2012 Miami Dolphins: Miami Is Rebuilding, but Still an AFC Playoff Contender

Eduardo Mendez@@Mendez_FCCorrespondent IIOctober 11, 2012

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 07:  Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, #17 of the Miami Dolphins, yells to tight end Anthony Fasano, #80 of the Miami Dolphins before the start of a play against the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 7, 2012 in Cincinnati, Ohio. The Dolphins won, 17-13. (Photo by Tyler Barrick/Getty Images)
Tyler Barrick/Getty Images

Entering the 2012 NFL season, expert analysts took turns taking the proverbial shot at general manager Jeff Ireland and the new direction of the Miami Dolphins.

The departure of big-name talents like Brandon Marshall, Chad Johnson and Vontae Davis, coupled with Ryan Tannehill becoming the first rookie to start at QB for the franchise, led many to believe the Dolphins were in rebuilding mode.

It is a term front offices avoid and fans despise, but while they may be rebuilding, the Dolphins already have the tools to make a run towards the playoffs.

The concerted effort put forth by Miami in the first five weeks of the season has justified the vision Joe Philbin had for his team. Experts cannot deny, that at 2-3, he has transformed the Dolphins from an NFL punchline to a dark-horse contender in the AFC.

Philbin, together with new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman, has constructed an offense that currently ranks fifth in total yards.

Widely considered an anemic threat before the start of the season, the Dolphins now possess a balanced attack that has them ranked in the top 10 in both rushing and passing. Tannehill (single-game passing yards by a rookie) and receiver Brian Hartline (receiving yards in a game) have already set franchise records, as well.

On the opposite side of the ball, Kevin Coyle has been masterful this season, creating a defensive scheme that is dominant up front. Heading into Week 6, the Dolphins are ranked second against the run and are only allowing 2.7 yards a carry.

It is a progressive formula that will catapult this franchise into the playoff picture by years end.

When looking at NFL history, every playoff run is ignited by a signature win—one that embodies a week of practice and preparation and culminates in 60 minutes of triumphant football.

That signature-style win came in Week 3 back in 2008, the last time the Dolphins made the playoffs. Tony Sparano unleashed the real wildcat in that game, leaving Bill Belichick bewildered as Miami won 38-13. The Dolphins would go on to win 10 of their final 13 games en route to their 13th division title.

For the 2012 Dolphins, that signature win may have come last week.

As a three-point underdog versus a playoff team in the Cincinnati Bengals, the Dolphins won their first road game of the year. Tannehill played 60 minutes of mistake-free football, Cameron Wake and the rest of the front line dominated off the ball and Sean Smith shut down another top-tier receiver. 

It wasn't a flawless victory by any means, but it was one that kicked down the door the team had been knocking on the last couple of weeks after losing consecutive overtime games in heartbreaking fashion.

Unlike the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, the Dolphins have become an AFC East team no one wants to face. Looking ahead, their schedule favors a potential playoff run.

Even after conceding a loss to San Francisco and two more to New England, Miami still has eight winnable games remaining.

The Bills, Jets, Jaguars, Colts, Titans, Seahawks and Rams represent the meat of the Dolphins' schedule, and given the recent improvement in their play, there is no reason to believe the Dolphins do not have a shot at winning seven more games this season.

This is a potential nine-win team. As we saw last year, 9-7 is good enough to get you into the playoffs, and although the Dolphins may not be the New York Giants, 9-7 is still good enough to win a Super Bowl in today's NFL.