For the past 15 years, Tom Brady and his New England Patriots have reigned over the AFC East with absolute supremacy. They've won the division 12 times in the past 14 seasons, and while the Dolphins' in-house problems are certainly to blame as well, the Pats' dominance certainly hasn't helped the Fins escape mediocrity. In fact, it's not lost on most Dolphins fans that the last time the team won the division (and made it to the playoffs) was 2008, when Brady sat out the season with injury.
So, naturally, Dolphins fans are quite happy that Brady was hit with a four-game suspension for not fully cooperating with the investigation into "Deflate-gate." But they are only cautiously happy. After all, none of those missed games will be against the Dolphins, and Brady will still be on the field for the majority of the season. The tone among fans is part "Here's an opportunity!" and part "I wonder how the Fins will still manage to mess it up?"
First came the hot takes from columnists. The Miami Herald's Greg Cote was up first:
One of my first thoughts upon hearing the NFL’s verdict:The burner under Fins coach Joe Philbin just got turned up.The excuses why Miami shouldn’t make the playoffs just became fewer. The only time Miami has made the playoffs since 2001 was in ’08, when Brady missed almost all season injured. Now Brady is erased for the first quarter of the season, and Miami must take advantage again. Philbin’s job depends on it.
Then came ESPN's Dolphins reporter James Walker:
However, it's not too early to make this declaration: The Dolphins have no excuse not to make the playoffs this season. Zero. Nil. Nada.
The Dolphins, before Brady's suspension, were the closest challenger to the Patriots in the division. Miami has a solid starting quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who threw for 4,025 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. He's officially the top quarterback in the division during the first four games now that Brady is sidelined.
At the Palm Beach Post, Andrew Abramson ran through all the odds and predictions of this new post-Brady-suspension world before ultimately concluding:
Miami has a golden opportunity here. But after not making the playoffs in seven years, and not winning a playoff game in 15 years, it’s believe it when you see it mode in Miami this year.
On Twitter, there was, of course, initial glee:
With Brady out and the talent that the #Dolphins have, we are just waiting to hear RT say "follow me, we are going to the playoff this year"— Morten Bagge (@MortenBagge) May 12, 2015
No Tom Brady. Miami Dolphins SuperBowl year— BossZoe (@infamous_bossA1) May 12, 2015
Last time Brady was out Dolphins made the playoffs— 3 GOD (@DubNationHoe) May 12, 2015
Then the acknowledgment of added pressure:
With Brady gone for 4 games I swore to god if my dolphins don't win the division I will be more then pissed— Soul2Soul (@youniqshit) May 12, 2015
There is no excuse for the dolphins not to make the playoffs— josh lis (@jlis23) May 12, 2015
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And wonder about exactly how the Dolphins will miss that opportunity:
@BigOShow Too bad the Brady Suspension is not for the last 4 games of the season . Cause that's usually when the Dolphins F things up .....— RAFA (@RaffaMiami) May 12, 2015
@Floridaboiflip Yea the Dolphins should win the division but they'll find a way to screw it up— Dream Killa (@wishinguwereme) May 11, 2015
The underlying theme among fans and columnists: Hey, this could help the Dolphins, but whatever pressure they had to succeed next season just got dialed up at least two notches, and we won't be surprised if they somehow mess it all up anyway.