9 Daring Predictions and 1 Frustrating Conclusion for the 2011 Miami Dolphins
Predicting the future is hard. Just ask Harold Camping who had the faithful and the gullible buying canned food and bottled water back in May. At least people don’t place friendly wagers on the end of the world.
And that’s what makes predicting sports harder than Armageddon.
Everyone has an opinion and are absolutely sure they’ve got the winning horse. As one of my close friends tells me, the word “should” needs to be left out of sports conversations.
For example, the Miami Heat "should" have won the NBA championship; the U.S. Women’s Soccer team "should" have beat Japan for the World’s Cup title; and I "should" have run the ball in for the game-winning touchdown during the 1997 Turkey Bowl but instead elected to throw a pass which was ultimately intercepted. Dumb.
Thus, any attempt at foreseeing how the 2011-12 Miami Dolphins will fare just days after the NFL lockout was lifted, with an incomplete roster and a flurry of free-agent activity, should be taken with a grain of salt.
But I promise any guesses I make will be backed by facts I spent minutes Googling.
9. Reggie Bush Stays Healthy for More Than Five Minutes
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As of late, aside from football returning, the biggest news for Dolphans is the trade which brings HB Reggie Bush to South Florida.
He was a dynamic athlete in college, playing against defenses filled with future dentists and real estate agents. The NFL has presented a tougher road devoid of wide open running lanes like he was accustomed to at USC.
Yes, he is still a dynamic athlete but he’s not been the stellar running back many thought he would be. And yes, he has a Super Bowl—but so does Trent Dilfer. In other words, subtract him from the equation, and I think Drew’s Saints still get it done.
One of the greatest difficulties for Bush has been his inability to stay on the field. Of the five years Bush has been in the NFL, only once, his rookie season, did he remain healthy all 16 games. He’s missed multiple games due to knee injuries and a broken bone in his right leg last year. This doesn’t bode well for the Dolphins who just jettisoned a star running back, Ronnie Brown, with leg issues.
Also, remember the last time Miami signed a Heisman Trophy winning running back who began his career with the New Orleans Saints? I do. The Dolphins won exactly zero playoff games with the ganja loving yoga master. I’m just saying.
As for Bush, I say he lasts 12-of-16 games, intermittently. That’s a hopeful number, but it’s better than IR which history says is where he belongs.
8. The "Wildcat" Rear’s Its Ugly Head Again...and Works! Sort Of!
When the “Wildcat” premiered during the Miami Dolphins 2008 season, it was “wildly” effective (God that’s a horrible joke, but it’ll remain despite my better judgment.)
The reason it worked so well is because modern NFL defenses weren’t prepared for such a formation. Although there were several precursors to the “Wildcat,” some (possibly) dating back to the 1930s and more recently the 1990s in the NFL, CFL and NCAA, no one really considered it more than a gimmick.
The Dolphins turned this gimmick into a way to beat the New England Patriots, and anyone else foolish enough attempting to stop their running game. Here’s a better explanation of why the “Wildcat” worked when first unleashed.
The element of surprise was on Miami’s side. This no longer is the case. Everyone practices to defend it now, and since NFL coaches love to mimic one another, there are other teams who have drawn up their own versions of the formation.
And yet, I get this sick feeling that at some point we’ll see the “Wildcat” appear during a Dolphins game this year. This is despite Miami hiring a new offensive coordinator; more on him later. My point is, coaches are notorious borrowers of plays, ideas, gimmicks, formations, styles, etc. The “Wildcat” formation and all its variations are here to stay just like the “Shotgun” and the “I-Formation.”
Unfortunately the Dolphins don’t have the personnel to execute it. Not yet anyway. Miami’s offense doesn’t strike fear into any defenses’ heart. Head coach Tony Sparano, GM Jeff Ireland and majority owner Stephen Ross have all used the word "speed" countless times these last few days, as in adding more of it to a sluggish offense.
Reggie Bush is a start and hopefully one of the 11 rookie free agents they signed will stick. Will any of this make a difference to an offense that finished 30th last season in points scored? Not when you hire Brian Daboll who was Cleveland’s offensive coordinator last year—a team that finished 31st in points scored. In case you missed that, 31 is worse than 30.
7. The Dolphins Win More Than One Game at Home. No, Really!
I went to four of the eight home games last season. I was one of the few thousand who witnessed the rare win at home in person. Honestly, I was surprised the Dolphins won. Their sole home game win came against the Tennessee Titans in Week 10 on their fourth attempt—not exactly confidence inspiring.
But that was last year. This season, the Dolphins will win at least two homes.
I’m betting on the Redskins and Bills games. They’re not good teams and Miami is marginally better, tremendously better if we’re talking about defense, the Dolphins one saving grace.
