Wondering if and how your NFL team can make the playoffs in the coming season? Adam Rank and Marc Sessler have you covered in this ongoing series, as they provide five reasons why each of the league's 32 teams will make an appearance in the 2018 postseason. Today, Rank examines the Miami Dolphins.
Adam Gase's first two seasons in Miami were rather interesting. Made the playoffs as a rookie head coach in 2016. I know a lot of Bears fans were left howling about their former offensive coordinator. "Why didn't we keep this guy and let John Fox walk out the door? That should have been us!"
The second year wasn't as great. Ryan Tannehill was lost to ACL surgery in the preseason, and the Dolphins spiraled. Jay Cutler was brought in to rescue the team. And you could sum that move up right here:
Bears fans saw this and said, "I'm so glad we didn't keep ... just kidding. We still love him more than Fox." (And besides, Cutler's positioning there was all by design, according to Gase.)
So, what's up for Year 3? The team got rid of some high-priced talent, like Ndamukong Suh and Jarvis Landry. Those are the kinds of moves that get the fan base irritated, but then, a couple of weeks into the season, the fans will be thinking to themselves, why did we hang on to them for so long? Kind of like the futon you kept after college. I don't know if it was nostalgia or what that compelled you to keep it, but once it was out of your life, you were better off. The same will be true of the Dolphins, who could be a surprise playoff contender. Here are five reasons why:
1) Ryan Tannehill thrives post-injury
Tannehill is never going to be the quarterback who thrills the fantasy dorks among us. I passed on him in a super-flex league where you can start two quarterbacks. Could that have been a miscalculation on my part? Tannehill has a career passer rating of 86.5. Not bad. His passer rating was 93.5 in his first season with Gase. Which was better. And remember, he wasn't at work last year, so it's not like he could be blamed for that debacle. Though I feel like people still try to do that.
But here's my thing: Tannehill is a good quarterback. My favorite memory of Tannehill came during the Dolphins' upset of the Steelers at home in 2016. I thought this was one of his best games. He didn't throw a touchdown pass (so I know this seems weird), but he made a lot of plays that kept the Dolphins' offense moving that day. Obviously, many will remember Jay Ajayi running for what I believe was 783 yards in the game. (Editor's note: it was 204.) But Tannehill was in command. He threw the ball 32 times and completed 75 percent of his chances. Moved well in the pocket. The thing about Tannehill is that he's the kind of quarterback you can win with, because he does some things well. Don't listen to the people who will flame me on Twitter with the Tannehill slander.
2) This is the year for DeVante Parker
Ha ha ha. Just kidding.
2) Frank Gore continues to do what he does
My daughter is 3 right now. (Unless you work at Disneyland; then she's totally 2, and you can please continue to let her in for free.) I look forward to a time, 15 years from now, when I get to tell her what it was like to watch Frank Gore play in the NFL. And then she's going to say, "I know, Dad, he's still playing in the league right now. In fact, he just rushed for 1,000 yards last season."
I jest. Barely.
Gore is back in Miami, where he played collegiately. It's kind of a pity he's not getting the back home narrative treatment some running backs would get. (Looking at you, Jerome Bettis. Did you know Bettis is from Detroit, and his last game was a Super Bowlin Detroit?) Nevertheless, Gore joins a talented backfield that includes Kenyan Drake, whom everyone wants to overdraft in fantasy. (Don't.) We should know by now that Gore, who has posted 960 rushing yards or more for seven straight seasons and in 11 of his 13 NFL campaigns, with nine 1,000-yard seasons to his name, is going to end up being the lead back. He's going to get a grand rushing the football. And you should all be happy with it.
There needs to be some improvement on the offensive line, though. Pro Football Focus has the unit ranked 20th in the league. Which isn't bad. But it could also improve if new addition Josh Sitton can remain injury free. Mike Pouncey is gone, but he had a down year. Daniel Kilgore is the new starting center.
Wait a minute. The Dolphins' starting running back is Gore. But the center is Kilgore? Like, his blocking is going to kill Gore? Am I the only one worried about that? I am? Oh, good.
3) Robert Quinn and Bert Wilson are adequate replacements
It's been a long time since Robert Quinn, who was acquired in a trade with the Ramsin March, had 19 sacks in 2013. "Breaking Bad" was still on the air. (Although, I think it's still on Netflix, so does it really ever go away?) He had a nice stretch from Week 10 through Week 13 last season in Los Angeles, during which he collected six of his 8.5 sacks and generally made life miserable for opposing quarterbacks. But that's the type of rhetoric that gets general managers fired. The "on pace" people who like to take a small sample size and think it speaks for the whole season. When GMs do that, I tune them out like my comic friends who like to talk about their showcase auditions. Still, a return to form from the defensive end would help blunt the impact of losing Suh up front.
My guy Bert Wilson -- a former Chiefs receiver who signed with the Dolphins in March -- is another one of those players who has played masterfully in stretches. And you start thinking to yourself, this guy would be amazing if they would just give him his own gig. I feel adamantly about that. In fact, the last time I was this adamant, I had just watched Bill Hader in "Adventureland" and thought he should have his own starring vehicle. And guess what? He was just nominated for an Emmy for "Barry." So, sometimes there are happy endings here. And maybe Wilson and fellow signee Danny Amendola can follow suit in filling the pass-catching void left by the trade of Landry.
4) Xavien Howard emerges as a star in the secondary ...
I'll make a bold prediction and say Howard is going to be the next great cornerback. He was ranked the sixth-best cornerback in the NFL in a study by Matt Harmon using Next Gen Stats. I know sixth doesn't seem all that impressive, but when you look at the list of names ahead of him -- A.J. Bouye, Chris Harris, Marcus Peters, Marshon Lattimore and Jalen Ramsey -- you're like, damn, that's a pretty good short list to be a part of. Like, hey, it's just an honor to get nominated.
If you're not familiar with Howard, you can go ahead and check out this dominant performance against Brandin Cooks on "Monday Night Football" last season. Cooks was targeted six times when covered by Howard. There were just two completions -- and both of them went to Howard. It's the kind of breakout performance that gets people talking about you. And it's clear the strength of the team is going to be in the secondary. This is probably why Miami was so willing to part with some of its high-priced assets up front -- like Suh -- knowing full well the back end was going to be protected by Howard.
5) ... and so does Minkah Fitzpatrick
Providing some extra punch in the secondary is Fitzpatrick, a top-10 talent who fell to Miami at No. 11 overall in the 2018 NFL Draft, with so many quarterbacks flying off the board. In fact, we'll never know if the Dolphins would have selected Josh Rosen had the Cardinals not nabbed him with the pick prior. No matter -- Miami has Fitzpatrick now. And one of the weaknesses from last year (the Dolphins allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 94.8 passer rating, one of the highest marks in the league) will become the strength of this team. And it's not just Howard and Fitzpatrick. Cordrea Tankersley, Tony Lippett (when he returns from a torn Achilles), Bobby McCain, Reshad Jones and T.J. McDonald will all do their part.
So, it's not totally outlandish to believe Gase can lead the Dolphins back to the playoffs in Year 3. Outlandish would be saying that Jay Cutler would become a reality TV star and ... wait, that actually happened. So this bodes well for you.