Miami Dolphins

Why you should be excited as the AFC East-leading Dolphins prepare for the Patriots

Yes, this is really happening.

The Miami Dolphins, a team predicted to win maybe five games this season by a score of national media outlets and bookkeepers, is 3-0 to start the year.

Better yet, the rest of the AFC East — including the New England Patriots — has opened the 2018 season 1-2, giving the Dolphins a two-game edge on the division in the early going.

Coach Adam Gase and the Dolphins can make another statement on Sunday when they travel to face the Patriots.

Regardless of how that game turns out, the excitement level should be high for this Miami Dolphins team after its early start, which includes a 27-20 win over the Tennessee Titans that featured a pair of lengthy rain delays, a 20-12 road win over the Jets and Sunday’s 28-20 come-from-behind win over the Oakland Raiders.

Here are a few reasons.

A healthy Ryan Tannehill

It has only been three games, but quarterback Ryan Tannehill is on pace for a record year in his first season back after knee surgery.

His stats: 54-of-74 passing (73 percent completion) for 687 yards with 7 touchdowns and just 2 interceptions.

Among starters who have played in every game this season, Tannehill ranks fifth in completion percentage and fourth in quarterback rating (121.8). The only two quarterbacks ahead of him in both categories: the Saints’ perennial Pro Bowler Drew Brees and the Buccaneers’ early MVP candidate Ryan Fitzpatrick.

And arguably the most important stat: 10-1. That’s Tannehill’s record in his last 11 games, a mark matched only by the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz.

If Tannehill can stay healthy and manage the offense the way he has through the first three games, he will have a strong case for Comeback Player of the Year. Pro Bowl consideration will likely be in the picture too.

The rookies look legit

With Pro Bowl safety Reshad Jones inactive on Sunday, Dolphins 2018 first-round pick Minkah Fitzpatrick made his first career NFL start against the Raiders.

“It was awesome,” Fitzpatrick said. “It was a whole lot of fun. We could have played better on the first couple of series, but we went out there, we finished. Like I said, it was a lot of fun. It was a blessing, for real.”

The milestone was merely a technicality, as Fitzpatrick has been a pivotal piece on the Dolphins defense this year. He finished Sunday’s game with 10 tackles and now has 19 through three games in his rookie season.

He’s not the only rookie making moves early. Linebacker Jerome Baker, the Dolphins’ third-round pick, finished with nine tackles on Sunday and has 17 on the season.

Second-round pick tight end Mike Gesicki broke through with three passes for 31 yards on Sunday after hauling in just one in his first two games.

Kicker Jason Sanders, a seventh-round pick, has made both field-goal attempts this year and 9 of his 10 extra-point attempts.

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Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard (25) intercepts in the first quarter as the Miami Dolphins host the Oakland Raiders at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Sunday, September 23, 2018. AL DIAZ adiaz@miamiherald.com

Xavien Howard: Top NFL corner

If you don’t know Xavien Howard’s name yet, start learning it. He’s well on his way to becoming the NFL’s next big-name corner.

Just look at his performance on Sunday. Howard, nicknamed “X” and “X-Factor” by his teammates, held the Raiders’ Amari Cooper to just two catches for 17 yards and recorded a pair of interceptions, including the essential game-sealer in the fourth quarter.

A look at history

This season marks the 14th time the Dolphins have started a season 3-0. Miami has reached the playoffs in nine of the other 13 instances, won the AFC three times and won the Super Bowl once. Not bad odds, especially for a team looking for its first playoff win since 2000 and that most projected to be in the bottom half of the league again.

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