The Miami Dolphins finished the 2019 season 5-11 and in fourth place in the AFC East. In a normal year, a 5-11 finish would be seen as a miserable performance by a team hoping to compete, but in 2019, the Dolphins were expected to be the worst team in the league, with some analysts going so far as to declare the club the worst team to ever play the game. Instead, they finished with five wins, including three over the final five weeks of the year.
Heading into 2020, the Dolphins are moving from a team widely assumed to be “tanking” to a franchise ready to rebuild and start moving forward. Can they compete this year? According to a CBS Sports publication on Thursday, the question may not be one of if they can compete, but if they can win the division.
The NFL seemingly has at least one team jump from worst in their division to first. Over the last five seasons, it has happened six times. The last time it happened in the AFC East was the only time the New England Patriots did not win the division, the 2008 Dolphins rebounded from a 1-15 season in 2007 to finish 11-5 and claim the division title. In 2020, the Dolphins may be positioned to do it again.
CBS Sports’ John Breech ranked the 2019 last-place finishers from each of the divisions, based on his assessment of the team’s ability to jump to the top spot in their respective division. He ranked the Dolphins as the team most likely to make the worst-to-first move this year.
Last year, Dolphins coach Brian Flores squeezed five wins out of a team that was supposed to be tanking, and it won’t be surprising at all if Miami manages to double that win total in 2020. Before being hired by the Dolphins, Flores was the de facto defensive coordinator in New England, so it wasn’t surprising that one of the first things he did this offseason was beef up his defense. Over the past few months, the Dolphins have added multiple defensive starters with guys like Byron Jones, Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson. The reason that’s notable is because having a solid defense might be enough to win the AFC East this year, especially when you consider that the quarterbacks in the division are a guy who’s seeing ghosts (Sam Darnold), a guy who has a worse career completion percentage than Blake Bortles (Josh Allen) and whomever New England trots out at quarterback.
If Ryan Fitzpatrick can keep the offense afloat, the Dolphins might be able to shock their way to the AFC East title in 2020.
Fun fact: Over the past 17 years, only one team not named New England has won an AFC East title, and that was the Dolphins in 2008. Of course, we’re noting that here, because it involved a worst-to-first situation. After going 1-15 in 2007, the Dolphins ran wild over everyone in 2008 by implementing a Wildcat offense that they ended up riding to a 11-5 record and a division title.
Are the Dolphins in position to make that leap? Can Miami’s roster rebuild spark a run to the playoffs in 2020? It seems like at least one analyst thinks it could happen.