At least Miami has plenty of options for entertaining halftime shows if they need to distract the fans from crying into their nachos.
Speaking of entertainment…
6. Three More Celebrities Buy Stake in Team, Welcome Party Last Time They Smile
Because minority owners Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Marc Anthony, Fergie and Venus and Serena Williams just aren’t enough for Stephen Ross’ collection of stars, I’m figuring he’ll have three more celebrities buy a stake in the club.
I think LeBron James joins the fold because he’s already interested in the major sports franchise ownership game as evidenced by his recent buy-in as part owner of the Premier League’s Liverpool football club. Plus, becoming the King of Miami has to start somewhere. It certainly doesn’t begin with winning NBA championships apparently.
Pitbull is second on my list because the man loves him some Miami. Listen to any of his albums and it’s immediate he’ll never abandon his home. Additionally, he’ll do anything within his hip-hop powers to promote the 305. He’s already contributed a theme song to the Florida Marlins and a contribution of cash to the Dolphins in order to purchase a stake in the team and a personalized jersey isn't too far-fetched.
Finally, my third new owner is a bit of wild card. Michael C. Hall plays Miami Metro Police Department blood splatter analyst and part time serial killer Dexter Morgan on the Showtime TV series, Dexter. Although not a prominent sports figure, Grammy winning artist or Hollywood superstar, Michael/Dexter provides the Dolphins a famous serial killer on their sidelines. I doubt anyone will try to trip up one of our guys again.
5. K Dan Carpenter Becomes Best Dolphins Fantasy Player
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He’s a Pro Bowler, he’s accurate (he’s only missed one PAT in his career and makes eighty percent of his FG’s) and last year, he kicked the longest field goal in Dolphins history.
None of that really qualifies him to be your fantasy football representative from the Dolphins though. But consider this: last season, of the top four options the Miami Dolphins provided fantasy football players, QB Chad Henne, RB Ronnie Brown, WR Brandon Marshall and my meal ticket, K Dan Carpenter, only Henne was ahead in overall points scored. This is how it broke down:
Henne (174 pts.)
Carpenter (134 pts.)
Brown (123 pts.)
Marshall (117 pts.)
If Henne struggles at the helm this year, he’ll get yanked making him irrelevant. The same goes for Marshall if no one can get him the ball in the end zone.
The true hope lies with running backs Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas…but that’s only if Bush can stay healthy and Thomas meets expectations unlike San Diego’s rookie HB last year, Ryan Matthews.
Carpenter kicks 60-yard field goals for funsies. Championship!
4. RB Daniel Thomas Carries Ball 400 Times, Wins NFL's Offensive ROTY by Default
I looked at rushing attempts by five of the most productive running backs from the 2010-11 season (Jamaal Charles, Adrian Peterson, Chris Johnson, Ray Rice and Arian Foster), and after some adding and dividing, it turns out the average times a starting running back in a run-first offense should carry the ball is around 292 times.
Since arriving in Miami, Reggie Bush has stated that he wants to be the featured back. As a player whose career high in attempts tops out at 157, this is doubtful.
Now, taking into consideration that new OC Brian Daboll will want to wear down defenses by running at them endlessly, like his did in Cleveland with Madden 12 cover boy Peyton Hillis, this year’s Dolphins should be run first. There’s that word again—should.
In 2010, Miami threw 557 pass attempts and ran the ball 445 times. Flip that in this hypothetical new offense, and now, we’re looking at 557 rushing attempts. Subtract Bush’s 157 attempts and what’s left?
That’s right. Daniel Thomas tunneling through mammoth defensive linemen attempting to eat him, hoping he sees daylight again, 400 times.
And before anyone tears apart my fuzzy math, yes, I know there are other running backs on the Dolphins but just humor me for a moment. The conclusion I’m trying to arrive at is that Thomas will bear the load of the running game.
Provided he’s as good as advertised, the offensive line does its job and he doesn’t get injured, Thomas will have plenty of opportunity to make a mark in the NFL.
3. Rookie QB Pat Devlin Starts at Least One Game for Miami
Whether he’s the third or fourth string QB (if they even carry that many QB’s) Pat Devlin will get a shot.
One of the coveted rookie free agents from the 2011 draft class, Devlin looks like a major coup for the Dolphins. He’s no first rounder, but in actuality, that could turn out to be a very good thing for the Dolphins. As Joe Flacco’s successor at Delaware, Devlin was a Walter Payton and Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award finalist. If he pans out the way the Dolphins hope, he could be a fairly inexpensive solution at quarterback.
I just hope he doesn’t suffer the same fate as the last Pat that started at QB for the Fins. That was nasty.
