The Dolphins are coming off three consecutive losing seasons, but they're hoping to build on their strong finish in 2011. Miami went 6-3 in its last nine games following a disastrous 0-7 start, and quarterback Matt Moore produced the sixth-best passer rating in the league over those final nine weeks.
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Reggie Bush answered the challenge of becoming a feature back by rushing for 1,000 yards for the first time in his NFL career. The receiving corps lacks an elite player, but new head coach Joe Philbin's offense is predicated on spreading the ball around. Defensively, the Dolphins are expected to use more of a 4-3 front under new coordinator Kevin Coyle, but in Paul Soliai, Cameron Wake, Karlos Dansby and Vontae Davis, there is enough talent for this defense to become one of the better ones in the league.
The biggest headlines the Dolphins created in the spring came when they came up short in their bids to land Jeff Fisher as head coach and Peyton Manning as quarterback. The Dolphins then traded alpha wide receiver Brandon Marshall to Chicago for a pair of third-round picks, a move that could be viewed as addition by subtraction.
Karlos Dansby is one of the Dolphins' defensive stalwarts.
Despite Moore's strong play down the stretch, the Dolphins were adamant about upgrading at quarterback, and they ended up taking Ryan Tannehill eighth overall in the 2012 draft, the first time since 1983 they had spent a first-round pick on a quarterback. Tannehill aside, the draft provided the Dolphins with several players who could contribute early, including tackle Jonathan Martin, tight end Michael Egnew, defensive end Olivier Vernon and running back Lamar Miller.
Jimmy Johnson once said his preference would be to play every game at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and his former team will come pretty close to that this season. Aside from the mandated one prime-time appearance, every Miami game will have either a 1 p.m. ET start time or -- in the case of games at Arizona and San Francisco -- a 1 p.m. start time in the local area where the game is being played. What matters more for the Dolphins is that for only the second time in franchise history, they will play only one division opponent (the Jets in Week 3) in their first six games.
The Dolphins will see plenty of the AFC East in December, with two games against division power New England and another against a Buffalo team that's expected to be much improved. Two of those three games will be part of a stretch of four home games in five weeks that could provide the final push should the Dolphins be able to put themselves in playoff contention through mid-November.
BEST OFFENSIVE PLAYER
Jake Long, offensive tackle. Even though he can only impact the game so much because he plays on the offensive line, there's probably little question that Long is the team's most gifted player on offense.
BEST DEFENSIVE PLAYER
Karlos Dansby, linebacker. Defensive end Cameron Wake may be the guy who gets the headlines because of his sacks, but Dansby is the most complete player on the Miami defense. He can be a difference-maker when he's at his best.
WILL WIN DIVISION IF ...
... a lot of things fall into place, starting with consistent quarterback play throughout the season. The defense also needs to come up with a lot of takeaways to help an offense that appears short on big-play threats.