Is it football season yet?
The upcoming campaign looks like it's going to be one of the toughest in recent Miami Dolphins history to predict.
But I'll do my best to do just that. I'll look at training camp battles (most importantly the all-important three-way-dance to decide the next starting quarterback), as well as any potential development of this team and predict how you should expect the Dolphins to fare in 2012.
Now I tried this last season, and if you want a good laugh, be sure to check out those predictions. Last year I tried to stress optimism amongst Dolphins fans. This season, pragmatism and faith in our future. Once you're done laughing at last year, come join me in taking a look at this year.
After the Dolphins selected Ryan Tannehill in round one, I had this to say:
Tannehill will likely sit on the bench for his first year in Miami, meaning he won't provide an immediate impact. For first round picks, it is imperative that they do just that.
I still firmly believe every single word I said in those two sentences. What reason do I have not to believe any of it? It's only confirmed by this conversation between Miami Herald columnist Barry Jackson and Dolphins running back Reggie Bush:
Look for a tight competition between David Garrard and Matt Moore for the starting job, with Ryan Tannehill likely to begin the season on the bench.
“I would probably agree with you on that,” Reggie Bush told me. “Ryan can watch the veterans and learn. When he gets the call, he’ll be ready.”
Tannehill will be ready when he gets the call, but that call won't come on September 9th against Houston. Instead, expect David Garrard to get the call to start for the Dolphins over incumbent Matt Moore.
Why Garrard despite the fact that he missed all of last season after being released from Jacksonville?
The same article mentioned above explains it well:
Philbin speaks well of Moore, but his praise of Garrard has been more extensive and effusive the past three months.
“Garrard’s impressive,” Philbin said. “He looks you in the eye, shakes your hand and you feel good about the guy. He can still move well. He throws the ball with a lot of velocity and his accuracy has been good. His command of the offense is good.”
What about Moore? “I like the way he caught onto the system,” Philbin said. “He’s doing well.”
When a coach praises one guy's full abilities then remarks about the other guy about liking "the way he caught onto the system", I'm going to bet the guy whose abilities are being raved about by the coach is the leader.
However the test will come in training camp and during the preseason for all of the world to see. While I see Moore catching up during Miami's preseason games against Tampa Bay, Carolina, Atlanta and Dallas (Moore is a better player during the game than he is in practice), I see Garrard as the starter in Week 1 against Houston not only because of his abilities, but also due to familiarity (at least with their Week 1 opponent).
Garrard is 6-4 all time against Houston, which you might recall is six more wins than the Miami Dolphins franchise has over the Texans. In those 10 games, Garrard threw for 2,091 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions with a completion percentage of 62.9 percent and an overall quarterback rating of 90.6.
The Texans won't be the only team that Garrard is more familiar with—the Dolphins also have meetings against his former team the Jaguars (which will be a fun game to predict), as well as games against the Colts and Titans.
You know, teams Garrard would know very well.
That, plus the fact that Garrard is more talented than Moore (despite being seven years older than him) and I feel confident in predicting that the former Jags Pro Bowl quarterback will be Miami's opening day quarterback.
When these two teams played last season, Houston wound up winning (as usual when the Texans and Dolphins meet) 23-13 despite a breakout performance from Daniel Thomas (107 yards on 18 attempts).
The reason for this is one look at Chad Henne's numbers: 12/30, 170 yards, one touchdown and one interception. That's a passer rating of 56.3.
Of course Brandon Marshall shouldn't be absolved of any blame: his dropsies in the end zone were so terrible that a gentleman sitting a few rows away from me at the game dropped his beer (and it was an import; do you know how much an import costs at Sun Life Stadium? Brandon Marshall owes that man a beer, I doubt he drops it if Marshall didn't have the dropsies).
Henne isn't in Miami anymore and neither is Marshall. But the results will be similar for this simple reason.
Houston is just plain better than Miami.
It will be a competitive and spirited battle and Arian Foster will be stopped by Miami's run-stoppers. However the defense as a whole will spring a few leaks (especially on pass coverage), while an efficient offense led by Garrard won't be enough to bring Miami a victory.
FINAL SCORE: Houston 27 Miami 20.
