Barry Jackson

Wide disparity of opinion on Dolphins

As training camp rolls on, the sides have aligned neatly on these Dolphins and they essentially can be separated into two categories – the doubters and the cautiously optimistic believers.

For some, especially the betting public and analytics types, it’s almost as if last season’s 10-6 record and playoff berth didn’t happen.

"A lot of people thought 10-6 was smoke and mirrors," Dolphins safety Michael Thomas said. "They didn't understand how we did it. I think we're going to be better this year."

But other prominent evaluators, including the organization’s most vocal TV critic last October (ESPN’s Louis Riddick), now have become believers.

The disparity is pretty striking. Among the non-believers:

• Pro Football Focus rates the Dolphins’ roster 22nd in the league, behind the Eagles, Giants, Redskins, Bears and Saints, among several other teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season.

• Respected web site Football Outsiders, using the complex Adjusted Pythagorean analytic, predicts the Dolphins will be one of five teams most likely to regress, claiming they overachieved by more than two wins. Football Outsiders says the Dolphins have less than a 35 percent of making the playoffs, worse odds than even Chargers, who were 5-11 last season.

• Athlon Sports, the popular sports preview magazine, predicts Miami will miss the playoffs; has Miami going 8-8 and USA Today projects 7-9, citing a difficult schedule.

• At the MGM Grand and 11 other Nevada casinos, the Dolphins were given 40 to 1 odds to win the Super Bowl - 17 teams have shorter odds – and they keep dropping the Dolphins’ over/under win total because the public keeps betting the under. The MGM set Miami’s over/under at eight, but dropped it to 7 ½ (only 11 teams have a lower total) after so many people bet Miami wouldn’t win eight. Even now, the majority of people are betting Miami will win less than 7.5.

"It’s interesting," MGM Resorts International vice president of race and sports books Jay Rood said of the public’s lack of regard for the Dolphins. "I don’t know if it’s that people need convincing that last year [wasn’t a fluke]. It could be their schedule. The prior year, they were in the eight win range and maybe people view last year as an anomaly."

What’s more, the Westgate Las Vegas dropped Miami’s over/under to seven – better than only seven other teams.

So why such skepticism?

"It may be a number of things," Riddick said Friday. "Can Ryan Tannehill improve upon his best year last year? There are people who really dig into football and two things – one, there being a defensive coordinator change and two, their defense underperforming last year, and with their coordinator going to be a head coach [Denver’s Vance Joseph], people automatically assume there's going to be a dropoff which wouldn't bode well for Miami in the won/loss column. I think it's more player driven than scheme driven. These guys need to be better. And the team will be better."

When the Dolphins started 1-4 last season, Riddick told me: "They have to rip this down, pull this down to the ground. The question is do you have people in place to do that? There’s no one you say is a cornerstone piece on that team. This team is mind boggling to me – one of the great franchises in the league that has been irrelevant for a long time. They are nowhere close to being where they need to be if they want to be talked about in January."

The Dolphins then reeled off nine wins in 10 games and Riddick – a former Redskins and Eagles personnel executive - indicated Friday he’s now a believer, that this team definitely is wild-card caliber and that Tannehill is a slightly above average quarterback.

"Seven wins is selling them short," Riddick said. "I think they are a 9-10 win type of football team. We'll see. I've kind of turned the corner on them. They have a hell of a young head coach in place.

"I guess Miami is in a position unfairly where the standard you have to meet and eclipse is so ridiculously high with New England being there that you have to keep it in context. But I think they are well on their way.

"It's typical that at the time I was railing on them - and they deserved it - they turned it around immediately the following week and they've been on nice little roll,” Riddick continued. “Adam Gase made some big time changes, sat some guys down who weren't performing very well and basically took control of that team from that point forward. Jay Ajayi broke out. That's when the offensive line really got going. Laremy Tunsil and other guys really started putting their stamp on that team.

"They're on their way. If Ryan can stay healthy and can build upon what obviously was his best year as a pro last year, and the offensive line can stay healthy and the running game can continue to provide that kind of balance, and DeVante Parker continues to improve, and they take care of Jarvis Landry and he keeps his performance level where it is, and Mike Pouncey stays healthy, I think they'll be good on that side of the ball.

"Defensively, there's some concern. There are some guys that are underperformers on the defensive line, particularly right down the middle where no team should be able to run the football on this team and they gave it up too often last year and those guys need to perform better.

"I love what they did in the draft with Charles Harris, who I thought was arguably the best edge rusher in the draft. I was told by someone I trust implicitly that this guy has a Dwight Freeney – [he of the 122 career sacks] - like spin move that you'll see once the pads get on. This could be a special pass rusher. Raekwon McMillan is a big body thumper. I like the things Adam is doing.

"I think things are looking up for their team. They're in a division where the standard is ridiculous, but that's good, too. They kind of know where they need to go if they want to be great."

And there are other believers, too. In their preseason power ratings, Pro Football Talk ranks Miami 11th and ESPN 13th.

ESPN’s Bill Barnwell asserted last week that the Dolphins have the NFL’s third-best group of receivers, running backs and tight ends, behind only Pittsburgh and New England, citing "a staggering amount of potential among the Dolphins' collection of skill-position talent" and saying "this offense could be unstoppable" if tight end Julius Thomas delivers.

And the last word, for now, goes to Fox analyst and former Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson.

"They are a good team and they can only get better," J.J. said. "A lot of people are discounting them because of the simple reason that New England is so good and added good players. But Miami is a playoff contender without question.

"Gase has done a great job with Tannehill, and there’s no reason Tannehill can't be better this year. I love Jay Ajayi and Jarvis Landry; they’re tremendous players. They should be better defensively. And if the defense is better, it will solidify the offense."