A recent Harvard study outlined every NFL team and their likeliness to appear in this year’s Super Bowl, among those teams outlined, the Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks stood victors of their respective conferences. This early in the season, such a study sounds unjustified, and can be taken as a grain of salt. However, the Dolphins are commonly being noted as a team that can make a run, and here is how they can do it.
- Strong offensive line play
Over the past several seasons, the play of their offensive line has been their most common critique from fans around the league. And for good reason. Since coming into the league in 2012, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has drawn the most sacks in the league (139), commonly attributed due to the play of the front five.
This season, the Dolphins offensive line is off to another shaky start. With Branden Albert‘s status uncertain for the start of the regular season due to last season’s season ending knee injury, the Dolphins are left with several unproven inconsistencies at the guard position. As of right now, Billy Turner and Dallas Thomas are atop the offensive guard depth chart.
On a positive note, second year offensive tackle, Ja’Waun James and veteran Mike Pouncey seem to be off to a good start. Throughout training camp James and Pouncey have held their own against the new and improved Dolphin’s defensive line. James is coming off of a strong rookie season where he played primarily out of position, and looks to return to the right tackle position where he played throughout his career at Tennessee. Pouncey owns a similar story. Pouncey returns to center after filling in at guard in previous seasons, a position he cited he was somewhat uncomfortable with. Behind these two proven starters, the line remains a question.
The Dolphins have a relatively relaxed schedule for the first four weeks before heading into their bye week, but their offensive line will be challenged by both the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets. If the Dolphin’s offensive line can remain healthy and stable before Albert is ready, the Dolphins can start the season on a positive note.
- No more divisional mediocrity
This has been one of the most upsetting features of the past three Dolphins’ seasons, their inability to win against divisional opponents. Over the past three seasons (dating back to 2012), the Dolphins have remained .500 against divisional opponents at 18-18. Over the past two seasons, the Dolphins have split wins with the New York Jets, including losses late into each season.
Meanwhile, the Dolphins have been able to steal their last two of four games against the New England Patriots, a series that has had a bitter past for the Dolphins. In particular, if the Dolphins can overcome the home-field advantage of the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, their chances to make a playoff run looks more reliable (the last time the Dolphins won in Foxboro, Mass. was in 2008.)
Winning against divisional opponents is not an easy task, especially when the Dolphins technically have a home game on the road in London against the Jets. The Dolphins will have to be ready for their first divisional game in week three and four, before ultimately traveling to Foxboro, Mass. to take on the Patriots. Nonetheless, the Dolphins will have to survive their recent late-season collapses as they will battle the Patriots in week 17 at home.
If the Dolphins want to surpass mediocrity and ultimately contend for a Super Bowl, I believe four is the magic number in terms of conference wins. However, the Dolphins simply cannot afford to lose both matches with a particular opponent.
- Consistent defensive play
Defense wins championships, and it appears the Dolphins have followed that mantra heading into the 2015 season. This year’s defensive line has fans as optimistic as ever, with the acquisition of Ndamukong Suh, rookie Jordan Phillips, and veteran C.J. Mosley. Add on Pro-Bowl end Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon, and the Dolphins have a boisterous defensive line.
Beyond the line, the Dolphins are undergoing changes to the linebacking corps, a position that fell apart only a year ago. The linebacking team is being held together by Jelani Jenkins, who was a highlight to the Dolphin’s defense last season. Alongside Jenkins stands Koa Misi, and a starter to be named (likely Kelvin Sheppard or Chris McCain,) however, there seems to be potential with this group of linebackers.
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Lastly, the secondary is off to a tough start following Louis Delmas‘ season-ending ACL tear on Wednesday. Delmas was being paced back into playing time throughout training camp, and looked to be on schedule for week one. Meanwhile, Reshad Jones and Brent Grimes will likely carry the secondary, as position battles heat up for the opposing safety and cornerback positions.
Although this group has a few position battles to sort out, this Dolphins defense looks upgraded compared to last year’s. With solid play from the front-four, along with a sorted-out secondary, the Dolphins defensive could propel them into a playoff race.
- A winning mentality
This year, the Dolphins seem to have more of a winning mentality compared to recent years. In part, players like Greg Jennings, Ndamukong Suh, and Brice McCain serve as mentors to younger, less experienced players.
In particular, Jennings strikes me as a winner. Jennings had a great career with the Packers where he had success in both the regular season and the playoffs. After being signed in the latter half of free-agency, and ultimately into training camp, Jennings has noticeably been a mentor around the locker room, including to last year’s standout, Jarvis Landry.
On the defensive side of the ball, once again, Suh’s presence is bringing a winning attitude to Miami.
“Not being able to play in the postseason in all that time I’ve been here, now is the time.” Wake told the Miami Herald. “This is definitely the year.”
This is good to hear coming from a veteran who has yet to make a playoff appearance. On the other hand, Brice McCain has had his shot at the playoffs with the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Houston Texans, and now has a chance to mentor Will Davis and Jamar Taylor at cornerback.
These new additions to the Dolphins portray a winning attitude, but the Dolphins also need leadership from several other outlets, including Pouncey, and head coach Joe Philbin, both of whom have been criticized for their ability to lead the team in the past.
“We feel like this is our year to make the playoffs,” Pouncey said, via CBSsports.com.
Pouncey continued, noting he likes the way the Dolphins are headed, and despite similar predictions in previous seasons, this is the year.
Whether or not the Dolphins are correct in their playoff predictions, they will be tested on the field. If they can get a few key assets to perform, they may find themselves contending for Super Bowl L.
What do you believe is the key to the Dolphins’ success in 2015?