The Miami Dolphins shocked the NFL world last season by going 10-6 and making a playoff appearance. With starting quarterback sidelined for the season due to an ACL injury, will the Dolphins be able to return to the playoffs this season behind their new quarterback, the recently un-retired Jay Cutler?
Just a season after going 6-10 and finishing at the bottom of the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins surprised everyone by going 10-6 and finishing second in the AFC East, behind the eventual Super Bowl champs. With their 10-6 record in hand, the Dolphins successfully clinched a wild card spot and made it to the playoffs. Unfortunately, their stay in the playoffs was a short one, as backup quarterback Matt Moore could not get the job done and the Dolphins were defeated 30-12 by the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill had a very good season, starting 13 games, completing 67.1% of his passes, throwing for 2,995 yards, 19 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions, until he suffered a season-ending injury the Dolphins’ Week 14 matchup with the Arizona Cardinals.
Running back Jay Ajayi also burst onto the scene, running for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns. Additionally, the Dolphins wide receivers had strong seasons as well. Jarvis Landry had 1,136 receiving yards and four touchdowns, DeVante Parker had 744 receiving yards and four touchdowns, and Kenny Stills finished 2016 with 726 receiving yards and nine touchdowns.
The Dolphins also benefited from the strong play of some players on the other side of the ball. Linebacker Kiko Alonso bounced back from a down season with the Philadelphia Eagles in 2015, recording 115 tackles, four passes defensed, two interceptions, and four fumble recoveries.
Cornerbacks Tony Lippett and Byron Maxwell had decent seasons as well, as Lippett recorded 67 tackles, 10 pass deflections, and 4 interceptions, while Maxwell had 53 tackles, 15 pass deflections, two interceptions, and four forced fumbles.
In addition, the pass rush put up some good production with Cameron Wake recording 11.5 sacks, Andre Branch recording 5.5 sacks, and Ndamukong Suh finishing the season with 5.0 sacks.
However, the Dolphins did not stack up that well when compared to the rest of the NFL teams. Their defense finished 29th in the league in total yards allowed per game. Their pass defense was slightly better than league average, finishing 15th in pass yards allowed per game. The Dolphins’ run defense was horrendous, finishing 30th in rush yards allowed per game.
The offense did not fare much better, as they were 24th in total yards per game and 26th in passing yards per game. Their rushing offense was among the best in the league though, finishing 9th in rushing yards per game.
With these lackluster statistics, how exactly did the Dolphins manage to win ten games and make the playoffs? It turns out that the Dolphins had a very easy schedule. The Dolphins’ only tough win came against the Steelers. The rest of their wins were against the Browns, Bills, Jets, Chargers, Rams, 49ers, and Cardinals, while their losses came against the Seahawks, Patriots, Bengals, Titans, and Ravens.
|Jay Cutler, QB||Dion Sims, TE|
|T. J. McDonald, S||Branden Albert, OT|
|Julius Thomas, TE||Spencer Paysinger, LB|
|William Hayes, DE||Jelani Jenkins, LB|
|Nate Allen, S||Bacarri Rambo, S|
|Charles Harris, DE (Draft)|
|Raekwon McMillan, LB (Draft)|
|Cordrea Tankersley, CB (Draft)|
The Dolphins were smart and proactive in making it a priority to re-sign some of their key starters. Kenny Stills, Andre Branch, and Reshad Jones were key members of last year’s team. The Dolphins needed pass rush help, and the additions of William Hayes and Charles Harris should definitely help. Former Ohio State star Raekwon McMillan is a welcome addition to a group of linebackers that needed some serious help, especially when defending against the run. Cordrea Tankersley, Nate Allen, and T. J. McDonald are big additions to a secondary that could certainly use some depth.
