out throughout the first half of the season, but things get much more challenging down the stretch. The key for the Dolphins will be how they navigate Weeks 12-15, when they must play at the Denver Broncos, at the New York Jets, home against the Baltimore Ravens, and at the New England Patriots. That is the kind of stretch that can make or break playoff hopes, the Dolphins will likely need to win at least two of those games.
Winning home games against the Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers would be crucial as well, as they will likely be battling for a Wild Card spot with those teams. Obviously, the Dolphins can’t afford to blow any of their easier games like they did last year, when they lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and twice to the Buffalo Bills.
The key for the Dolphins this season is the improvement of their offense. They should have a solid defense, but the offensive line must be dramatically better and Tannehill must continue to progress. If those things happen, this team has a very real shot at the playoffs. If not, this could be the last we see of Joe Philbin on a Miami sideline. For now, it seems like the Dolphins still have too many questions to be considered a safe bet for the playoffs. My prediction for Miami is a 9-7 season, which will leave them in a close fight for a Wild Card spot in the weak AFC.