Dolphins sent a lot of talent off but get Tannehill back, could push for .500

8-8 campaign might not save Gase in Miami, but it's all 'over' bettors need from Dolphins

Published: Updated:
Photo: USA TODAY Sports

2018 win total (via Bovada): 6

2017 ATS record: 5-9-2

Optimist view: Time was, Ryan Tannehill was viewed as a young, athletic quarterback whose arrow pointed up thanks to impressive strides in three of his first four seasons, preceding a new marriage with a rookie head coach and QB whisperer.

Now, Tannehill returns from a 20-game absence with a twice-injured left knee, perhaps emboldened after the Dolphins showed their belief in him by passing this offseason on addressing the QB position with a potential long-term fix. Though he'll undoubtedly have rust to knock off, Tannehill knows Adam Gase's system well and only turns 30 in training camp.

Kenyan Drake was one of the NFL's more productive backs last December, averaging nearly 120 yards from scrimmage over his final five games. He'll be complemented by Frank Gore and intriguing rookie Kalen Ballage, all running behind a recalibrated O-line with former Pro Bowl LG Josh Sitton and ex-Niner C Daniel Kilgore.

Even after the release of Ndamukong Suh, Miami could be sneaky-good on 'D,' particularly vs. the pass. 2017 first-rounder Charles Harris and trade acquisition Robert Quinn provide the juice alongside Cam Wake, and 2017 second-rounder Raekwon McMillan and this year's top pick, Minkah Fitzpatrick, join a talented back seven that includes Pro Bowl S Reshad Jones and promising young boundary corners, Xavien Howard and Cordrea Tankersley.

Pessimist view: How will Tannehill's mobility and improving pocket presence — two of his better assets — be affected by his long injury layoff? Perhaps worse, can he overcome the loss of two key lifelines in Jarvis Landry and Mike Pouncey?

Miami replaced Landry with Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola, but like the village it's counting on to replace Suh, they're clear downgrades. The same arguably can be said in replacing Matt Moore with Brock Osweiler, a curious if calculated risk because of the uncertainty surrounding Tannehill.

It's up to the combination of Jordan Phillips, Davin Godchaux and Akeem Spence to fill in for one of the game's more disruptive forces in Suh on the NFL's 14th-ranked run 'D,' which appears headed for a step back. The pass rush (just 25th in sack percentage a year ago) could improve, but Harris and Quinn are wild cards, while Wake approaches his age-36 season.

On schedule: Fair or not, Gase enters Year 3 on the hot seat and certainly could use a fast start after dropping 8-of-10 to close 2017, one year after winning nine of his final 11 to sneak into the playoffs. Miami plays two of its first three at home, where it was 4-4 last season, and all three foes (vs. Titans, at Jets, vs. Raiders) have new offenses — a welcome sight for embattled second-year DC Matt Burke's unit with a lot of new faces.

Miami's out-of-division road slate — including Cincinnati, Houston, Green Bay and Minnesota — is grueling, with the Vikings trip in December flanked by visits from conference title game participants, New England and Jacksonville.

The Week 11 bye is certainly preferable to Hurricane Irma canceling last year's opener and forcing Miami to play 16 consecutive games. Still, it's a tad later than ideal. After getting outscored by a combined 132-72 in four primetime games last season, Miami plays only once on the big stage, Week 8 in Houston.

Prediction: Over

It's entirely possible that this season ranks as Gase's toughest yet in Miami, even after losing Tannehill amid a playoff push in his first year, then being forced to pivot to Jay Cutler last preseason and play 2017 without a break.

In Suh, Landry and Pouncey, the Dolphins sent three of their best players packing, the continuation of Gase's locker-room cleanse and Mike Tannenbaum's perpetual rebuilding cycle. That's a ton of talent to replace, yet Miami has the pedigreed players in Phillips and DeVante Parker to shoulder a lot of the burden, if they finally put it all together in contract years.

Remember, Miami won six games last season in a surprisingly competitive division, and it says here Buffalo takes a big step back and the Jets fail to progress in the standings, opening the door for a move up the AFC East totem pole. No, they aren't going to supplant the Patriots, but the Dolphins can split the difference between a 10-6 season in 2016 and four-game regression a year ago by getting to .500. It's unclear what that would mean for Dolphins brass, but it's more than enough for bettors heeding our 'over' advice.

Previous projected win total breakdowns

Arizona Cardinals

Atlanta Falcons

Baltimore Ravens

Buffalo Bills

Carolina Panthers

Chicago Bears

Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas Cowboys

Denver Broncos

Detroit Lions

Green Bay Packers

Houston Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Los Angeles Chargers

Kansas City Chiefs

Los Angeles Rams