(Note: if the Dolphins do end up trading for Kyle Orton, I believe they’ll still keep Devlin and trade or release Matt Moore. Just a thought)
2. Brandon Marshall Throws Entire Offense under Bus, Drives over Henne Twice
Violence follows Brandon Marshall wherever he goes. He was charged with assaulting a cop while at the University of Central Florida, fell through a television set while wrestling with family members in 2008, was present at the night club where, then teammate, Darrent Williams was fatally shot, and this past offseason, was stabbed by his wife in the stomach.
Not surprisingly, since he entered the NFL, there have been numerous police visits to his home, mostly involving domestic disputes.
This prediction works twofold: one, although Brandon Marshall is a ridiculously gifted receiver, he’s a magnet for trouble. Two, can you not see a future where when the offense is faltering and Miami is losing consistently, Marshall will lose his mind and throw a sideline or practice tantrum?
The only reason this prediction may not come true isn’t because Henne will metamorphosize into a Pro Bowl quarterback or because the ticking diva time bomb that is Brandon Marshall won’t detonate into a big fireball of crazy.
No the reason is instead of Henne being trampled underneath Marshall’s rubbery wheels of selfishness Kyle Orton could become its first victim. According to recent reports from the local Miami papers, the Denver/Miami trade for Orton isn't dead yet, just on life support.
Regardless, the main issue here is Brandon Marshall. I know the first argument against this prediction is that he’s been relatively clean since arriving in Miami aside from the stabbing incident. Listen, it’s only been one year. Even Terrell Owens has a honeymoon period with his new teams before imploding and attempting to drag everyone else down to his own personal hell.
Besides, his wife stabbed him.
Obviously he did something to piss her off. Here’s hoping the only people he angers this season are opposing corners.
1. Tony Sparano Is Benched Mid-Season, Replaced by Backup Head Coach Mike Nolan
Now that I’ve spent a large portion of this article chronicling on the Dolphins’ offensive woes, allow me a moment to cheer their defensive efforts under the watchful eye of Mike Nolan.
Bravo gentlemen. Well done. I hope the lockout allowed you some rest to heal your bodies because your backs will be heavy once again.
The defense will carry Miami in 2011. They’re the Dolphins’ only real shot at relevance in the AFC East this season. This should come as no surprise to any Miami fan. They finished sixth in yards against and 14th in points against, impressive stats for a team that played six playoff teams including the Packers who the Dolphins beat in Green Bay.
With another year under Nolan’s tutelage, the subtraction of LB Channing Crowder’s mouth and the addition of former Chargers LB Kevin Burnett, this defense is poised to be better.
This brings me to Mike Nolan becoming the Miami Dolphins interim head coach in 2011. Let’s face it—Tony Sparano is a lame duck coach. Owner Stephen Ross unsuccessfully and embarrassingly attempted to woo former Stanford head man Jim Harbaugh.
Instead, Harbaugh stayed in the Golden State to coach San Francisco. So, like a man caught cheating by his beloved, Ross bought his girl a pretty diamond ring before he’d even pulled his tighty whiteys back up.
The problem is, Ross has shown he believes that Sparano is a stop gap solution at best. It seems that it’s playoffs or bust for Sparano and the pessimist in me foresees the Dolphins wallowing in the squalor of a 2-6 season when Ross pulls the trigger and replaces Sparano with Nolan who has head coaching experience.
Perhaps, that’s why Sparano didn’t get sacked at the end of the 2010 season. Ross has a backup plan to his backup plan. Plus, there’s a certain franchise quarterback coming in the 2012 draft that many teams are drooling over. A fresh start with a stud like that can make fans forget a botched coaching change.
Conclusion: Dolphins Finish 6-10, Don't Suck Enough for Luck
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I’ve heard the slogan “Suck for Luck” several times already in this young NFL offseason from more than one Dolphins fan. Aside from the possibly perverse interpretation of this phrase, I understand their frustration. They want a franchise quarterback and Standford’s Andrew Luck looks like the ideal candidate for that distinction.
I also know they don’t mean it.
No real fan truly roots against their own team. It goes against our DNA as fans. You stick with your team through thick and thin. It’s what marriage should be like; there is no divorcing your horrible team. Things can always improve, right New Orleans?
But the truth remains, great quarterbacks win championships and poor quarterbacks lose head coaches their jobs. The Dolphins won’t completely tank thanks to a solid defense but they will hover around mediocrity or worse. They’ve made some good moves, but they aren’t enough to keep up with the Patriots and Jets who are hell-bent on making the AFC East a two team division.
As has been the case before, Miami seems destined for another playoff-free season and an early to mid-round draft pick.
Luck will be long gone by then dashing fans’ visions of glory, and their first playoff win in over a decade.