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The Miami Dolphins kick off their 2021 season this Sunday against the New England Patriots. It has been a long offseason with intense anticipation to see if the visions of Chris Grier and Brian Flores unfold into a playoff-caliber performance from all of the young talent they assembled. Expectations and predictions for the team have been all over the map to say the least. Barring injuries, this group has some serious potential and could open a lot of eyes around the NFL community.

Tough Opening Schedule

The schedule is not easy by any means but lightens up a bit after mid-October. The first five opponents are playoff-worthy so Miami could find itself in an early hole if they lack focus. They close the season with an away game against Tennessee (definitely a Super Bowl contender) and hosting a tough Patriots squad. The one silver lining I see is that the Dolphins will have a weather advantage in several matchups. They do not play in any cold-weather stadiums (unless Nashville finds a cold front) during December/January and host tough opponents (Bills and Colts) in some potentially brutal Miami heat.

The Trenches

As much as everyone wants to talk about the saga of Tua Tagovailoa, the truth is that this team will live or die in the trenches. Miami's RPO offense requires opponents to fear the run so that the passing game can open up. I have my doubts and will elaborate in a bit. Miami's defense is stacked in the secondary and it would be disappointing if they were not an interception machine this season. But, you can't have interceptions without a solid pass rush and a stout running defense. Again, I have more questions than answers regarding the front seven setting the tone. Let's dig a bit deeper.

Offensive Line Needs to Continue to Grow

I have confidence in both right guard Robert Hunt and center Michael Dieter. Hunt has Pro Bowl talent, and quite frankly might be better at tackle. Dieter clawed his way up from draft bust status and looked good in the preseason. Jesse Davis is a serviceable right tackle who brings leadership value, but we've seen him underwhelm when the chips are down. Solomon Kindley was benched but capitalized when rookie Liam Eichenberg was bitten by the injury bug. As a collective, this group really offers more hope than substance. Then there is Austin Jackson. I'll be blunt, he had perhaps the most disappointing training camp and preseason of any player when factoring in expectations. Now he is on the COVID list and if I'm being truly honest, he could lose his starting role. Eichenberg played well at left tackle for Notre Dame and is more of the power guy Miami needs for the run game. They also acquired former 2nd Rounder Greg Little who supposedly has done well in practice. Flores wasn't afraid to bench Tua last year, and Kindley proved that even afterthoughts can earn a role when the opportunity presents itself. Don't shoot the messenger.

If you watched any of the preseason I don't think you came away saying that the starting offensive line opened up the ground game or kept Tua's jersey clean.

Defensive Front Seven

I have more faith in the defense's front seven but they are susceptible to giving up big chunks against opposing running backs. They looked better in rushing the passer this summer so hopefully, Miami will not have to lead the league in blitz packages again. I like the depth on the defensive line and would be comfortable with any of them as starters. Raekwon Davis has a chance to make a name for himself this year. Miami avoided splash signings so we best hope that Emmanuel Ogbah repeats last season's performance. Another guy who could break out is Andrew Van Ginkel. The depth at linebacker is concerning and we should pray Elandon Roberts doesn't get injured again. I don't see a replacement I'm comfortable with behind him. And of course, there is 1st Round pick Jaelan Phillips. If he lives up to the hype it would be a game-changer. He spent a lot of the summer getting healthy so I'm tempering expectations for the early portion of the season.

Tua, The Perfect RPO QB

So what happens if the offensive line is decent? Tua showed us much better QB play this summer. He truly is the perfect point guard for an RPO offense and has the weaponry to give him top 15 QB stats. Everything you wanted to see - accuracy, pocket presence, leadership - was on display throughout the summer. Was he perfect? No, but I'll take top 15 play from a second-year QB any day of the week. The weaponry is a perfect blend of size and speed if they can stay healthy, and yes, healthy is the key word. Devante Parker, Mike Gesicki, and Preston Williams should play huge roles in the red zone while both Will Fuller and top pick Jaylen Waddle can either take the top off the defense or open up the middle of the field by pulling defenders to the perimeter. I'm more confident in the receiving abilities and big gains from both Myles Gaskin and Savon Ahmed than I am from them getting tough yards. I'm a bit worried that Miami will find themselves in too many 3rd and long situations. I would have preferred rookie Gerrid Doaks as the power back but maybe Flores does not trust the kid just yet. Regardless of the concerns, this can be an exciting offense capable of 24+ points per game if the blocking holds up.

Secondary to Give Offenses Fits

Miami's secondary should give every opposing coach sleepless nights. I'm not kidding when I say they should be a turnover-producing machine. Xavien Howard is back and rookie Jevon Holland was perhaps the talk of training camp. Those guys are going to make plays. While Byron Jones will get hype as the perimeter corner, 3rd-year guy Nik Needham might steal the spotlight if continues coming up big in key situations. There is a reason Miami kept 12 defensive backs on the 53 man roster and their contributions hinge on the front seven putting opposing QBs into difficult situations. Just like the offense, it comes down to the trenches.

Special Teams Should Do Well

I won't say much about special teams other than I have no worries. Jason Sanders is among the best kickers in the game and returners Jakeem Grant and Jaylen Waddle offer insane speed. Short and sweet - they'll do well.

Wild Card?

If Miami stays reasonably healthy they should be right in the thick of a wild card fight. 10 or 11 wins seem within reach when you consider they get the Jets x 2, Falcons, Texans, Jaguars, Brees-less Saints, and a young Panthers team. Challenging Buffalo for the division seems lofty but on paper, I don't see how the Patriots or Jets are better than the Dolphins. Should be an exciting season with far more big plays than we witnessed over the last two years.

GO FINS!

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