The New England Patriots have dominated the AFC East ever since 2001-2012. During that span, they have won the division ever year but twice (2002 and 2008). They again will be the strong favorite to win the division, but the Miami Dolphins have done a lot to close the gap in the division.
The Dolphins have spent $204 million in new contracts this offseason with $91 million of that is guaranteed to 14 players. While the Dolphins lost Jake Long and Reggie Bush in the off-season, they have surrounded second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill with an abundance of weapons.
They re-signed Brian Hartline, who was their best receiver in 2012. They also signed Mike Wallace, who was the best receiver in free agency, receiver Brandon Gibson and former Jets tight-end Dustin Keller.
Last season, Tannehill didn't have many open receivers and the Dolphins didn't have threat to stretch the field. Now the Dolphins have one of the fastest receivers in football and a fast tight-end as a security blanket. They will be able to move Hartline around and create matchup problems for the defense. I expect Head Coach Joe Philbin and Offensive Coordinator Mike Sherman to have this offense resembling the Green Bay Packers.
Second-year running back Lamar Miller is the favorite to replace Bush, who's now playing for the Detroit Lions. Miller had 51 carries, with a yards average of 4.9 per carry, which was better than Bush (4.6) and second string Daniel Thomas (3.6) last season. The Dolphins ranked 17th in the league last season, averaging 112.6 yards on the ground per game and Miller has shown he can carry the load. He carried the ball 227 times his last season at the University of Miami. He's a much more traditional ball carrier than Bush and more of what Philbin is looking for.
The Dolphins finished 7-9 last season and was carried by their defense a lot in games. They’ve improved on that side on that ball as well.
The Fins signed Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler and traded up to number three in the 2013 to draft pass rusher Dion Jordan. With Patriots’ quarterback Tom Brady in the division, you have to find people to get pressure on him from players other than Cameron Wake. With Wake and Dion Jordan rushing the passer, this will free up the line for Jared Odrick and Randy Starks.
The draft pick I really liked was the Dolphins fourth round pick, Jelani Jenkins. Since his freshman season at Florida, he has started 23 of 26 games and had 153 tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, four sacks, two interceptions and recovered and forced a fumble. Jenkins did struggle with various injuries with the Gators in 2012, but when he played at Florida, he was an impact player
The free agency move that isn't getting the attention as it should be is the signing of cornerback Brent Grimes. Grimes might have been injured the entire 2012 season, but if he's healthy he could be a welcome addition to the Dolphins. In 2010, Grimes recorded 87 tackles and 5 interceptions to make his first Pro Bowl.
Tom Brady and the Patriots have dominate the NFL as they've made five Super Bowls appearances since 2001 and appeared in eight AFC Championships. So it won't be easy for the Dolphins to win the division, but it's possible.
The Patriots could be on the decline especially with questions with their receiver core and in the secondary. The Dolphins finally has a quarterback they have trust in, a good set of skilled players and a good young defense that is the best in the AFC East.
I'm not saying the Dolphins will win the AFC East, but I believe they will make life tough on the Patriots winning the division with ease. There's no reason why the Dolphins shouldn't win 10 games in 2013.