Forgive me for being skeptical of the Oakland Raiders, but I feel I have more reasons.
Their division only got better. They've had a two-year window (with two different head coaches) where they could have won their division had they won a couple of key non-divisional games.
In both years two of those key non-division losses came against the Miami Dolphins. Neither game was very close, but last year's was especially awful for the Raiders, who wouldn't score until the fourth quarter en route to a 34-14 loss that was actually nowhere near as close as the final score indicated.
The year before the game between the two teams the score was only slightly closer and the game was in Oakland.
I should also remind you that the Raiders had two different starting quarterbacks and two different coaches both years.
Now the Raiders and Dolphins both have new coaches, but the Raiders will still have Carson Palmer at quarterback (barring any key injuries). The game is in Miami, in September, at 1 p.m., which is pretty bad news for Carson Palmer and the rest of the Raiders.
It's this simple: Miami in the summer, Dolphins in white, Raiders in silver and black.
Then there's Miami's running game, which has dominated the Raiders in their last two meetings. Last year Miami rushed for 209 yards against Oakland and the year before they rushed for 186 yards.
Pragmatically, I see Miami winning this game. It won't be as much of a blowout as the last two years, but this would be the perfect game for the Dolphins to unleash Lamar Miller. He's a Miami boy used to running in the South Florida sun in the summer. I'd give him 18 rushing attempts, which should net him 102 yards.
Reggie Bush should have 15 carries of his own as well as three to four catches and 127 all-purpose yards, while Daniel Thomas should have 10 carries of his own (60 yards and a touchdown sound right for him).
I know Miami's thinking West Coast offense, but at least for this game a bruising (and not to mention clock controlling) rushing attack is just what the doctor ordered.
FINAL SCORE: Miami 27 Oakland 17
Going into this game I see the Dolphins at 1-1 while the Jets will come in at 0-2 (look at the Jets' first two opponents—yikes).
However I can't break this down pragmatically with statistics because we know that with the Dolphins and Jets, weird things just happen.
Throw Tim Tebow into the mix somehow and you're probably looking at one of the weirdest games of the season.
Miami might come in as a slight favorite and will play very well for the first 45 minutes building up a 17-3 lead.
But then, for the first time since 9 p.m. on June 21, 2012, Skip Bayless will crack a smile. Then that smile will turn into a cackle. Then he will become more insufferable than ever before (like that was possible).
We all understand that this has to be the game where Tim Tebow starts "saving" the Jets right? It has to be in Florida, it has to be at Sun Life Stadium (where Tebow won his National Championship against Oklahoma then last season beat the Dolphins to begin the Tebow playoff run). We know this has to be the game where Miami chokes away a lead for the first time this season, where everything falls apart for unknown reasons.
Of course let's not forget the fact that former Dolphin Yeremiah Bell (who I wish went to the Pats if he were to choose an AFC East team because I'd like to see him win a ring) will somehow make his presence known on this day (I see a forced fumble from Chad Ochocinco/Johnson).
I hate looking at this game on the schedule because Miami should take at least one game from the Jets. Rex Ryan is only 2-4 against the Dolphins, as is Mark Sanchez. Sparano and Henne owned the Jets for reasons that will never quite be explained.
Yet I hate looking at this game on the schedule because of Tebow. Cameron Wake should be eating Tim Tebow for lunch. Vontae Davis should be picking him off left and right. He'll do it to Sanchez in the first three quarters, but in the fourth quarter? Somehow Tebow gets the best of the Dolphins again.
I'm going to be sick and this game isn't even being game-planned yet.
FINAL SCORE: New York Jets 23 Miami 17 (OT)
These two teams don't really play each other much. In fact, the last time these two teams played in 2008, they were both on their way to division titles (with Arizona on their way to an NFC championship).
The quarterbacks and many other key players are different. But the Cardinals tend to be a good team at home and last season showed flashes of being a good team overall.
Tough one to gauge, but I'm going with the Cardinals here. But barely. Larry Fitzgerald (seven catches, 110 yards, two touchdowns sounds like his line) will be the difference.
