Way too early preview: Can the Miami Dolphins unseat the New England Patriots?
Maybe Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry’s prediction of sweeping the New England Patriots was a bit premature. That’s not to say it won’t happen, but history favors the Pats. After the 2016 season, the Dolphins seem to be going into 2017 with a little more swagger than years past. They say they have the right tools to knock the kings from their thrones. How far off from the truth is that?
When it comes to the 2016 season, fans come from two different schools of thought.
On one side: Fans are happy the Dolphins finally made it to the playoffs. These fans think Adam Gase has the team headed in the right direction. They see the stars developing on the field and making strides towards being legit contenders. They’re not naive to the fact the Dolphins need to make improvements, but rather the team has nearly scratched the surface.
On the other side: Fans see the team as a product of their schedule. This side feels the playoffs were a fluke as the team failed to win games against playoff caliber team and couldn’t beat teams over .500. Stats are often the base of their argument and often point to the team’s shortcomings. With an uphill battle when it comes to the Dolphins schedule this year, these fans are skeptical the direction of the team after this month’s draft.
Both sides think they’re right, and they are. They Miami Dolphins have come a long way just one season under Adam Gase. There are plenty of positives in year one and plenty of black eyes. It was their first playoff appearance since 2008 but injuries quickly showed they didn’t belong there yet. The team just didn’t have enough pieces to overcome the heavy hitters in the AFC such as Pittsburg and New England. Injuries and discipline derailed the Dolphins postseason push in their final two games.
Fast forward to this weekend’s draft and the Dolphins focus on depth. Miami quickly selected players who might not be starters at the beginning but could very well be there at the end. How will it be enough to unseat the New England Patriots?
Focus on Defense:
Miami’s Achilles Heel last season was their run defense. The Dolphins used 5 of their 7 draft picks on the defensive side of the football in hopes of rebuilding their depth. With a majority of the offense in place going into the draft, the team had no choice but to create competition on the other side of the ball. While there are plenty of players who were slotted to start pre-draft, some might not finish the season that way. Some might not even make it out of camp.
Strength of schedule:
Miami’s schedule is one of the toughest in the NFL this season. Luckily for them, the New England Patriots have it just as bad. However, Miami hasn’t proven itself the way New England has. Each opponent knows just how tough the Pats can be. Both teams could end up with double-digit wins but they won’t come easy.
Advantage Miami: While a lot can change in a year, Miami has 5 games against playoff teams from the year before. They won’t face their first until week 6 against the Superbowl runner-up Atlanta Falcons. Before their bye week in week 11 they’ll face just one more playoff team the Oakland Raiders in week 9.
The Pats start the season against Kansas City who barely lost to the Steelers in divisional play. They’ll face future Hall of Fame quarterback Drew Brees in week 2. Then back to another playoff team in the Houston Texans in week 3. If there’s one team that has a grudge against the Pats it’s the Texans after being bounced from the playoffs. If the Dolphins can get off to a hot start, they might be able to get an early lead in the division. Ultimately New England always overcomes but a decent start should land Miami a wild card at worst.
Advantage Patriots: They’re whatever comes after dynasty. There isn’t a single game on their schedule the New England Patriots can’t win. Even after having only four picks in the draft and their first selection coming in the 3rd round, they’re still the most dangerous team on the field.
Win division games:
In order for the Dolphins to win the AFC East, they have to win 4 of 6 divisional games, including 1 against New England. If they can split games they might stand a snowball’s chance. With that being said it means they will have to sweep either the Bills or the Jets. While the Bills may have improved via the draft, the Jets still have a few too many unanswered questions. With how tough the AFC schedules are this season 9 wins could make the playoffs. If the Dolphins lose both times to the Pats, they would need to sweep both Bills and Jets to get close.
We can all predict the future all you want. After the draft, it’s going to take some game footage to really see what each team has in store for the season. The fact of the matter is, it’s New England’s world and we’re all just living in it until Tom Brady retires. The Dolphins could very well be the team that knocks them down a peg, but they keep regaining their top spot. In order to get out of their shadow, Miami needs to be the team they think they are. Every year brings fans new hope for the talent they have, every year a disappointment. 2017 will be one of New Englands toughest schedules. If Miami doesn’t capitalize, they never will.