Unfortunately, the main thing many people may remember about the 2013 Dolphins season was the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito bullying issue that become of the year's biggest stories and cost more than a few people their jobs -- and likely changed locker room culture forever.
The Fins were a very streaky team last year. They started 3-0, including a very impressive win in Indianapolis, and looked like AFC East contenders. A four-game losing streak followed. Miami would then win five of its next seven, including victories over eventual playoff teams Cincinnati, San Diego and New England. The Fins entered Week 16 controlling their own destiny for a wild-card spot but scored a total of seven points in lopsided losses at Buffalo and home to the Jets to close the season.
QB Ryan Tannehill was better in his second year, completing 60.4 percent of his throws for 3,913 yards, 24 touchdowns and 17 interceptions. Not bad considering he was sacked an NFL-high 58 times. The rest of the offense was a disappointment. There was often no running game to speak of as Miami finished 26th at 90.0 rushing yards per game. Big-money receiver Mike Wallace was a no-show for many games, finishing with a misleading 73 catches for 930 yards and five TDs. The team reportedly would love to get rid of him already, but no one would trade for that contract. The defense was decent at times as Miami ranked No. 8 in points allowed at 20.9 points per game. Olivier Vernon was a nice surprise with 11.5 sacks.
Key Offseason Moves
Martin and Incognito were never going to play for Miami again after that scandal and they are both gone. The Dolphins quickly struck to help that beleaguered offensive line by giving big money to Chiefs tackle Branden Albert. He will start on the left side, as should former Ram Shelley Smith at guard. The running game should be better with the addition of Denver's Knowshon Moreno (1,038 yards, 10 TDs). Defensively, Miami lost safety Chris Clemons but signed Rams cornerback Cortland Finnegan. New nose tackle Earl Mitchell is excellent against the run. While Coach Joe Philbin kept his job in the wake of the Martin/Incognito mess, GM Jeff Ireland wasn't so lucky. He was replaced by former Tampa Bay director of player personnel Dennis Hickey. He was something like the team's fourth choice after they were turned down by a few others.
2014 Schedule (all times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 7, New England, 1 p.m.
Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 14, at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 21, Kansas City, 4:25 p.m.
Week 4: Sunday, Sept. 28, at Oakland, 1 p.m. (in London)
Week 5: BYE
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 12, Green Bay, 1 p.m.
Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 19, at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Week 8: Sunday, Oct. 26, at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 2, San Diego, 1 p.m.
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 9, at Detroit, 1 p.m.
Week 11: Thursday, Nov. 13, Buffalo, 8:25 p.m.
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 23, at Denver, 4:25 p.m.
Week 13: Monday, Dec. 1, at NY Jets, 8:30 p.m.
Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 7, Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 14, at New England, 1 p.m.
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 21, Minnesota, 1 p.m.
Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 28, NY Jets, 1 p.m.
Miami has a schedule that ranks as the 12th toughest in the NFL with an opponents' 2013 winning percentage of .508. It has six games against playoff teams.
The Dolphins are 3-point home underdogs at sportsbooks for Week 1 against New England. The total is 47 on NFL odds. Could Miami actually win two straight against Tom Brady and Co.? When the Fins visited New England in Week 7 last year they completely dominated the first half and had a 17-3 lead, but then started turning the ball over after intermission and lost 27-17. That was Miami's seventh straight loss to New England. That streak ended in Week 15 with Miami's 24-20 home win. Tannehill threw for 312 yards and three scores and the Fins picked off Brady's pass into the end zone in the final seconds.
Should the Fins beat New England in the opener, a 4-0 record entering the bye is possible. Yes, Buffalo swept Miami last season, but the Bills are no powerhouse. The Chiefs were a playoff team but went into the tank late last season and the game is in Miami. The Raiders haven't had a winning season in years and it's not a true road game for the Fins with it in London. It's a pretty friendly opening slate.
The first six games out of the bye week aren't too daunting, either. Only the Packers and Chargers were playoff teams and both visit south Florida. Miami beat visiting San Diego 20-16 in Week 11 last year, a Philip Rivers 25-yard pass broken up in the end zone on the final play. The toughest stretch begins Week 12 in Denver and concludes Week 15 in New England. Three of the four on the road and all the away games could be played in wintry conditions.
About the only bright spot of that trip to the Mile High City is that the Dolphins have a few extra days to prepare. The Dolphins crushed the Jets in New Jersey last season, 23-3, but lost at home to New York in Week 17, 20-7, with the playoffs on the line. Miami was beaten 26-23 at home to Baltimore in Week 4 last season as Caleb Sturgis missed a 57-yard tying field goal in the final minute.
NFL free picks: 'Over' 7.5 wins on NFL odds. Can Tannehill take a big leap in Year 3 and get Miami to the postseason? Philbin's job may depend on it because this team is in desperate need of some positive buzz and owner Stephen Ross can provide that with a big-name coach this offseason if the Dolphins fizzle out. An easy schedule should lead to at least a .500 record.