The Dolphins improved in the second year of the Ryan Tannehill era. For just the second time since 2004, the Dolphins didn’t lose more games than they won. It’s still a work in progress in South Florida, as the Dolphins led the league in sacks allowed and ranked 26th in points, but progress is being made.
Frankly, it seems like it should only be a matter of time under Joe Philbin. Philbin was instrumental in helping to develop Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. He inherited a great situation in 2007 when he hired as the offensive coordinator, but the Packers were in the top 10 in yards, points, and turnovers in each of Philbin’s five seasons. Even though the numbers weren’t necessarily pretty for the Dolphins, Tannehill showed a lot of maturity and the future looks bright.
The main problem area for the Dolphins was in the trenches. They allowed 58 sacks, ran for just 90 yards per game, and Tannehill was running for his life more often than not. A bend but don’t break defense that had to play nearly 32 minutes per game gave up the 12th most yards but the eighth-fewest points.
A simple look at the Dolphins’ record doesn’t tell the whole story. They beat four playoff teams (Colts, Chargers, Bengals, Patriots), outgained Carolina in a loss, and lost four games by four points or less. They were firmly in the wild card picture until Week 16 when they lost at Buffalo.
Despite some of the positive signs, oddsmakers aren’t buying in. The posted win total for the Dolphins is 7.5 at South Point Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Sportsbook.ag was the first offshore to open win totals and they posted an 8 for the Dolphins with the over at even money.
Lines courtesy of CG Technologies:
|4||@ Oakland (London)||-5|
|13||@ New York Jets (Mon)||+1|
|15||@ New England||+6.5|
|17||New York Jets||N/A|
The Dolphins will take on the AFC West and NFC North outside of the AFC East with Jacksonville and Baltimore mixed in. The Dolphins are one of six teams that will play at Wembley Stadium in London. They’ll do so in Week Four when they take on Oakland. The Raiders are technically the home team, so the Dolphins do not lose one of their eight home dates.
The Dolphins play three road games in four weeks twice between Week Seven and Week 15. If the Dolphins are in the wild card chase, home games against Minnesota and the Jets to end the schedule could set up nicely for them. Cole Ryan listed the Dolphins schedule as the 12th-toughest.
The Dolphins are only favored five times in the 15 lined games from CG Technologies. A couple of their home games are pick ‘em scenarios and the Dolphins are rightfully home underdogs against the Packers. Despite the lack of favorite spots, this schedule isn’t that bad for the Dolphins. With winnable road games against Buffalo, Oakland (in London), Jacksonville, and the Jets, the Dolphins should be excited entering the season.
Why bet the over?
The Dolphins added two offensive linemen in free agency with tackle Branden Albert and guard Shelley Smith. They also drafted Ja’Wuan James out of Tennessee, who will start from day one. Albert started 83 games for the Chiefs from 2008-13 and Smith will provide interior depth. This was the biggest area of need for the Dolphins and they added two new starters. Knowshon Moreno joins Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas to create a deep and talented backfield. An underappreciated angle about Moreno is that he’s a better pass catcher than both Miller and Thomas, which will help Tannehill under pressure.
Given how porous the offensive line was, Ryan Tannehill’s sophomore season was really impressive. He completed 60.4 percent of his passes, a fair amount of them while on the run. The Dolphins were 8-5 when Tannehill threw for over 200 yards. More time to throw, more experience, and more help from the running game should improve Tannehill’s production.
One stat that should see some progression to the mean is the first downs for the Dolphins. They were 29th in first downs with 278, but had only 12 first downs via penalty. League average was 29.5. A league average mark there would have moved the Dolphins up five spots. Since teams generally blitz on third down and Tannehill was hit a lot, the Dolphins were 29th in third down conversion rate and 31st in fourth down conversion rate. Better protection and a better running game to create third-and-manageable situations will improve both of these stats.
The defense had a strong season that was overshadowed by the offensive shortcomings. The Dolphins defense was terrific in the red zone and held opponents below 60 percent on their completion rate. Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon played great on the ends with 20 combined sacks and the starting cornerbacks, Brent Grimes and Nolan Carroll, combined for 28 pass break-ups. Carroll is gone, but the Dolphins filled the void with veteran Cortland Finnegan and will expect more from 2013 second-round pick Jamar Taylor. The team also added Louis Delmas in free agency to play safety. The secondary should be a strength again.
Why bet the under?
The offensive line still has to be a concern in spite of the draftees and free agent signings. The unit will need time to gel together and Tannehill took a lot of hits last season. Are Tannehill’s 17 interceptions due to a lack of time to throw or are they due to questionable decision making and arm attributes? This will be a big year for Tannehill to declare himself a franchise quarterback or a good, but not great, quarterback. The Dolphins are clearly hoping for the latter. Most scouts disagreed with how early Tannehill was drafted back in 2012 when he was the eighth overall selection.
On name recognition, the Dolphins secondary looks like a strength. However, Finnegan and Grimes are both on the wrong side of 30 and neither guy is above 5’10”. It’s reasonable to wonder how the Dolphins will be able to contain tall receivers. At 6’1”, Carroll was able to matchup better with tall receivers but that’s a luxury that the Dolphins won’t have. The Dolphins have three defensive backs on the roster at 6’ or taller, but one was just drafted in the fourth round and the other, Reshad Jones, is a starter at safety.
The Dolphins were 11th in red zone touchdown percentage last season, which was important because Caleb Sturgis struggled in his rookie season. From 30+, Sturgis was just 21-for-29. For the Dolphins to be on the winning side of close games, Sturgis will need to improve.
Pick: Over 8 (+100)
Consider me to be much higher on the Dolphins than most. The addition of Moreno gives Tannehill a safety net that he lacked last season. Having a back that can catch and create in the open field forces some hesitation from blitz-happy defensive coordinators. A well-timed screen or swing pass can create chunk plays for an offense and that’s a wrinkle that the Dolphins didn’t have. Also, we learned a lot about Tannehill last season with his ability to throw under duress. He’ll take another step forward.
The defense should be the same or slightly better, despite the absence of height at the cornerback position. The AFC East is not a real strong division and the Dolphins had an opportunity at 10-6, but the Bills loss on the road in December was a tough spot and they really gave up in the Jets game. This number looks like a gift and is one of the strongest plays in this series so far.
Adam Burke is a freelance writer and amateur handicapper with a knack for finding value through matchup analysis and a deep understanding of the sports betting market. His main area of expertise is baseball, with a background in sabermetrics and advanced statistics. He is the host of The Gridiron Gambling Report and our college football and college basketball BangTheBook.com podcasts on the BlogTalkRadio Network.