For many fans, there has always been only four teams in the AFC East but that wasn’t always the case and the Miami Dolphins almost moved out of it.
In 2002, the NFL added a 32nd team to the league. When the Houston Texans joined, the league realigned and the Miami Dolphins almost became a member of the AFC South. It would have made sense but what would history have looked like if they had?
When the league expanded, the Indianapolis Colts moved from the East to the South and then controlled the division for years. The Dolphins were supposed to move to the South however, it would have made sense.
Indianapolis is not in the South but they also are not in the East either. The Dolphins are both of those. When approached about leaving the division, then owner Wayne Huizenga told the NFL that he didn’t want to move. His reasoning was the long history of rivalry within the division, specifically with the New York Jets. So the Colts agreed to shift out of the division.
If the NFL could have one do over, this might be it. Peyton Manning was entering his 5th season in the NFL and the Tom Brady era in New England was just beginning. If given the chance to watch Manning and Brady battle eachother twice a year minimum, the history of the NFL since 2002 would have looked much different.
The Dolphins however would have had a different history as well. For the sake of having a little backwards time travel, or for fun, we are going back to 2002 to move the Dolphins to the AFC South and leaving the Colts in the AFC East.
All things being equal as they relate to coaching, personnel, players, and draft position and decisions, the only thing we can’t really predict is game by game results based on different schedules so we can leave the records as it is. Does that make sense? Not really but neither does time travel so it really doesn’t matter. This if for fun.
Since 2002, the Colts have won the AFC South nine times. If we remove them the 2nd place team in the division would have finished with double digit win totals seven times. The Dolphins on the other hand finished with double digit win totals three times. This means that while the South may not have been run by the Colts, the Dolphins were not in position to step up and take over the division.
The Titans won the division twice, the Texans five times, and the Jaguars once. Miami however wouldn’t have simply finished last in the division those years and could have done a little bit better with inter-division wins. In all of the years since the merger, the last place team in the division finished with less than five wins nine of those 17 seasons. The Dolphins on the other hand have finished with less than five wins twice.
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Miami would have likely finished many of those years in 3rd place so in reality, not much would have changed given the same paramaters of their time in the East but again would the Dolphins have fared better against the Titans, Texans, and Jaguars rather than the Bills, Jets, and Patriots?
Who knows but the more enjoyable revision of history would have been the Manning vs. Brady games that would have made Monday Night Football very enjoyable.
In the end, this was all a lesson in performance. It isn’t about the teams in the division as much as it is about how those teams are built. How the Dolphins have been built. Through 17 seasons, they haven’t been built very well and at their best in 2008 when they finished 11-5, they could have still lost the division to the 13-3 Titans.