It's only March, and sure, it's way to early to release predictions for the 2014 NFL season. But that doesn't mean we can't look ahead to the future following a season that held much promise, but ultimately failed to deliver.
Fact. The Miami Dolphins entered the 2013 season with only one playoff spot in the previous 11 seasons.
Fact. The team also began 2013 with having four consecutive losing seasons, the longest streak in team history.
However, after a slew of marquee free agent signings, fans and the media alike started to believe the good days were coming back to Sun Life Stadium. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons that have been analyzed to the death, that didn't happen.
So surely this year we should be pessimistic for the season ahead, right? Wrong.
The problem the team lacked was consistency.
They began the season riding high with 3 consecutive wins, before slumping to numerous defeats, before going on another three game winning streak, before slumping to more defeats against AFC East rivals. You get the picture.
Even worse, the turnover margin was a huge factor in games for the Dolphins. Whenever the Dolphins won the turnover battle against the opposition, they went 3-1 in the season. Whenever they didn't, they had a 0-5 record.
And lets not even start about the offensive line giving up 58 sacks.
However, while the team at times performed terribly, they also enjoyed their fair share of bright spots.
Consider this. The Dolphins finished the 2013 season with a 4-3 record against teams that made the playoffs, beating the Colts, the Bengals, the Chargers and the Patriots, while losing to the Saints, the Patriots and the Panthers. Those four victories were the most of any team that didn't make the playoffs, and tied for second most in the NFL with the Bengals and the Broncos.
Miami also made team history with three players - Charles Clay, Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline - receiving the ball 65 times or more. In fact, this was the best passing season the team has had since Dan Marino (and yes I know the game has changed, but nonetheless it still marks a turning point for this franchise), with Ryan Tannehill enjoying five games with 300 or more passing yards.
On defense, the team allowed opponents an average 77.3 passer rating; the fifth best in the NFL behind the Seahawks, the 49ers, the Bills and the Bengals. Even more impressive was the team's 18 total interceptions, the best in the past 10 seasons.
This is not a sign of a terrible team completely devoid of talent. For this reason there is plenty to be optimistic about for the season ahead.
Most important is the need for the front office and the coaching staff to surround Tannehill with the pieces to make him a success. That has already started to happen, with the free agent wide receiver signings in 2013, the emergence of Charles Clay at tight end, and the additions of Branden Albert and Shelley Smith in the trenches (with hopefully more to come). Rebuilding the offensive line in particular, along with adding a good passing blocking running back, should dramatically reduce those sacks Tannehill withstood.
On defense, tying up Brent Grimes was the single most important player this front office had to ensure stayed on the roster. After that, the additions of Louis Delmas and Cortland Finnegan in the secondary, and Earl Mitchell and Randy Starks on the defensive line, has helped solidify this defense. Expect the team to also pursue linebackers heavily in the coming weeks leading up to the draft.
Miami's 2014 opponents are also now official. While the dates have yet to be determined, the Dolphins face the Bills, Patriots, Jets, Chiefs, Chargers, Ravens, Packers and Vikings at home. In the away games, the team faces the Bills, Patriots, Jets, Broncos, Raiders, Jaguars, Bears and Lions.
In terms of difficulty, there are six games against teams that made the playoffs last year (remember the Dolphins went 4-3 against playoff teams). Should the team put together better consistency, there's no reason why this franchise and the fanbase should fear the games that lie ahead in 2014.
Still feeling pessimistic? Don't. There's much to be optimistic about in 2014.
Do you agree? Where do you see the Dolphins finishing this season? Lets hear your thoughts!