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2018 should be exciting for the Miami Dolphins

San Francisco 49ers v Miami Dolphins Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Six wins. That is where sports books are putting the Miami Dolphins’ over/under win total for the 2018 season. They see the loss of players like Ndamukong Suh, Mike Pouncey, and Jarvis Landry, and they see a Dolphins team in turmoil. They do not see the return of Ryan Tannehill, but rather see a quarterback who is suddenly “injury prone” after knee problems.

Tannehill injured his knee in December 2016 and has missed the last 20 games, including a playoff contest, because of the injury. He rehabbed it as per the medical advice he received and appeared to be 100 percent heading into 2017 training camp. However, the knee failed during a scramble in practice and Tannehill was forced to undergo surgery.

And that is the extent of the missed playing time Tannehill has had since his 2012 selection in the Draft. He has been banged, battered, and, as the Tweet and graphic below will show you, bruised. Yet he has played every game until Calais Campbell crashed through the front of Tannehill’s knee.

The 2018 season will be about the return of Tannehill to the Dolphins. More importantly, it will be about picking up where they left off in December 2016.

Tannehill and the offense were making strides in head coach Adam Gase’s first year. They were coming together and starting to make plays. As the season continued, they were only getting better. Receivers and Tannehill seemed to be working in concert, rather than one trying to react to the other. Things really were starting to look up for the South Florida club, earning a 10-6 record in the regular season, including a 2-1 mark in the three games without Tannehill.

Tannehill was seventh in the league in completion percentage in 2016. He was 12th in passer rating. He was seventh in yards per attempt. He was seventh in the league in fourth-quarter comebacks. He was eighth in game winning drives. Tannehill was strong in 2016, no matter what some people seem to say about him.

Then 2017 came. Tannehill was re-injured. Starting middle linebacker, rookie Raekwon McMillan was injured. Starting offensive lineman Ted Larsens started the year on injured reserve. Linebacker Koa Misi still has not returned from a 2016 neck injury. Developing cornerback Tony Lippett was injured. Rey Mauluaga could not get into shape, then was arrested and released. Offensive line coach Chris Foerster resigned after recording himself snorting cocaine off his desk. Starting-turned-reserve safety Nate Allen was injured. Starting right tackle Ja’Wuan James was injured. Promising seventh-round draft pick, wide receiver Isaiah Ford was injured. Offensive lineman Anthony Steen was injured. Reserve running back Maurice Smith was injured. Safety and special teams captain Michael Thomas was injured. Receiver Rashawn Scott was injured. Rookie defensive tackle Vincent Taylor was injured. Tight end Julius Thomas was injured. Defensive end William Hayes was injured. Guard Jermon Bushrd was injured. Running back Damien Williams was injured. Starting cornerback Cordrea Tankersley missed three games due to injury. Starting quarterback Jay Cutler, who Miami signed to replace Tannehill, missed two games due to injury. Backup quarterback Matt Moore was unavailable for five games due to injury. Starting wide receiver DeVante Parker missed three games due to injury.

None of that even mentions the insanity of the schedule, which was impacted by Hurricane Irma’s arrival in South Florida during Week 1 of the NFL season. The Dolphins were set to host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers that weekend, only to have the game postponed to Week 11, when both teams had their scheduled off week, effectively making Week 1 the bye week for both teams. The Dolphins, after evacuating Florida ahead of the hurricane and staying for a week in California, faced a slate of 16 straight weeks of football. The Dolphins also did not actually open Hard Rock Stadium until October 8, a month into the season, after having a hone game slated in London. The Dolphins home opener occurred one day after the NHL’s Florida Panthers held their first home game of the year in a season that began a month after the NFL’s season began.

Some things were also of the Dolphins’ own doing, including the trade of running back Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles midseason. The team also hurt their salary cap for 2017 and, effectively, 2018 without much rollover remaining, when they signed Jay Cutler - a move that made sense with Tannehill’s injury and Cutler’s ties to Gase - only to see Cutler not able to find a rhythm with the Dolphins.

The 2017 season was one of disaster, unusual scheduling, and tough choices for the Dolphins.

The return of most of those players, along with a normal schedule (hopefully not impacted by hurricanes), should give Miami hope for this season.

Now, add safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, tight end Mike Gesicki, and linebacker Jerome Baker, and the Dolphins should be able to improve upon their 2017 season. They should be able to find the 2016 form. They should be able to bust the six-win over/under total.

Questions still surround the team. If Tannehill cannot be the same quarterback he was before the injuries, what will the team do? Can Gesicki finally give the team the tight end threat they have been missing? Can Kenyan Drake be a number one running back throughout a full season? Can Cameron Wake continue to be Cameron Wake? Will Andre Branch rebound after injuries slowed him last year? Will the linebackers, with McMillan, Baker, and Kiko Alonso, be better than they were last year? Will Fitzpatrick free up Reshad Jones to be a true strong safety and can the rookie be a true free safety? Will the team be able to replace the production of players like Ajayi, Landry, Pouncey, and Suh? Will the Dolphins actually be better off in 2018 because of addition by subtraction?

Miami may not be Super Bowl contenders in 2018 - but they should not be a losing team either. There should be a playoff berth at least within reach going into the last few weeks. This season should not be about how bad Miami is, but about how improved they are from last year.

They should be an exciting team to watch this season.