FINAL SCORE: Arizona 28 Miami 13
Chad Ochocinco/Johnson will make his return to Cincinnati for the Dolphins' Week 5 showdown against the Bengals.
I actually could see Chad (can I just call him Chad?) doing decent going into this game (18 catches for 201 yards and two touchdowns in his first four games with the 'Phins), then hoping to go all-world.
But that doesn't mean success for the Dolphins. Yes, the Dolphins passing game should do alright in Cincinnati, but the Bengals defense can cause turnovers (last season they had 10 interceptions and 18 forced fumbles). With the Dolphins still getting adjusted to the West Coast offense, turnovers will be a slight problem in their first four games (they'll be 1-3) and will come to a head against the Bengals.
These turnovers will lose an otherwise one-score game for Miami.
FINAL SCORE: Cincinnati 22 Miami 19
Jeff Fisher made Miami play the waiting game for his services.
Like Jim Harbaugh before him and Peyton Manning after him, Miami lost out on Fisher's services as he decided to go to St. Louis
Since then he made a good (yet so obvious a three-year-old could've made it) trade with Washington giving up the number-two pick in the draft for three first-round picks and a second-round pick. He then traded the Washington pick to Dallas in exchange for more draft picks.
This Dolphins defense can take advantage of that, and they will. Bradford will eat more turf at Sun Life Stadium than Les Miles eats at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.
A defensive battle that will be won thanks to the slightly more efficient Dolphins offense. I see the offense getting into a better groove with Charles Clay having himself a good day (seven catches for 78 yards and two touchdowns) as well as Miami's second win of the season.
Maybe it won't be enough to make Fisher rue his decision of the Rams over the Dolphins (Dolphins had a better roster at the time while the Rams had a more stable quarterback situation and better draft position), but he won't be happy leaving Miami.
FINAL SCORE: Miami 31 St. Louis 10
Let's review the Dolphins.
They are what we thought they would be. They're a 2-4 ballclub after the first six games, but 2-1 at home. They'll struggle implementing their offense (but show improvement) while their defense continues to get better.
Are they in contention? No. But they're competitive. It will be a 2-4 that could just as easily be 4-2. Meanwhile Garrard will be good (not great) but there won't be a call for Tannehill.
Now for the bad news. The beginning of the the Dolphins schedule: yeah, the easiest part. Trips to the Meadowlands, Buffalo, Foxborough and San Francisco await Miami—as well as a trip to Indianapolis against a possibly resurgent Colts.
Will the Dolphins go 0-8 on the road? Will the offense continue to get better? When will Ryan Tannehill make his debut?
I see Tebow-mania taking control of New York by this time (I predicted it starting in Miami), but like most sequels it will fizzle out.
The Jets will still be all out of sorts, boasting a 3-4 record while Miami is at 2-4. Tebow can only work so many miracles, and one of them isn't getting Santonio Holmes the ball.
But having Darrelle Revis stop Chad Johnson/Ochocinco? Not a miracle, just something that will happen.
New York dominates this one sadly and, for the first time ever, I predict a New York sweep of Miami.
FINAL SCORE: New York 21 Miami 7
Miami failed last season where Indianapolis succeeded: Sucking for Luck.
Many are happy that the Dolphins failed in this quest. The failure to "Suck For Luck" led to Ryan Tannehill becoming a Miami Dolphin (which might not be all bad) and the Colts getting their second franchise quarterback in 14 years.
Oh, will Andrew Luck haunt Miami? Definitely. Starting this game.
Miami will lead through much of the first half, as much as 21-10. But then Luck will pull out a comeback, while both Garrard and Moore will play in the second half (and fail) leading to the Colts victory with the crowd at Lucas Oil Stadium go crazy.
FINAL SCORE: Indianapolis 31 Miami 21
Going into this game I should have no reason to think Miami can win.
They'll be 2-7 while their opponent, Tennessee, will be 4-5 and still within a shot at the playoffs.
But last year I saw the Titans in the same type of position. Still with a shot at the playoffs they lost to the Indianapolis Colts—the then winless Indianapolis Colts—on the road.
In a related story, Tennessee missed the playoffs.
Now add this in: it could be a transition year in Tennessee (and even then I have them at 4-5), and the youngster Jake Locker will be their quarterback instead of Matt Hasselbeck.
