What if the Dolphins were in a different division?
The Dolphins are inching closer to becoming viable contenders again in the NFL. One of the major challenges, however, is sharing a division with the Super Bowl champions.
The Miami Dolphins gave their fans reason for hope last year by reaching the playoffs for just the second time in 15 years, and first since 2008. In 2008, Miami had to edge out the New England Patriots on a tie-breaker to win the division outright. In that season, Tom Brady injured his knee in the season opener that would require season-ending surgery. Matt Cassel filled in for the Patriots for the remainder of the season. Despite not being a fraction of the player that Brady is, Cassel still managed to lead the team to an 11-5 season, but Miami held the edge in conference play, and New England missed the playoffs in rare fashion.
The Patriots have won the division every year since that 2008 season, however, and 14 of the last 16 overall. Brady has been relatively healthy ever since – that is, of course, if we are to exclude the vast amount of concussions he’s received over the years that neither him nor his team apparently are obligated to report to the NFL, but that his wife can nonchalantly mention on national television.
Regardless of how we feel about them, or how they’ve achieved their success, the Patriots have been the dominant team to beat since the turn of the century. They now have five Super Bowl titles since 2001. For six consecutive seasons, they have been to the AFC Championship game, and have finished no worse than 12-4 in any of them.
It comes as no surprise that they are the odds on favorite to win it all every year, and this season is no exception. Winning the AFC East each season just seems like a foregone conclusion for them, and it’s easy to see why. The Dolphins, Buffalo Bills, and New York Jets have not provided any challenge to overtake the Patriots as division champs.
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Buffalo still holds the longest active playoff drought, not just in the NFL, but in any major professional sport. Unless they make a very surprising run this season that drought is likely to continue for the 18th straight year. The Jets, on the other hand, were last contenders in the seasons of 2009 and 2010, even upsetting the Patriots in the 2010 Divisional Playoffs. They have been dreadful ever since then, however, and are now projected to finish as the worst team in the league this coming season.
Neither the Bills or Jets have any relative chance of dethroning the Patriots atop the AFC East. The only formidable opponent, the Dolphins, are given the smallest chance to take the division away from them. The idea is that even if Miami is able to finish the season at 10-6 or 11-5, the assumption is that the Patriots will again finish with 12 wins or better, and claim their ninth straight division title.
Even though the Pats are the odds-on favorites to repeat as AFC East champs at the very least, some are pointing out that the Dolphins are not as far behind them as you may think. Previously, Bleacher Report’s Brad Gagnon wrote on why you should not sleep on the Miami Dolphins.
His primary argument as to how the Dolphins have become a very good team is how much Ryan Tannehill as improved as quarterback. How he was the best rated passer inside the red zone last year before he got hurt. How he’ll only continue to improve with Adam Gase as coach. For the coming season, Tannehill has already stated this offense is the best the Dolphins have had in his era.
Gagnon even went as far as to mention a point that I’ve been thinking as well – how Miami could be legit division contenders in, arguably, any other division.
I’ve often speculated this concept simply from a geographic standpoint. For example, since because the Dolphins are the most southern team on the map, technically speaking, they should probably be in the AFC South, or possibly, even the NFC South. If this were the case, Miami very well could be the favorites to win either of those divisions year after year. Even in other divisions that wouldn’t make sense for them to be in like the AFC West or NFC North, Miami could be the front-runners to take home the division title. At worse, they would give those teams a real run for their money.
This is not an outcry for a division overhaul or anything of the sorts. To be honest, I’m not a fan of having divisions at all in any major sport. I’d prefer just to have conferences, and go from there, but that’s not happening of course. Instead, I’m simply stating that the league and the fans would probably view the Dolphins in higher standards if they were in another division. That Miami is good enough to be viewed as contenders if they had a different path.
If that were the case, Miami could even be looked at as a top dog, similar to the Green Bay Packers or Seattle Seahawks, capable of making a deep playoff run. That might seem far-fetched to some, but an argument can be made for Miami as favorites in almost any division. That’s how much I feel they’ve improved in a short time. Building off of their success from last season, and the moves they’ve made so far in free agency and the NFL Draft, I’d argue they would be the favorite in any division, excluding the AFC North.
Instead, the Dolphins are viewed as a distant second in the AFC East. Viewed as if they don’t even belong in the same league as the Patriots. Forgotten like the 4th cousin from your Mom’s side of the family who only shows up for presents and food on Christmas, but goes M.I.A. the other 364 days of the year.
Divisions aren’t going anywhere, however, and neither are the Dolphins. In order for Miami to prove that they aren’t just the “other team” in the AFC East, they’re going to have to slay the beast. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and I believe the Dolphins are finally ready for the challenge.
So do you agree that the Dolphins can get past the Pats this year or are they still a couple years away? And out of curiosity, if there’s another division that you’d like to see Miami in, which is it and why?