The wild card berth is about the best that any team in the AFC East can hope for given the New England Patriots dynasty’s nearly two-decade run of divisional dominance.
Then disaster hit.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill went down during training camp drills with another knee injury and is out for the year. The team quickly moved to lure former Chicago Bear Jay Cutler out of an early retirement with a $10 million contract.
While the jury still remains out on whether Tannehill will ever become a franchise quarterback, he had been making strides until he was busted back to zero by the injury.
Enter Cutler. The good news is that he is comfortable with Dolphins head coach Adam Gase’s offense having previously played for him. The bad news is that Cutler has his own history of injury problems.
The most pleasant surprise for Miami last year was the emergence of Jay Ajayi at running back. After failing to land Denver’s C.J. Anderson as a free agent it looked as though the dreaded running back by committee was in the cards.
After being made inactive for the first game and then used sparsely until week five, Ajayi blew up, running for 1,272 yards and an incredible three 200-yard games. His performance laid to rest any dread over the ground game after Lamar Miller left for Houston via free agency and Ajayi was a key to the return to the playoffs by the fish.
The receivers are decent so Cutler (or longtime vet backup Matt Moore) will have something to work with. Jarvis Landry made the Pro Bowl and with his 94 catches and 1,136 yards. But the downside is that the second-year player only scored 4 touchdowns.
Kenny Stills was a serious deep threat with nine touchdowns and a 17.3 yards per catch average. Devonte Parker hauled in 56 balls and the Fins also brought in tight end Julius Thomas who was a stud when he was in Denver catching passes from Peyton Manning but a flop in Jacksonville when it was Blake Bortles under center.
A good offensive line – if key players stay healthy – could go a long way towards keeping Miami’s offense productive under Cutler/Moore.
Defensively, the Dolphins were one of the worst in the NFL at least in terms of statistics. The unit finished an atrocious 29th in overall defense and this will need to improve if Miami wants to make the playoffs again this season.
Considering the amount of money invested in the DL with Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake as well as linebacker Lawrence Timmons there isn’t a good return on investment. Granted that Miami is forced to line up against Tom Brady twice a year but the Jets and Bills have total losers at quarterback. The team devoted 5 out of 7 draft picks to shoring up the D with their top pick being Missouri pass rusher Charles Harris.
While Miami fans are optimistic that the team has finally turned the corner, a word of warning comes via Football Outsiders in their 2017 Almanac where it was pointed out that Miami benefitted from a number of fluke wins last year.
So, what does it all mean?
When you are in the same division as the New England Patriots the best that a team can hope for is to sneak into the playoffs as a wildcard.
With both the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets blatantly tanking their seasons for a high draft pick, the Dolphins should once again be in a position to challenge for one of the conference’s two lower seeds.
That’s just the bad luck of being stuck in a division with one of the greatest football dynasties of all time.