The Miami Dolphins come into the 2021 season with plenty of expectation, after a 10-6 record in 2020 saw them narrowly miss out on the postseason.  They have only won the AFC East twice since the turn of the new millennium, where they were crowned champions during the 2000 season and beat the New England Patriots to win the division in the 2008 campaign after a Week 17 win over the New York Jets.

With their division rivals, the Buffalo Bills reaching the AFC Championship game in the 2020 season and the Patriots spending big this offseason, can the Dolphins challenge for the AFC East top spot in 2021?

Pressure On Tua Tagovailoa, Allowing Him To Succeed

The rookie season of the fifth overall pick last year was very up and down. At times he looked scared to throw the ball deep. However, the lack of an offseason and a hip injury should also be considered. The overall consensus is generally mixed. Some of the fans are skeptical over Tua’s potential at the NFL level. Many other Dolphins fans have faith in Tua and are quick to come to his defense.

One of the factors that were seen to hinder Tua’s progression during his rookie year was the lack of receivers around him. The Miami front office has gone out and addressed this issue, adding Will Fuller in Free Agency and Jaylen Waddle in the draft. Both players join a receiver room accompanied by DeVante Parker, Albert Wilson, Preston Williams, and tight end Mike Gesicki. This gives Tua no excuses, with plenty of weapons to throw to. With the futures of elite quarterbacks such as Aaron Rodgers and Deshaun Watson up in the air, you can’t help but feel that head coach Brian Flores would look at one of these players if Tagovailoa struggles in 2021. The NFL is a cutthroat league, and Flores is no exception to the rule, having already benched Tua twice.

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Keeping Hold Of Star Players

One issue that has arisen during the offseason is the issue with cornerback Xavien Howard.

The 2020 interception leader signed a five-year extension in 2019. He is already is looking to get paid once again. He is said to be considering his options at this stage and has been absent in OTA’s as he appears to be holding out. Keeping hold of Howard is key if the Dolphins are to challenge for the AFC East. The Dolphins also need to be wary of Gesicki’s contract situation. This ends next year, with “nothing percolating” over a new contract.

Keeping The Same Unity From The 2020 Season

One thing that Miami appeared to have in 2020 was unity. Nothing showed this more than when the Dolphins played the Bengals in Week 13. After a tackle on Jakeem Grant, Flores appeared ready to fight anyone. He showed that he had the players’ backs. This is something every team should have in a head coach.

The team stuck together through thick and thin in 2020—Flores was one of the contenders for Coach of the Year. The aforementioned Howard was a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year. The defense was one of the more dominant units in the league. It can be argued that the 2020 Dolphins are one of the best teams not to make the playoffs in recent history. The case can be made for this, with the Bears making the postseason with just eight wins in 2020. A 10-6 record gets teams into the playoffs most seasons. This goes to show not only how competitive the AFC is but also the strength of the teams in the conference.

Winning AFC East Division Games

Speaking of strong teams in the conference, the AFC East has now turned into one of the toughest divisions in the entire NFL. The Bills were exceptional in 2020 and will continue their form into 2021, provided there are no injuries to star players. The Patriots had an off-year during their last campaign. Head coach Bill Belichick won’t allow a second losing season in a row. Despite their record earning them the second overall pick in this year’s draft, the New York Jets will improve in 2021. They will be excited by the addition of quarterback Zach Wilson and guard Alijah Vera-Tucker. How does Miami compete?

They need to start by winning games against their division rivals. The Dolphins had a 3-3 record against their division rivals in 2020. They lost both games to the Bills and would have won the division if they had beaten the Bills twice. Quarterback Josh Allen has a 5-1 record as a starter against the Dolphins, and this is what the Fins need to target. If you have the best record for games within the division, you have a high chance of winning the division.

Overall, it will take a lot for the Dolphins to win the division. The Bills show no signs of slowing down, and Howard’s departure would be a huge loss to this team. The aim should be to win the division. Meanwhile, a more realistic prospect is finishing second or third in the AFC East and earning a wildcard spot.