Annually, ESPN uses the ESPN Football Power Index to simulate the upcoming NFL season. They did the same this year, with 20,000 simulations run. They selected one of those simulations, the 1,721st, to break down a week-by-week look at the season - and a funny thing happened for the Miami Dolphins.
The team everyone expects to lose this year did not. They won. And won. And won. And, at the end of the year, were fighting for the AFC East division title with the New England Patriots. Even with the trades of Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills, and Kiko Alonso in the simulation, Miami remained in the playoff picture throughout the regular season.
Starting in Week 1, Miami beat the Baltimore Ravens 20-14. They then came back in Week 2 and surprised the New England Patriots 38-28, dropping them to 0-2 on the year and moving Miami to 2-0. Of that Week 2 results for the Patriots, ESPN’s Seth Walder wrote, “The defending Super Bowl champs drop another game, this time a 38-28 defeat at the hands of a (2-0!) Miami team that at least seemed in the preseason to be effectively tanking. But FitzMagic doesn’t go down without a fight.”
Miami loses a shootout in Week 3 to the Dallas Cowboys, falling to 2-1 with a 38-33 loss.
The Dolphins get back to winning in Week 4, coming away with the 38-28 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers. The Dolphins at 3-1 head into their Week 5 bye with the lead in the AFC East, of which Walder wrote, “This was not how ‘Tank for Tua’ was supposed to go. But then again, we’ve seen this story with FitzMagic before. Don’t worry, we know how this ends: In a blaze of interceptions. The Dolphins sit at 3-1, even after dealing Laremy Tunsil and Kenny Stills right before the season began.”
After sitting out Week 5, the Dolphins beat the Washington Redskins 13-6 in Week 6, moving them to 4-1 on the year. The Bills then blow out Miami in Week 7 with a 38-10 final. Miami upsets the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 8, winning the Monday Night Football matchup 36-25, putting them at 5-2 on the season, half a game behind the Patriots for the AFC East lead.
In Week 9, Miami takes it to the Jets, winning 24-16. That puts the Dolphins at 6-2 midway through the season and in first place in the AFC East. The Patriots are second at 6-3.
The second half starts with a 26-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10, but Miami comes back to beat the Bills 24-16 in Week 11. Walder commented, “Those Fitzpatrick interceptions? They haven’t begun. And Miami, after beating the Bills, is now 7-3 and a full game up on the Patriots, who lost to the Eagles this week. Forget tanking. Miami is trying to win a division here! Could this really happen?”
In Week 12, Miami drops their showdown against Jarvis Landry and the Cleveland Browns 10-3. This moves Miami down to 7-4, tied with the Patriots and just a game ahead of the Bills and Jets, both of whom are 6-5.
In Week 13, the Dolphins lose a close battle to the Philadelphia Eagles 30-28. Walder wrote of the Patriots, who beat the Houston Texans 18-16, taking the lead in the division, “Miami loses at the wire in dramatic fashion to the Eagles, 30-28, and it costs them first place thanks to another narrow result elsewhere: A Pats 18-16 win over the Texans. New England sits at 8-4.” Miami is 7-5.
The Dolphins lose to the Jets in Week 14, dropping the game 23-20. The move pushes Miami to 7-6, which feels really, really familiar, while the Patriots drop their game against the Kansas City Chiefs, moving them to 8-5. Miami remains one game out of the division lead and the playoffs.
In Week 15, Miami loses in back-to-back weeks at MetLife Stadium, this time seeing the Giants come away with the 19-9 victory. Miami at 7-7 see the Patriots pull to two games ahead with their win over the Cincinnati Bengals, pulling to a 9-5 record.
The next week, Miami beats the Bengals 13-6, while the Patriots drop to the Bills, bringing a Week 17 contest between the 8-7 Dolphins and the 9-6 Patriots into a Division title battle.
In that Week 17 contest, the Dolphins lose 16-9 to New England, giving the Patriots the division title and dropping Miami to 8-8. The Bills have also climbed to 8-8, with Miami losing on tiebreaks, making Miami go from a shot at the playoffs and a division title to third in the division. Of the game and the division standings, Walder wrote, “Xavien Howard and the Miami defense did everything they could to make Tom Brady’s day tough, but it just wasn’t enough. Stephon Gilmore and the rest of the Pats’ top-five defense shut down Fitzpatrick’s passing attack on the other side of the ball. The Patriots squeak by to win the division title again, and somehow manage to earn a bye, as well. And it truly is the worst of all worlds for Miami: It loses a heartbreaker, misses the playoffs, never gets to see Josh Rosen play a meaningful down and won’t have an early draft pick.”
On a side note, the Texans made the playoffs as the AFC South champion, meaning the first-round pick they sent to Miami will be later in the round as well.
So, at least in this simulation, the Dolphins, with all of the veterans they have cut and the moves they have made, somehow still end up mediocre and rocking an 8-8 record. They have a shot at the playoffs, which would make the season fun, but it could make the rebuild of the roster a little tougher.
Or maybe it proves that the younger players are not as far from being ready to produce as we think? We will go with that as the takeaway.