The Dolphins’ flaws have been put under a microscope in the aftermath of consecutive losses. And while that is certainly warranted given the ineptitude of Miami’s offensive line, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we’re talking about a 3-2 football team that survived what was said to be a gauntlet first five games of the season on the plus side of .500.
Here are five positives from the team’s first five games of the season:
1. Dolphins on playoff pace
Before the season began, many suggested that 3-2 was the aim for Miami before the bye week. The first five games of the season appeared to be especially daunting and escaping them north of .500 was said to be a major accomplishment. Some even suggested 2-3 as an acceptable feat.
Well, the bye week has arrived for Miami, and Joe Philbin’s team has a winning record. Sure, the last two games — losses to the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens — were discouraging, but the Dolphins are on pace to compete for a playoff spot in 2013.
The schedule projects to soften for Miami, which means mirroring their play in the first five games should be able to produce a 7-4 record the rest of the way, which would equate to a 10-6 season. 10 wins would likely suffice for a wild-card spot.
2. Win over Colts most impressive in AFC East
The AFC East is a tight race at the moment. The Patriots sit atop the division at 4-1, but the Dolphins and Jets are right on their heels at 3-2. But records don’t always indicate which team is the best in a division after only five games, especially considering the difficulty of schedules can be widely contrasting.
Only the Dolphins have beaten a team that currently owns at least four wins. That came in Week 2, when Miami went on the road and topped an Indianapolis Colts team that has won games over Super Bowl contenders in the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks since.
The Patriots best win? You can’t say over the Atlanta Falcons, who are now 1-4. It probably came against the 3-2 New York Jets in an ugly three-point point victory on September 12. New England has also beaten the Bills in quarterback EJ Manuel’s debut and the winless Buccaneers. They don’t look to be as good as their 4-1 record would indicate.
The Jets, meanwhile, also have wins over the Bills, Buccaneers and Falcons, which means the opponents they’ve beaten thus far have a combined record of 3-11.
The division’s second most impressive win arguably came in Week 4 when the Bills beat the 3-2 Ravens at home thanks to five Joe Flacco interceptions.
The Dolphins’ 24-20 win in Indianapolis is looking better and better as the season progresses.
3. Patriots are no lock to win division
The AFC East is legitimately wide open for the first time since 2008, which was the last season a team other than the Patriots took home the division crown. Tom Brady isn’t sidelined with a knee injury this time around, but his supporting cast is drastically depleted.
The six points New England managed in their Week 5 loss in Cincinnati was their lowest point total in a game since their shutout loss to the Dolphins on December 10, 2006, and Tom Brady saw his streak of 52 consecutive games with a touchdown pass snapped.
The Patriots are no longer the dominant team they’ve been for the majority of the new millennium, and that has finally resulted in their first blemish in the win-loss column this season.
They could certainly still win the division, being that Tom Brady is still under center, Bill Belichick is still on the sideline and the Patriots’ defense is much improved. But make no mistake, they’re beatable.
The Bills and Jets came awfully close to upsetting them in Weeks 1 and 2. Will the Dolphins be able to complete that task in Week 8?
4. We’ve yet to see how good Dolphins can be at full strength
The Dolphins haven’t been at optimal health since Week 1 in Cleveland.
Since then, starting cornerback Dimitri Patterson hasn’t played a snap with a groin injury, All-Pro defensive end Cameron Wake hasn’t played a full game since Week 2 thanks to a knee injury, Pro Bowl nose tackle Paul Soliai missed Week 3 with a knee injury and free-agent prize middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe missed most of last Sunday’s game versus the Ravens with a shoulder injury.
There’s a chance that the Dolphins will be able to heal up during their bye week in order to return to the field in Week 7 at full strength for division play. And if they can do so, Miami, especially defensively, could become a much more consistent team.
5. Ryan Tannehill could be special with help
Second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill has certainly improved in 2013. His numbers haven’t been spectacular, but he is currently eighth in the entire NFL in passing yards at the moment with 1,383. But when you factor in how little help he’s been given from the rest of the Dolphins’ offense, his performance thus far becomes considerably more impressive.
Through five games, Tannehill has been sacked more than any other quarterback, his receivers have dropped passes at the third-highest rate in the league (according to Pro Football Focus) and he’s had the NFL’s fifth least productive running game to lean on. It’s quite surprising that Miami ranks 16th in points per game despite all of that inadequacy.
But there’s a simple answer as to why the Dolphins have been able to remain moderately productive offensively, and that reason is Ryan Tannehill. Unfortunately, however, we could be talking about a quarterback who is ready to emerge as elite passer, but just hasn’t had the support from the rest of his offense to do so.
If Miami can at least give Tannehill mediocre protection and a more balanced offensive approach during the remaining 11 games, I think he’s capable of doing some special things at the position this season.