By Jack Spencer

The Miami Dolphins made one of the biggest splashes this offseason in the free agency market, signing players to large contracts, while adding some high profile named players. The question for Miami heading into this season is going to hinge on whether the moves were the right ones and if the Dolphins can buck the trend of teams overspending for players in free agency.

Miami has been mired in mediocrity for several seasons as the team has been searching for a franchise quarterback ever since QB Dan Marino retired. Last season, Miami and rookie head coach Joe Philbin decided on drafting QB Ryan Tannehill. The move didn’t come without questions seeing as how Tannehill had been a wide receiver in the college ranks and entered the draft with limited starting experience under center.

One player the Dolphins brought on board this offseason believes he was signed as a free agent with one purpose in mind, unseat the New England Patriots stranglehold on the AFC East division. Former Baltimore Ravens LB Dannell Ellerbe told CBS Sports that he was brought in “to help knock them (Patriots) off.”

Ellerbe, speaking to Mike Freeman continued, “That doesn’t mean we will, but we feel like we can. Like I said, we just have to prove it. You have to actually go do it.”

Given the offseason the Patriots have had, many in the media are getting ready to write off the Patriots for the 2013 season. TE Rob Gronkowski is coming off multiple surgeries. The Aaron Hernandez situation has been well documented. The top five pass catchers on the Patriots roster will not be on the field for the 2013 season opener.

Is there reason for concern? Yes. Only the hardest of the hardcore New England homers would be foolish not to admit this year’s Patriots team will face some struggles. Am I getting ready to write them off? No chance in hell. Of all the teams in the AFC East, Miami, seems to be the biggest obstacle for the Patriots and another division title in 2013, but that is on paper mind you. Buffalo has serious quarterback issues and the Jets, well suffice it to say, they are the Jets and Rex Ryan is facing his toughest year as the head coach.

Besides usual divisional games, teams in the AFC East will face off against teams from the NFC South and AFC North this season as common opponents.

The Dolphins are going to have to find a way to fit in all their high priced free agents into the current roster. Recent history around the NFL has illustrated that plugging in high dollar players do not usually translate into championships. The Washington Redskins tried this technique for years until they abandoned the technique.

One of the biggest questions surrounding the success of the Dolphins this season is going to be the continued development of second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill did not have eye-popping numbers last year, but he played with a challenged receiving corps in 2012. The addition of Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson should help as well veteran TE Dustin Keller.

Miami finished the 2012 season with a 7-9 overall record, going 2-4 within the AFC East. That number will have to improve if the Dolphins legitimately want to overtake the Patriots for the division title. Miami will need to significantly improve on the road as well, after posting a 2-6 road number last year. The Dolphins open with their first two games on the road and finish with three of their last five on the road as well.

Yes, there are several questions surrounding the Patriots heading into this season, but there are also equally as many questions regarding the Dolphins. While New England might struggle to find an identity early on, I’m wagering a guess to say that QB Tom Brady and head coach Bill Belichick will find a way to get things done in order to take care of business this season.

While the Patriots might not be the team to beat in the AFC this season to reach the Super Bowl, I believe that for one more year they are able to hold off the Dolphins, in what could be a very close race this year. Miami’s questions loom larger with a second-year head coach and quarterback than those in New England with Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.






Filed under: AFC, AFC East, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, NFL

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