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Miami Dolphins: What a difference a year makes!

Anyone remember the Miami Dolphins team of 2007?

Of course you do... you would need booze, drugs, and CIA style "Manchurian Candidate" type brainwashing to expunge those painful memories from your mind!

But do you remember your expectations each game, as you watched them play?  By the end of that season, I was hoping for a victory, but expecting Murphy's Law in action.

The funny thing is, that for years - through the 80s and 90s - I was surprised when the Dolphins DIDN'T win.  I mean, I was spoiled into expecting a playoff appearance every season.

Now fast forward to 2008.  Do you remember your expectation when watching the Chad Pennington-led Fins?  Maybe not right at the beginning of the season, but somewhere into the second half of the season, I was expecting that team to be able to pull out a win in the last minutes of the game.  I knew it would be close, but the Defense would do just enough to get a stop, and then the conservative, efficient, Offense would dink and dunk its way down the field and score with no time left on the clock.

And last season?  What was the expectation last season?  If you are anything like me, then you came to expect a 4th quarter breakdown by the Defense.  No matter how well the Offense played, the Defense would find a way to fall apart in the final 10 minutes.  There were a number of games that we would have won if the Defense had just been able to get a stop or a takeaway.

Which brings us to this year - the 2010 NFL Season.  Like it or not, you WILL come to expect a certain level of performance from this team by mid-season.

It is way too early at this point to say that the 2010 Miami Dolphins have established any sort of baseline by which to set future expectations for game day performance. But by mid-season, the character of this team will have become visible and we, as fans, will expect to see certain characteristics of the team in each game over the rest of the season.  Those expectations are evident when you get to the end of a game, and are not surprised by the outcome, and it is generally followed by a statement or sentiment similar to the following: "Of course they (won/lost)." or "I knew it would turn out that way."

But even though it is too early to say that the Dolphins have defined themselves as a team yet this year, I can tell you that my expectations for this Miami Defense have been pretty high since the signing of Mike Nolan (see "Upside, Downside, Most likely - Dolphins Defense").  What we have seen so far in mental and physical toughness, discipline, and talent has not surprised me in the least.  I HAVE been surprised by Jason Allen - I never saw a hint of that one coming!  And I was thrilled, though not terribly surprised, by the Fins' final goal line stand against the Minnesota Vikings this past Sunday.

You know, we've seen something like it before:

Dolphins-Colts, 2002, in the RCA Dome.  Indianapolis Colts down by a touchdown.  Peyton Manning had the ball, 1st and 10 from the Miami 12 with 19 seconds left.  The Colts were expecting to score, but the Jason Taylor & Zach Thomas led Miami Defense stepped up and shut down the high powered Colts Offense.

That 2002 Miami Defense was one that you expected to win games.  You expected them to come up with big plays.  And you expected them to be able to close out the game!

This year's Miami Defense could actually be better!

I expected this 2010 Defense to play tough.  But I am glad to see it actually developing, and I am hoping they can play consistently enough through the first half of the season that they overcome last year's reputation for 4th quarter melt downs, and gain the reputation as game changers and game closers.

Let me put it this way:  With this Defense that we saw play the Vikings last Sunday, and no other changes, the Dolphins very likely AT LEAST win the Colts game and the New Orleans Saints game last season.  If this D is really as good as they have looked in the first two games, and if the Miami Offense just plays as well as it did last year - just that well and no improvement - this year's team is a contender.  And the truth is that this Offense is already better with the addition of Brandon Marshall.  It is just a matter of time before the passing game picks up.  The O-line and running game are already looking decent.

So even though it is early for defining specific expectations of the 2010 Miami Dolphins -  I already find myself expecting them to win!