There is no reason in my right mind to pick Miami over Tennessee. There's no glaring weakness (like Oakland stopping the run or St. Louis protecting Bradford), nor any significant strength that Miami has over the Titans.
But, sometimes teams get lucky, and the way things are looking based off of this prediction, the Dolphins have been unlucky.
They won't be, not on this day against the Titans.
FINAL SCORE: Miami 20 Tennessee 16
Last season's Miami-Buffalo series was very one-sided.
Miami dominated the Bills in both games by a combined score of 65-31. In their first meeting Bills running back Fred Jackson got hurt and would wind up missing the rest of the season.
This year is different. A Thursday Night in Buffalo isn't exactly a friendly road venue and the crowd will be rocking.
Oh as for the Bills, they'll be 6-3, contending for the AFC East.
Not a pretty game. Expect Garrard to be knocked out early with Moore finishing the game—setting up what I know we will all be waiting for in Week 12.
FINAL SCORE: Buffalo 31 Miami 10
This is the ideal week to start Tannehill for the first time.
If my predictions somewhat hold up, Miami will be 3-7, effectively out of the playoff race. You wouldn't want Tannehill's first game to come the week before on a Thursday night on the road in Buffalo and you definitely don't want to wait a week and tell him "Hey kid, welcome to the NFL! Your first assignment, a shootout with Tom Brady! Good luck!"
Seattle at home (in a 1pm game no less, where traditionally the Seahawks struggle) off of a long week (10 days between their game in Buffalo and this game) is a good place to start. Let the running game set up the pass a bit more than you normally would, and watch Tannehill turn in a semi-decent first start: 15/30 for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception.
It will be good enough for a close Dolphins victory and a move up to 4-7.
FINAL SCORE: Miami 23 Seattle 13
Hey remember when the team that gave Tom Brady the most trouble defensively was the Miami Dolphins?
Remember in 2006 when Miami shut the Patriots out? Remember when the Patriots traditionally lost when they went into Miami in December?
It feels so long ago and on December 2nd it will feel even longer ago.
However, Ryan Tannehill will improve in his second start. He'll go 18/31 for 236 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. The Dolphins offense will get their points.
But the New England Patriots will continue doing what they do. Tell me, who covers Rob Gronkowski on this Dolphins defense? Who covers Aaron Hernandez?
And what about Wes Welker?
Too many questions with no answers. I feel fine about Miami's offense against New England's defense. But not so fine about the Dolphins defense against New England's offense.
And this is not an insult to the Dolphins defense—it's about the Patriots offense. They're just that good.
FINAL SCORE: New England 42 Miami 27
On one side you have a team that's 10-2 and fighting for home-field advantage in the NFC (my projections for the San Francisco 49ers based on their schedule) with one of the top defenses in the league and an offense that has vastly improved.
On the other side? A 4-8 team with a rookie quarterback making his first road start against one of the top defenses in the league.
This wouldn't be such a pretty day for Tannehill. Something tells me a 9/22, 83 yards, no touchdown and two interception day seems to make sense (with Tannehill getting benched at some point in the game). Garrard won't make the Dolphins offense any better.
On defense Miami should do alright, but it won't be good enough. San Francisco wins going away and doesn't even allow Miami to score.
FINAL SCORE: San Francisco 17 Miami 0.
Somehow some way, the Jacksonville Jaguars will find themselves at 6-7 and with a faint playoff chance going into this game.
And I say that despite Jacksonville's tough schedule.
Teams with tough and scrappy defenses find ways to win. However, it's Jacksonville's quarterback roulette that will keep them from breaking through.
They have no regrets about letting go of Garrard (who won't see the field on this day), but they will regret signing Chad Henne to back up Blaine Gabbert (who will be out due to ineffectiveness).
On a day when Chad Henne will be the Chad Henne we remember in Miami (12/30, 110 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions including a touchdown Jacksonville ran back against them), Ryan Tannehill will start a decent run.
I'm thinking Tannehill goes 18/28 for 242 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions—his best game thus far. The Jags will stop Miami's rushing attack, but it won't matter much as the Jaguars will find themselves officially knocked out of the playoff race in Miami (which Chad Henne is far too used to).
