Has it really been nine years since the Dolphins' miraculous turnaround from the 1-15 debacle of 2007 to 11-5 AFC East champions in '08? While the Fins were undoubtedly the feel good story of the 2008 season, their success that year was, in retrospect, mostly a mirage. Although Bill Parcells, in his role of Executive Vice President of Football Operations, substantially upgraded the Dolphins' roster, Miami's division title in '08 was largely the byproduct of three important developments: a fourth place schedule, having former Jets quarterback Chad Pennington fall into their laps after New York released him and Tom Brady's season ending knee injury in Week One. Take away just one of those three gifts from the football gods, and the Dolphins don't even come close to qualifying for the postseason dance.
Fast forward to 2016. The Dolphins finished the season 10-6, one game off their near record setting reversal of 2008, but as was the case that year, Miami was blessed with more than a few fortuitous gifts from the heavens last season. After starting the year off in an 0-2 hole, the Dolphins managed to eke out a victory against the Browns when Cleveland kicker Cody Parkey missed not one, not two, but three field goals, any one of which would have resulted in a win for the Browns. After an impressive winning streak during the middle portion of their schedule, the Dolphins again proved that it's better to be lucky than good over the second half of the season. In Week Ten, at San Diego, all the Chargers needed was one more first down to get within range for the winning field goal before middle linebacker Kiko Alonso pulled the game out of the fire with a highlight reel 60-yard interception return for a touchdown. That was probably the biggest play of the year for the Dolphins, but if Phillip Rivers completes that pass, Miami almost certainly loses that game. A week later, a few miles up the coast in Los Angeles, Rams' rookie quarterback Jared Goff couldn't get his team the final first down it needed to run out the clock, paving the way for Miami's late game heroics, and on Christmas Eve in Buffalo, former Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter provided two welcome stocking stuffers for the Dolphins, in the form of missed field goals, either of which would have resulted in a win for the Bills, a 9-7 record for Miami and an eighth consecutive year of no postseason football for Florida's oldest and proudest NFL franchise.
That's four games the Dolphins arguably should have lost a year ago, any one of which would have left the fan base with a decidedly different outlook on the future of the team. Those four improbable wins are a major reason why the Dolphins' projected win total for 2017 stands at just 7.5 in Las Vegas. To their credit, the Dolphins did prevail in all four of those games; the win at Ralph Wilson Stadium in late December was particularly impressive. Not only had Miami not won there since 2011, but when the Bills came roaring back in the fourth quarter to briefly take the lead, it looked for all the world like the Dolphins would wilt under the pressure before the raucous Buffalo faithful. But second-year kicker Andrew Franks pounded a 55-yard field goal through the swirling winds to send the game into overtime with just ten seconds to play, then kicked the game winner a few minutes later and the following week, Rex Ryan was finally given the boot for good from the AFC East.
The Dolphins will open training camp this week, and they'll begin the march toward the start of the regular season with several key advantages that the 2009 edition didn't have. Unlike the '09 team, this year's version of the Dolphins has a quarterback who isn't likely to be knocked out of the game. Ryan Tannehill won't remind anyone of Aaron Rodgers or Ben Roethlisberger, but at least he can be counted on to show up every week. The wheels came off the cart in '09 after Pennington suffered a season ending shoulder injury in Week Three. If for some reason Tannehill can't go, Matt Moore is a heck of a lot more appealing in reserve than Chad Henne. The two weakest areas of the team in recent seasons, the defense and the offensive line, should be much improved from a year ago, with the front office having made it a point of emphasis this offseason to improve both units. Finally, head coach Adam Gase is light years better than either Tony Sparano or current Jets head coach Todd Bowles and is probably better than the guy Buffalo hired to replace Ryan. His name escapes me at the moment, but right now, his main claim to fame has been ordering the removal of a customized pool table from the team facility that was emblazoned with the Bills' logo. Ultimately, Buffalo fans will learn, just as Dolphin fans have learned in the past, that feel good measures will only get you so far.