The Miami Dolphins have been very busy this offseason. A lot of new faces are in and a lot of familiar faces are out as the organization looks to get over the hump and return to the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Dolphins failed to finish with a winning record for the sixth straight season and took home yet another 8-8 record, despite some improvements on both sides of the ball.
The Dolphins went from 26th in points and 27th in yardage to 11th in points and 14th in yardage. Unfortunately, the defense, which gave up about 250 fewer yards, allowed 38 more points. The Dolphins were in pretty good shape after a 22-9 win over the Bills in Week 11 to improve to 6-4, but a major collapse at Denver started a string of four losses over the final six games of the season.
Despite some rocky moments over the last couple of season, Joe Philbin remains the Dolphins head coach. With a 23-25 record, the former Packers offensive coordinator has done a pretty good job of developing Ryan Tannehill. The shortcomings of the front office to keep Tannehill protected and surrounded by talent have been a major reason why the Dolphins have not been able to get back into the playoffs. The Dolphins did not improve upon their 2013 record, but the offense improved across the board and only one team ran for more yards per carry, thanks in large part to the scrambling ability of Tannehill.
Several Miami Dolphins free agents are still looking for jobs, though a couple retired from the NFL. In terms of additions and subtractions, the Dolphins made a couple of big splashes by grabbing the best free agents at their respective positions. The Dolphins were 16th in sacks last season and tied for 19th in yards per carry. To solve that area of weakness, the Dolphins won the services of Ndumakong Suh in his free agent sweepstakes.
Another big signing came on offense. The Dolphins replaced Charles Clay with Jordan Cameron to give Tannehill a deep threat down the middle of the field. Clay caught 58 passes for 605 yards for a 10.4 yards per catch average, but Cameron has averaged 12.3 yards per catch in his career. A concussion shortened Cameron’s season to just 10 games and his loss was a major contributing factor to the Browns’ collapse late last season. The Dolphins also added to the passing game with the signing of veteran wideout Greg Jennings and the acquisition of Kenny Stills from the Saints. First-round pick DeVante Parker was a terrific pick to add some more talent around Tannehill.
The Dolphins re-signed Louis Delmas and added some other depth pieces. Two big losses, no pun intended, are Jared Odrick and Randy Starks from the defensive line. Starks signed with the Browns and Odrick signed with the Jaguars.
With the emergence of Lamar Miller, Ryan Tannehill, and a talented, underappreciated defensive unit, the Dolphins have a high ceiling entering the season, especially if they can get some help from first-round draft pick DeVante Parker. The New England Patriots are the cream of the crop and Miami probably won’t challenge them, but a wild card is certainly in play.
Oddsmakers at the Westgate Superbook in Las Vegas opened the Miami Dolphins win total at 9, with the under at -130.
|4||New York Jets (London)||-3.5|
|8||@ New England (Thurs)||+5.5|
|12||@ New York Jets||-1.5|
|14||New York Giants (Mon)||-3|
|15||@ San Diego||+3|
The Miami Dolphins schedule shakes out poorly for them. With the loss of a home date to the game in London, the Dolphins play seven of their first nine games away from home, including three straight at New England, Buffalo, and Philadelphia in Weeks 8 through 10. If the Dolphins are in contention late in the season, they have a cross-country trip to San Diego on a short week and then host Indianapolis and New England.
This is a grueling schedule. The Dolphins are going to be favored by more than a field goal on maybe three occasions at home this season. The loss of a home date coupled with an early bye week certainly increases the difficulty in trying to make the postseason. Like the Bills, some of their most winnable games are on the road at Washington, Jacksonville, in London against the Jets, and at Tennessee.
Why bet the over?
If you believe in Ryan Tannehill, then you believe in the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins offense has improved in each of Joe Philbin’s three seasons. The Dolphins were 6-1 last season when they held the opposition under 326 yards, so Tannehill and the offense was good enough more often than not. Philbin is an offensive-minded guy, so the onus to improve the defense falls mostly on defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle.
