Dolphins fans take to pessimism like a cat to nip.
An entire generation of Miamians have never experienced a playoff win, and the endless spin cycle of coaches, players and executives has built up a calcified skepticism in the community.
So why should this year be any different? The experts say it shouldn’t.
Gamblers give the Dolphins a 65-to-1 chance to win the Super Bowl, and just a 30-to-1 shot of getting there.
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The analytics site Football Outsiders projects the Dolphins will win only five games -- and that’s rounding up.
But every year, the NFL has a surprise team or two. The Dolphins were that team in 2008. And they could be again in 2016.
Here are five ways in which the team has improved over last year’s 6-10 debacle:
1. Coaching: Joe Philbin was fired a year too late, but Stephen Ross didn’t double down on his mistake, axing Philbin four games into the 2015 season.
And despite support in the locker room to keep interim Dan Campbell, the Dolphins hired Adam Gase, viewed by many as the best candidate available.
Under Philbin and later Campbell, the Dolphins were often out-schemed on Sundays. That shouldn’t be the case with Gase, who has gotten the most out of Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Tim Tebow in his still-young career. He’s now tasked with getting the most out of Ryan Tannehill.
2. Offensive line: The Dolphins’ pass protection has been so bad, so long, that it’s become tiresome to even discuss it. Tannehill has been sacked 184 times in his career, most in the NFL since 2012.
And Miami had the lowest-graded run-blocking in football last year, as determined by Pro Football Focus.
But there’s almost literally no way this year’s group isn’t an improvement. Miami had no depth last year, so when Ja’Wuan James and Mike Pouncey got hurt, their replacements simply didn’t come close to their level of production.
Now healthy and with Laremy Tunsil and Jermon Bushrod onboard, the Dolphins should be able to withstand the injuries that are inevitable throughout a season. Last month, Billy Turner made a bold proclamation: “We have the potential to be the best offensive line in football.”
Simply average would be a good start.
3. Ryan Tannehill: Even the Dolphins quarterback acknowledged that he, at best, plateaued in Year 4.
He better show improvement in Year 5, or there won’t be a Year 6. Tannehill’s contract is set to balloon next season.
The looming ultimatum should focus his mind. Improved pass protection should help. And so should having a coach who’s an advocate. Philbin and Bill Lazor had serious reservations about hitching their wagon to Tannehill
Gase, meanwhile, took the job knowing that his top priority was to fix him.
4. Linebackers: The Dolphins had just one of Pro Football Focus’ top 20 highest-graded linebackers in 2015 (Koa Misi), and none could cover particularly well.
Enter Kiko Alonso, who was once among the league’s promising young linebackers. Knee injuries in each of the past two seasons have led Alonso to be traded not one, but twice -- first to the Eagles, and then back in March, to the Dolphins.
But Alonso might finally be healthy -- and back to his 2013 form. Coaches have raved about Alonso, both publicly and privately, saying that his spring practices have exceeded all expectations.
Then there’s this wild card: If the NFL reinstates Dion Jordan, might he move to linebacker? The Dolphins have ample depth at defensive end.
5. Ndamukong Suh: Don’t believe the hype. Suh played pretty well last year -- particularly in the second half of the season. Despite missing the Pro Bowl for just the second time in his career, Pro Football Focus said 2015 was Suh’s best season as a pro.
There’s no reason to believe that 2016 won’t be even better. Suh should have more help; Cameron Wake appears to be back healthy and Mario Williams should be motivated after a down 2015 in Buffalo.
Suh is trying to better ingratiate himself into the team. Plus the Dolphins have added Jim Washburn, Suh’s position coach in Detroit who has already had an impact on the defensive line.