Joe Philbin, who ordinarily shares signs of personality as if they were state secrets or next week’s game plan, surprised his Dolphins players the other day by donning a white tuxedo with tails — and a top hat! — to perform a musical number.
“It was kind of a shock,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.
So is this, to many:
The Dolphins are going to be good this season. They might even be really good.
After years in football rags, off the NFL’s main stage, Miami could be headed for a top-hat-and-tails kind of season.
There is no consensus on that, of course. Right now it’s all conjecture based on an offseason, a draft, a training camp and a couple of exhibition games. It’s guesswork based on glimpses and hints. The optimism that most Dolfans dare to feel these days seems well founded, though. The feeling is fragile and held nervously, yes, like rare porcelain. Everything could fall and shatter. But entering Saturday’s third preseason game and home debut against Atlanta, there is reason to believe — and that’s enough for now.
That belief was fed this week. Expectations puffed up a bit as PredictionMachine.com, a respected website, pegged Miami a playoff team in its annual NFL preview based on its computers playing every game in the season 50,000 times to determine the most likely outcomes.
The Dolphins were given a 4.8 percent chance to win the Super Bowl, which might sound modest but is the sixth-best likelihood in a 32-team league, trailing only Green Bay (17.1 percent), Seattle (14.8), Indianapolis (13.2), Denver (11.0) and Philadelphia (5.1). Defending Super Bowl champion New England, the Dolphins’ AFC East nemesis, was put at 3.4 percent, although that was based on quarterback Tom Brady’s four-game “Deflategate” suspension, which could be overturned in federal court.
More significant, to me: Miami is given better than a 50 percent chance to win in 13 of its 16 regular-season games. And it’s better than 55 percent in 10 of those games.
That guarantees nothing, but it is a further indication that the good feeling so many Dolfans are hesitant to admit might be justified.
After an offseason of positive change, including a revamped passing game and the addition of dominating, top-tier defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, the starting units have played very well even as the Fins have gone 0-2 in exhibitions.
Tannehill is a spot-on 18 for 22 in limited action, despite missing left tackle Branden Albert and No. 1 draft pick receiver DeVante Parker, both of whom should be ready soon. And the defense with Suh out there already has shown signs of dominance.
Now, Saturday, we see much more.
The third preseason game typically is the one in which the starters play at least the full first half and maybe into the third quarter. It is the closest we get to a proper dress rehearsal.
There was some talk this week Tannehill should sit out Saturday’s game, that Miami should “rest” him.
That’s a bad idea. For starters, Tannehill just turned 27, had an offseason off and played sparingly the past two games. If he needs a rest already, we’re all in trouble.
What he needs far more than a rest is more live game action working with his offensive line, with his new receiving corps and against an opposing defense going full speed. You don’t play scared in this league. You don’t sit guys for fear of an injury, or second-guess playing them if one should occur.
“I expect him to play,” Philbin said of Tannehill this Saturday. “He’s had 40-some snaps in two games. That’s not a ton.”
Suh said he looked forward to Saturday as “a good measuring stick.”
So should we all.
Third exhibitions are meant to showcase who and where you are as a team and to build confidence as you near the regular season — and franchises that last made the playoffs in 2008 and last won a postseason game in 2000 have no default claim to confidence. It must be collected. Grown. Earned.
Miami fans will have a chance Saturday to get a first look at the ongoing massive refurbishing of Dolphins stadium at the same time they get a first live look at the refurbished team playing there.
So why should Tannehill and Miami’s first units play a lot Saturday and place importance on winning for the first and only time this preseason?
Justifying their fans’ optimism would be nice, but that isn’t the main reason. Neither is turning around the many media experts who still doubt this team.
The main reason for a big show and statement Saturday isn’t for the Dolphins to convince others how good they are.
It is to convince themselves.