4 Bold (and Slightly Less Bold) Predictions for the 2014 Miami Dolphins
From Cortland Finnegan and Mike Wallace talking about the offense, to the coaching staff talking up some of their players, you have to feel pretty good about the Dolphins right now, assuming you take the coaches and players' words for it.
Now with the exception of Bill Lazor, I'm not one to take the coaches' words on the weather in Davie if they told me it was going to be 90 degrees, much less on the team this year.
But I do trust the players, and I trust what I have observed from this Dolphins team.
With that in mind, here are four bold (and not too bold) predictions for the 2014 Miami Dolphins.
Bold Prediction: Miami's Offense Will Be a Top-10 Unit
This might just be the cold medicine talking (for the last week I've been hampered by a severe cold that is about as stubborn as a Joe Philbin press conference), but this Dolphins offense has the ability to be something special, no?
Last year's Dolphins offense was the picture of mediocrity, finishing 27th in offense in terms of yards, while finishing 26th in points scored.
The reason for this boils down to Ryan Tannehill's growing pains, a porous offensive line and a West Coast offensive scheme that was state-of-the-art when I was watching Alf during its first run on television.
The scheme was predictable and archaic, and at times, not only was I able to guess what plays would be run before the snap, but most fans were also able to do the same.
If fans and a handsome hack writer could guess what plays the Dolphins were going to run, don't you think an NFL defensive coordinator could?
This year brings a change, thanks to new offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.
Lazor was Philadelphia's quarterbacks coach last season, when the Eagles gave us an offense that was state of the art now, as I splurged on an Amazon purchase of every season of Alf.
Now how responsible Lazor was for the offense is debated, as Eagles head coach Chip Kelly is looked at as the mastermind behind said offense, but it doesn't hurt that Lazor was around Kelly and could pick up a few tips.
Throw in a new-and-improved offensive line (which we will get to), and you'll see a much-improved, potentially top-10 Miami offense.
The offense will be helped out by another prediction; this one is not so bold.
Less Bold Prediction: Miami's Running Game Will Improve
This isn't that bold of a prediction because the running game can't really get much worse than last season.
Miami ranked 26th in rushing yards, and when the Dolphins couldn't get the running game going, they lost.
That was the story of the Dolphins offense, and it helps sum up their woes.
The offensive line was the main culprit in Miami's lack of running game, but you can't help but also pin some of the blame on the backs themselves. Daniel Thomas was a fairly useless save for Miami's Week 14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Lamar Miller could never fully gain the trust of the coaching staff to be Miami's primary running back.
Thomas' carries will likely be replaced with Knowshon Moreno getting carries, while Miller has been outstanding in OTAs, and, as reported by ESPN.com's James Walker, is ahead of Moreno on the depth chart thus far, with Walker stating:
Miller worked with the first team for the third week in a row. So far, Miller also is making more plays in the running game than free-agent pickup Knowshon Moreno, who appears to be working his way into shape.
Moreno was the favorite entering the spring after starting for the AFC champion Denver Broncos last season. "He's had a very good camp. ...This is the time as a third-year player that you're ready to make a big contribution," Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin said of Miller.
Bold Prediction: Miami's Offensive Line Will Feature Two Pro Bowlers
Last season, the Miami Dolphins had one offensive lineman make it into the Pro Bowl, and it seemed like it was one too many.
Miami's offensive line was horribly awful in 2013, which in the end is the real reason why the Dolphins were 8-8 and watched the playoffs on the couch.
I didn't even think Mike Pouncey was deserving of his Pro Bowl slot. Individually he was decent, as seen here on Pro Football Focus (subscription required), but considering what the team didn't do, I can't defend his placement as a Pro Bowl player too much.
Luckily, that will change this season, as the Dolphins will have a much-improved offensive line, including a very much-improved Mike Pouncey, and Pouncey and someone else will get an invite to the Pro Bowl in 2014.
Less Bold Prediction: Branden Albert Will Be the 2nd Pro Bowl Offensive Lineman
Branden Albert has already made a Pro Bowl, so this isn't much of a stretch.
In fact, Albert made the Pro Bowl last season, despite only playing in 12 games for Kansas City.
I feel confident in saying that Albert will play 16 games for the Dolphins this season, and if he does that, he will join Pouncey for another Pro Bowl appearance.
Bold Prediction: Dion Jordan Will Have More Than 5.5 Sacks in 2014
Does this translate into Jordan having a successful season? I'm going to go with yes.
He won't start, but in 2014 he will have much more playing time, especially on third-and-long situations.
At that point, he'll be on the field with Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon and be allowed to just pin his ears back and go after the quarterback.
Enough of those plays should get Jordan to amass more than 5.5 sacks in 2014, giving him a successful season.
Less Bold Prediction: Olivier Vernon Will Have More Than 10 Sacks in 2014
I mentioned on the last slide that Jordan wouldn't start for the Dolphins. That's because Olivier Vernon will, and he will get more than 10 sacks this season.
The reason Vernon will have more sacks is simple: more plays. While Jordan will mainly play when Miami wants to rush the quarterback (or give either Vernon or Wake a breather), Vernon is Miami's starting defensive end alongside Wake.
Bold Prediction: Cameron Wake Will Win Defensive Player of the Year
This might sound like crazy talk when you consider that the NFL is lousy with pass-rushers right now.
It's not as crazy as you think. Wake will be the defensive player of the year in 2014.
It's primed to be a "comeback" season for Wake, who only registered 8.5 sacks in 2013 while being the focus of double-teams throughout the season.
Now let's add in Vernon and Jordan, and Wake will get some more room to work with. It's conceivable that he will double his sack total in 2014.
He also tends to do well in even-numbered years, but that's a coincidence.
Wake is Miami's best defensive player (with all respect to Brent Grimes) and will be the league's best in 2014, as he helps lead the Dolphins to the playoffs.
Sorry I spoiled the last slide for you.
Less Bold Prediction: Dolphins Will Make the Playoffs
I swear, this isn't the cough medicine talking, but I do see the Dolphins making the playoffs.
For this to occur, look at the bold (and less bold) predictions listed. If that happens, Miami is a playoff team. It's as simple as that.
If any one of these predictions comes to fruition—and this one will—it's the prediction on the running game.
Miami was a lot closer than everyone thought in 2013. They had their playoff destiny in their hands going into the final two weeks of the season until their weaknesses came back to bite them in the rear.
These weaknesses have been addressed. The offense won't be as predictable, the running game and offensive line will be better and the defense will be more aggressive.
Factor that in, along with Miami going 8-8 last season, despite everything swirling around them, and you have a team that will surprise many and make the playoffs in 2014.
Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com.