The Dolphins’ biggest and most important addition is quarterback Jay Cutler, who came out of retirement and put his broadcasting career on hold to play under center in Miami this year. Cutler is reunited with Adam Gase, who was the Bears’ offensive coordinator in 2015, when Cutler had the best season in his career. The Dolphins’ season depends entirely on Cutler. If Cutler can stay healthy, minimize his turnovers, and be a good team leader, then the loss of Ryan Tannehill may not hurt the Dolphins too badly.
|1||vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|2||@ Los Angeles Chargers|
|3||@ New York Jets|
|4||vs New Orleans Saints|
|5||vs Tennessee Titans|
|6||@ Atlanta Falcons|
|7||vs New York Jets|
|8||@ Baltimore Ravens|
|9||vs Oakland Raiders|
|10||@ Carolina Panthers|
|12||@ New England Patriots|
|13||vs Denver Broncos|
|14||vs New England Patriots|
|15||@ Buffalo Bills|
|16||@ Kansas City Chiefs|
|17||vs Buffalo Bills|
The Dolphins should manage to once again win a decent number of games. The games against the Chargers, Jets, and Bills should be easy victories, while the games against the Buccaneers, Falcons, Raiders, Patriots, and Chiefs will likely be losses. They also have a realistic chance at winning their match-ups with the Titans, Saints, Ravens, Panthers, and Broncos.
While the Dolphins will not win the AFC East, as they are in the same division as the reigning Super Bowl champs, they should win a good amount of games and could possibly make their second consecutive playoff appearance.
Three players to watch
These players will be key to the outcome of this season, especially if the Dolphins look to repeat last season’s success.
Jay Cutler, quarterback
Jay Cutler has some tough shoes to fill as Ryan Tannehill’s replacement, and the Dolphins’ season will depend entirely on his performance. Luckily, Miami’s head coach is Adam Gase, who also happened to be the Chicago Bears’ offensive coordinator when Cutler had the best season of his career back in 2015.
Cutler has only made the playoffs once in his career and has struggled with turnovers and injuries throughout his career. Last season was arguably the worst of Cutler’s career as he only played in five games and threw five interceptions and only four touchdowns. This disastrous season led to Cutler decision to retire this past offseason and jump-started his pursuit of a broadcasting career.
Cutler was set to open the season in a Fox Sports broadcasting booth until the Dolphins came calling following Ryan Tannehill’s season-ending ACL injury. If Cutler can manage to stay on the field and minimize the interceptions and fumbles, then the Dolphins could once again find themselves playing postseason football.
Jay Ajayi, running back
Jay Ajayi truly came out of nowhere and burst onto the scene last year, rushing for 1,272 yards and eight touchdowns. The former 5th round pick from Boise State played a huge role in Miami’s offense last season and was a major reason why the Dolphins had the 9th best run offense in 2016. However, roughly half of Ajayi’s rushing yards last season came in three monster games where Ajayi ran for over 200 yards in each matchup, thus making Ajayi’s 2016 statistics look a bit inflated.
If Ajayi wants to prove that the 2016 season and especially those three games were not a fluke, it will be very important for him to keep up the big production. If the Dolphins want to repeat last season’s success, they will need Ajayi to continue piling on the rushing yards and making his way to the endzone.
Kenny Stills, wide receiver
After a strong season where he caught for 726 yards and nine touchdowns, the Dolphins decided Kenny Stills factored into their long-term plans and rewarded him with a big, fat contract extension. Stills is a top-tier deep threat and a touchdown scoring machine, so he should be Jay Cutler’s best friend this season. For the Dolphins to have a shot at the playoffs this season, they will need Stills to have another big season and continue being no stranger to the endzone.
Being in the AFC East makes life very difficult for the Miami Dolphins, as they are forced to deal with Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the rest of the New England Patriots. The Patriots have won 8 consecutive AFC East titles and have finished at the top of the division in 14 of the past 16 seasons, and the Pats are stronger than ever coming off yet another Super Bowl victory.
This will not make the job easy for the Dolphins, especially with a new quarterback who also happens to be turnover-prone and no stranger to health issues. I do not see the Dolphins winning ten games this season, but I could be proven wrong if this season goes better than expected.
Realistically, the Dolphins should finish the season 9-7 or 8-8, due to a tougher schedule and uncertainty at quarterback, as Jay Cutler could struggle to stay healthy or turn the ball over too many times.
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