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Today: The Miami Dolphins
Last Year: 8-8 (3rd place in AFC East)
For a team that ranked in the lower half of the league in most major statistical categories — passing yards, rushing yards, defending the pass, defending the run — Miami sure managed to win a decent number of games. Despite a bullying incident that captured the national headlines for weeks and left the team without two members of its offensive line, the Dolphins still won eight games and remained in the playoff hunt until the very end.
Entering week 16, the Dolphins were 8-6 and primed to join the playoffs as a wild card team. But the Dolphins lost the last two games of their season and missed out on the playoffs. We’ll get to football in the remainder of the preview, but for now, let’s address the bullying incident.
For those who don’t remember, second-year player Jonathan Martin left the team in late October due to emotional stress. In the coming days, reports would surface that Martin was in fact bullied by fellow offensive lineman Richie Incognito. The Dolphins would suspend Incognito, and more details would emerge that didn’t exactly make Incognito look like the nicest dude in the league. This is the transcript from one of Incognito’s voicemails to Martin. It’s not nice and it’s not fun to read. If you want to read it though, click here.
Then, came the outpouring of quotes by NFLers that blamed Martin for violating a code. Words like “coward” were used to describe Martin. Luckily, Grantland’s Brian Phillips exists. If you have’t read this, read it now.
Brandon Marshall also spoke up and did so beautifully:
Meanwhile, Incognito and Jay Glazer sat down for an interview.
When people began to speculate that perhaps GM Jeff Ireland and head coach Joe Philbin gave Incognito a code red, the situation began to look a lot like A Few Good Men. Then came one of my favorite Twitter moments of all time:
Anyways, Jonathan Martin is now a 49er. Incognito received counseling and is a free agent. Ireland is now employed by the Seahawks. Philbin is still the head coach of the Dolphins.
Last Year’s Stud: Brian Hartline
When the Dolphins signed Mike Wallace to a gigantic contract, I doubt they planned for Hartline to lead the team in receptions and yards. That’s exactly what Hartline did, going for 76 catches and 1,016 yards. He’s now reached 1,000 receiving yards in consecutive seasons.
Runner-up: Cameron Wake and Brent Grimes
Last Year’s Surprise: Charles Clay
Charles Clay is a former sixth-round draft pick and, in his first two seasons in the league, he only caught 34 passes for a little more than 500 yards and five touchdowns. In 2013, Clay went for 69 receptions, 759 yards, and six touchdowns.
Runner-up: Randy Starks (amassed a 22.1 score from PFF)
Last Year’s Disappointment: Richie Incognito
Runner-up: Rushing offense (26th in the league)
Jarvis Landry is a beast.
He should fit in well with Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline, and Charles Clay, who have already established themselves as dependable pass catchers for Ryan Tannehill.
Other notable pick: Ja’Wuan James
This Year’s Stud: Ryan Tannehill
Tannehill made dramatic improvements in his second year as an NFL quarterback. Throwing for 24 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and nearly 4,000 yards, Tannehill proved that he’s worthy of starting in the NFL. I like the fact that the Dolphins are seemingly dedicated to protecting him — they drafted two linemen in the draft — and are giving him more weapons.
Runner-up: Brent Grimes
This Year’s Surprise: Ja’Wuan James
Even thought his first-round draft status is regarded as somewhat of a reach, James is going to play an integral role in rebuilding the Dolphins’ offensive line this year. He’s durable (he started every game at Tennessee), he possesses long arms, he’s athletic, and he should start at right tackle. I think he’ll justify his first-round status from day one.
Runner-up: Walt Aikens
This Year’s Disappointment: Dion Jordan
He’s already been suspended for the first four games due to PEDs. The former first-round pick struggled mightily in his first season — only two sacks and 26 combined tackles.
Runner-up: The running game
Draft early: N/A
Good value in the middle rounds: Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline
Don’t draft: Defense, the running backs
What Vegas Is Saying (LVH Sports Book): 8 wins
What We’re Saying: 7-9 (2nd place in AFC East)
GM Dennis Hickey has made it clear he is prioritizing protecting Mike Tannehill. I’m expecting Tannehill and the passing offense to take a step forward in 2014. Still, how much better the offensive line will be is up in the air. The running game last year failed to do much. And defensively, outside of Grimes, the secondary is iffy.
Let’s take a look at the schedule. Outside of New England, winning inside the division isn’t going to be the most difficult of tasks. Wining outside the division is another story, though. Games against Green Bay, Chicago, San Diego, Detroit, and Denver should test the Dolphins. In the end, I don’t think they were as good as their record suggests last season. And it wouldn’t surprise me if they end up with around eight wins again.
[genericon icon=twitter] Follow Sean Wagner-McGough on Twitter @seanjwagner