The Miami Dolphins have frequently possessed most of the right pieces for postseason contention, but the emergence of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill makes this team a legitimate playoff threat both in 2012 and future seasons.
For the last 12 years—or since Dan Marino retired from the game in 2000—the Dolphins have suffered through quarterback play from the likes of Jay Fiedler, Gus Frerotte, Cleo Lemon, Joey Harrington and Chad Henne.
Some years, the Dolphins stayed competitive despite the lack of talent at the quarterback position. In others, Miami struggled to even stay relevant (1-15, 2007).
But consider that in those 12 years, the Dolphins had a scoring defense ranked in the top 10 seven different times. Only three times over that span was Miami outside of the top 15 in scoring or total defense.
Yet, the Dolphins have been one of the more inconsistent teams in football since Marino left the NFL, and their three-year record of 20-28 is nothing more than average.
Tannehill's emergence changes the whole dynamic.
Now, the Dolphins have a franchise quarterback—with big-time playmaking ability—to go with a solid defense and growing coaching staff.
Through eight games, Tannehill has 1,762 yards, five touchdown passes and a 78.1 passer rating. But in each of the last four games that he's completed (not counting at New York), Tannehill finished with a passer rating over 85.0. His arrow is trending upwards, and he's done it without a bona fide No. 1 receiver.
Finally, all of the important pieces seem to be coming into place for Miami.
And wouldn't you know it, the Dolphins already find themselves right in the thick of the AFC playoff race in 2012.
A loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9 dropped the Dolphins to 4-4, but Miami is just one game out for a wild-card spot in the AFC. Four winnable games (Buffalo twice, Jacksonville and Tennessee Sunday) should keep the Dolphins in the race until the final weeks. If Tannehill can spring an upset or two along the way, Miami could be playoff-bound this season.
Miami has long been a team capable of making the postseason in any given season, but Tannehill's arrival and his emergence as a franchise-caliber quarterback should make the Dolphins legitimate playoff contenders every season. The missing piece to the contender puzzle looks to have finally been found.