In 2016, Adam Gase’s Dolphins reached the playoffs after finishing 10-6.  The Fins scraped through the back-end of the season after Ryan Tannehill went out injured and Matt Moore, ultimately, was unable to see the Fins past the Steelers in the wild card round.  At the time, most fans were not expecting us to go onto the Super Bowl, but the experience of playoff football was nice after such a long absence.


The 2016 team wasn’t good enough to be pushing for a championship and, in some ways, the partial success of the season papered over the obvious deficiencies on the roster.  It’s impossible to know whether missing the playoffs in 2016 would have had more positive long-term implications.  I remember thinking at the time that it wasn’t a positive outcome to be so badly outplayed by Roethlisberger and co on a national stage. Two years later, and following his third season, Gase was gone and the organization put the wheels in motion on a total rebuild.


For the Dolphins, a playoff berth in 2020 is more likely for three reasons.  Firstly, 2020 will see 7 teams from the AFC reach the post-season for the first time ever.  The AFC has only 2 elite teams: the Chiefs and the Ravens.  After those two, most other teams will fancy their chances of playing meaningful games in January.  The Dolphins, although not massively fancied, will feel that they are in the mix.  At the moment, it seems like only the Jaguars, and possibly the Bengals given the toughness of their division, that could be considered unlikely to push for the playoffs.  It’s possible a record of 8-8 could be good enough to get a wild-card spot.


Secondly, it would be fair to say that the AFC East should be more wide open than it has been for many years.  The Bills and Jets will be competitive, but the Patriots look like a team in decline (famous last words.)  The Pats are not only worse-off because of Tom Brady’s departure, but they are also a team lacking playmakers on both sides of the ball.  We all know Belichick will find a way to make sure they are ready for any given Sunday, but they won’t hold the fear factor they’ve had since the turn of the century.  In all honesty, I struggle to see a situation where the Fins win the East, but we can certainly beat the Jets, Bills, and Pats, so it’s not out of the question.


Thirdly, and most simply, the Dolphins are a better team this year.  An active free agency period was followed by a ‘needs-based’ draft.  Regardless of who starts at Quarterback, the offense should be more potent.  The defense was the biggest benefactor of the off-season and could be in place to be one of the best in the league.


It’s on this third point that we need to proceed with caution.  This is by no means a completed rebuild nor a team that matches up yet to the best in the league.  Offensively, we’re relying on players that should not be considered reliable.  As much as we love Fitzmagic, unreliability is something that could be attributed to him throughout his career.  The receiving corps has potential, but DeVante Parker is only one more injury away from being considered bust-worthy.  Mike Gesicki needs to show continued improvement, especially in his blocking and toughness.  The running game is an unknown quantity although, as with much of the team, we’re expecting improved results.  Fundamental improvements have been made to the offensive line, but I don’t think enough was done to ensure complete, and prolonged, improvement.


We all know that Coach Flores will push this team to make the best of their potential and that he won’t settle for mistakes nor excuses.  Let’s not forget though that this is a new set of coaches and a new set of players.  However, this team has enough talent not to be one defined by its coaches.  The 2020 season may prove me wrong, but one more off-season should be needed to bring in the talent needed for Flores to push it on to be a championship contender.  Flores is keenly aware that success breeds success.  This team needs to learn how to win on a regular and prolonged basis.


On paper, we have a schedule that could see us navigate towards a winning season.  Covid-19 has, inadvertently, saved us from the game in London and we have a nicely placed bye week in week 9.  We’ve avoided playing the Pats in Foxboro late in the season, but we do still have the Frosty Bills to play away in week 17.  Finishing 4th in the division last year has given the Fins games against the Bengals and Jags who, as mentioned earlier, are 2 of the few teams without high expectations in 2020.  The games vs the AFC West and NFC West will be tough, but I don’t see either division as being unbeatable.


As in 2019, we’ll be hoping the Texans lose every game so we can get another high pick from the Laremy Tunsil trade.  If the Fins make the playoffs, the highest we could draft with our own pick would be #19.  We do still need to add talent through the draft and getting a pick in the lower half of RD1 probably takes us out of play for an elite prospect.  I’m in no way suggesting we explore tanking (again) but we all agreed last year that a futile attempt at reaching for the playoffs every year does not lead to prolonged success, especially if you’re always picking in the late teens.


The Dolphins had a relatively successful 2019 season and the plan for the off-season has gone smoothly so far.  Despite the optimism, we all know that, as in 2016, we’re not good enough to win the big game.  It’s hard to know what success will look like in 2020.  8-8 would obviously be an improvement in 2019, but maybe just maybe if things fall right we could do better than 8-8 and surprise some folks in NFL circles.