The Cameron signing will be an enormous help to the offense. Cameron will require attention from opposing safeties and that will open up more single coverage on the outside for Jarvis Landry and Greg Jennings. The Dolphins had the third-lowest yards per catch at 10.3 yards last season. Only the Bears and Raiders were worse. Not being able to create chunk plays makes it hard for an offense to sustain drives and turn field goals into touchdowns. The Dolphins had the league’s best average starting field position last season at their own 31, yet they were 11th in points per drive.
DeVante Parker is going to help this offense in a big way. Tannehill now has a big, tall target that can serve as both a deep threat and a possession receiver. The Dolphins had to be surprised that Parker made it all the way down to them, but the Dolphins now have quite a bit of talent at wide receiver.
Lamar Miller became just the second Dolphins back to rush for over 1,000 yards in the last five seasons. The other was Reggie Bush back in 2011, when Matt Moore was still the starting quarterback for the Dolphins. Miller’s improvement, coupled with some healthier offensive line play, was a big reason why Tannehill was sacked 12 fewer times. With Daniel Thomas and Knowshon Moreno unsigned, it’s going to be Miller’s team this season. It should be a big boost for the 24-year-old to know that he is the primary man for the second straight season, especially after the Dolphins signed Knowshon Moreno to be a threat out of the backfield last offseason.
One area of offensive improvement for the Dolphins should be in the kicking game. Caleb Sturgis was only 9-of-16 on kicks from 40 or longer. The points that the Dolphins left out there could have come in handy and the kicking game could be addressed in training camp.
On defense, the addition of Ndumakong Suh should be a big upgrade, though his addition comes at the expense of Randy Starks and Jared Odrick. That means that other players will have to step up into bigger roles, but Suh is a game-changer. In a division with the Bills and Jets, two teams that are going to run quite a bit, stuffing the middle of the field is a huge deal.
Suh joins a defense with quite a bit of talent. Jelani Jenkins had a big season in his age-22 year with 83 tackles and 3.5 sacks. Brent Grimes may be undersized, but he doesn’t play like it. Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon combined for 18 sacks last season. The Dolphins also allowed the fewest first downs via penalty in the NFL. Despite all of the positives, they gave up 373 points. That would seem to be a number that could see some big regression because there’s no rhyme or reason for the high number.
Why bet the under?
If you’re not a believer in Ryan Tannehill, that’s probably the biggest reason. Tannehill is often quick to escape the pocket and run and he took several hits in the running game last season to go along with how often he got sacked. It’s hard to figure out why the Dolphins have not been able to put together an effective offensive line during Philbin’s tenure. But, the offensive line is the cornerstone of any team and it’s a concern again for the Dolphins.
Shelley Smith left as an unrestricted free agent and Daryn Colledge retired. Samson Satele and Nate Garner are still unsigned, leaving some depth concerns for the Dolphins. To date, J.D. Walton is the only offensive line signing for the Dolphins. Considering that the Dolphins ran for 4.7 yards per carry, the OL may be in decent shape, but the depth has taken a hit this offseason. Charles Clay was also a solid run-blocking tight end and his absence for Cameron, who is not a good run blocker, could hurt the running game.
On the defensive side of things, the Dolphins were around league average in several areas. The Dolphins gave up 27 or more points in eight games and went 1-7 in those eight games. Their run defense was certainly suspect and it hid the tremendous strides of the pass defense. Last season, we actually started to see a bit of a paradigm shift in the NFL as more teams ran the football with success. A lot of that may have to do with the dual threat quarterbacks that are being produced in the college ranks. Stopping the run is gradually becoming as important as stopping the pass. The Dolphins need better depth from sideline to sideline to stop the run more effectively.
Pick: Under 9
This is a rough pick to make because the line is right at nine wins. There is some upside to this Dolphins team, but oddsmakers have effectively taken away any value on the Dolphins. The value side is the over because of the juice on the under, but the Dolphins need a lot of things to go right in order to finish with a 10-6 record. There’s a lot of talent on this offense, though, so this is a team that has a high ceiling.
-END OF 2015 PREDICTION-
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.