FINAL SCORE: Miami 34 Jacksonville 10
The Buffalo Bills will find themselves at 10-4 and already assured of a playoff berth going into Week 16, needing a huge win in Miami and some help from the Jacksonville Jaguars to keep pace with the Patriots in the AFC East.
The Miami Dolphins will just be playing for pride. Tannehill and the Dolphins are already at 5-9, which won't be bad enough to win the Matt Barkley sweepstakes.
However a good gauge of how far this team has come will appear against the Bills, a team that if you remember from earlier in the slideshow defeated Miami 31-10 in Week 11 (the week before Tannehill's first start).
Efficiency is the name of the game, Tannehill only throws the ball 22 times but completes 17 of those passes for 213 yards and a score. He also goes his second consecutive game without throwing an interception while showing his command of a much more efficient West Coast Offense.Tannehill will also run one in for a score.
Meanwhile the Dolphins defense will have their hands full with Fred Jackson, who will come into the game as the NFL's leading rusher. Jackson will be contained as he'll only touch the ball 15 times for 62 yards. His real effect on Buffalo's offense will come in the form of five catches for 38 yards and a touchdown.
The three touchdowns scored combined between the two teams? The only three scored in a game that will be filled with field goals. Upon reading the final score, Jets offensive coordinator Tony Sparano will throw up a field goal fist pump for old time's sake.
FINAL SCORE: Miami 20 Buffalo 10
This game will mean nothing to the Patriots.
Miami's victory over Buffalo the week before will clinch the division for New England. The Patriots will also have home-field advantage sewn up going into this game thanks to a 13-2 record as well as Pittsburgh's loss to Cincinnati the week before (the Steelers will come into the final week of the season at 12-3).
But the Patriots will still get the better of Miami. This despite another excellent game by Tannehill (22 of 35 for 327 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions).
A two-headed quarterback monster of Tom Brady (15 of 20 for 177 yards and a touchdown in the first half) and Ryan Mallett (17 of 23 for 165 yards and two touchdowns in the second half) as well as a punt return for a touchdown and a Lamar Miller fumble recovery for a touchdown give New England the victory to move their record to 14-2, thus removing all doubt that the Patriots clinch home-field advantage in the AFC.
FINAL SCORE: New England 38 Miami 24
If you figured Miami would be 6-10, then congratulations, you have the same projections that I do!
However this isn't a bad thing because I see this as a team getting better as the year goes on.
By the end of the year you will feel better about the Miami Dolphins' future than you do right now, mainly because our quarterback situation will be solved.
Ryan Tannehill will start the final six games of the season and go 3-3. However when factoring in the fact that those three losses came to playoff teams (two of them on the road), as well as his numbers, you will feel fine about Tannehill.
Tannehill's numbers that you will feel good about: 99 of 168 for 1,290 yards, 10 touchdowns and four interceptions with a passer rating of 93.1.
With a franchise quarterback established, there's now a blueprint for Miami to follow in the 2013 draft (where they will be picking anywhere between seven and 12).
As for Miami's defense; despite a few high scoring games they will still rank in the top-10 overall, while ranking in the top-five against the run. They'll struggle against the pass but that will have a lot to do with two games against the New England Patriots.
Lamar Miller will be Miami's breakout rookie of the year though as he'll rush for 987 yards and score five touchdowns on the season. He'll also have one kickoff return for a touchdown. Reggie Bush will be used more as a receiving threat, where he will flourish much more as Tannehill's safety blanket. He will catch three of Tannehill's 10 touchdown passes—overall he'll have 13 touchdowns through both receiving and running.
The 6-10 projection might not excite you for the upcoming season—however Miami will be a team to look out for in the future. Expect to see a better team take the field each week than in the previous week as the new offensive scheme and new personnel take hold.
Thank you for reading, and enjoy the Miami Dolphins cheerleaders (even though I'm sure you've seen this video before). Comments are definitely appreciated, and feel free to share this piece on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and anywhere else you share content. Also be sure to add me on Twitter for Miami Dolphins and NFL news all year long.