This season hasn't exactly had a fairy-tale beginning for the Miami Dolphins. After losing starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill to a knee injury before the preseason, the team had to skip its first game with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers while Hurricane Irma lashed their hometowns.
But Sunday's opening game showed why many fans still believe the Fins have a chance to build on the momentum of last season's playoff appearance and move into the top tier of AFC teams. When the Dolphins eked out a 19-17 win against the Chargers, the victory only added to the positivity surrounding this team.
Here are some of the reasons the Dolphins are a popular pick to make some noise in the NFL this season.
1. The AFC East is abysmal. The schedule matters. Though the Dolphins have what appears to be a difficult slate of games beyond the six mandatory AFC East matchups, four of those division games are as easy as they come. The Buffalo Bills and New York Jets might have the two worst rosters in the NFL.
The Dolphins get to play the NFL equivalent of the Brooklyn Nets for 25 percent of their schedule. If that's not an advantage, we don't know what is. Unfortunately, they also have to play the New England Patriots — the Golden State Warriors of the NFL — twice. Overall, that seems like a f
2. The Dolphins' wide receivers are great. When was the last time you could say the Dolphins had explosive weapons on offense? Ten years ago? Longer? This season, they have just that and then some. Not only is DeVante Parker a superstar in the making on the verge of a breakout season, but between Kenny Stills' deep-threat abilities and Jarvis Landry's midrange slot expertise, the Dolphins' wideouts perfectly complement one another.
Add in preseason explosiveness of return man and gadget weapon Jakeem Grant, and the Dolphins have an embarrassment of riches at the wide receiver spot. There's little duplication of talents within this group of wideouts, which makes them very unpredictable.
3. The Dolphins will be balanced on offense. For the first time in a long while, the Dolphins will have some semblance of balance on the offensive side of the ball. And not just any balance, but the ability to be dominant in both the running and passing games. Jay Ajayi and Kenyan Drake give the Dolphins a pair of backs that should be able to keep defenses honest. The Fins' offensive line will begin the season healthy too as long as Mike Pouncey's hip holds up.
Jay Cutler taking snaps with the Dolphins may get all the headlines, but the backs he hands off to will be just as important. Ajayi and Drake should do more than enough to keep defenses from teeing off on Cutler and the passing game.
4. The Dolphins' run defense will be improved this season. Last year, the Fins couldn't stop a child from running out of the stands and through their defensive line. They were one of the worst in football at stopping the run. This offseason, the Dolphins tried to fix that very bad thing by signing good football players.
True, big offseason signing Lawrence Timmons might already be on the way out after going AWOL this weekend, but an assortment of linebackers that couldn't stop a nosebleed
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5. Head coach Adam Gase is the real deal. If there is one thing that last season's amazing turnaround taught Dolphins fans, it's that no matter the circumstances, Adam Gase is the right coach leading the team forward. Last year, a 1-4 start had many fans already looking ahead to the NFL draft, but Gase and his staff were able to turn it around and finish 10-6, making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Gase has a history of making chicken salad out of chicken shit too. He did it in Denver when he was the offensive coordinator and Tim Tebow was thrust into the starting role. He did it in Chicago when he helped turn Jay Cutler into a competent quarterback who no longer turned over the ball. He did it again last season, even after a 1-4 start and Tannehill's injury. And he's already started this year by leading the team to a week-one win in L.A. that easily could have been a frustrating loss after the Hurricane Irma frustration.
No matter what comes the Dolphins' way in 2017, they have a great shot at making the playoffs for the second year in a row with Gase calling the shots.