Well, it's that time of year again...and I can honestly say that I'm less excited about previewing the 2018 Dolphins than any other team in my adult life. That's mainly because we have no freaking idea what we're going to see this year- is Tannehill going to start slow and treat the first month as practice like in 2016? Can we stop anyone from running all over us? Do we even have three starting caliber linebackers at this point? Those are all big fat question marks that we just don't know. One thing that I do know- we have talent up and down this roster. Possibly even elite talent. Our secondary is going to drive people nuts this season and I think we will run all over people once the line gets in sync. If we can establish the run, then we will also see Tannehill play his best football without the pressure of coming from behind. I can see it....the whole thing lines up like dominoes and it's beautiful....yet I don't know if we can execute quickly enough to make it matter. Offense Preview After three pre-season games, I am happy to say that our offensive line looks legitimate....possibly even solid. Both our starting and reserve lines have provided pretty darn good pass protection for all three games and it's really been the only constant on the entire team. Yes, Tunsil has missed a few blocks and yes, there have been some screw-ups and stupid off-sides penalties, but for the most part the pocket has been there and that's something we've waited a very long time for. The run blocking still isn't there consistently but that's okay- that's something we can develop over the season and still win ballgames. I also like our skill players on offense and I can see where Gase is trying to take us- he wants a chunk-yardage team that can beat you at all three levels when the right mismatch appears. It sounds great on paper but we just haven't seen it yet (as in- ever). Likewise, we have no clue how efficient Tannehill will be since he's always been a stud in practice. Him looking great off the field in pre-season means next to nothing- that only tells us his knee is okay. It's also wonderful that Gase believes he has an awesome grasp on the playbook and the reads...but we have to see it for ourselves. We need to see it all come together for four straight quarters, and then four more the next week. That's the reason RT is a tier 4 quarterback instead of tier 1....he's just never had that complete consistency on offense. To me personally, the biggest question mark on the entire season is Adam Gase with that playbook in his hands. He's often been our worst enemy with conservative play calling and in my opinion, that's a lethal blow to a streaky player like Tannehill. Tonight is a good example...he fuddled through three unimpressive drives and couldn't get anything going until Drake was off to the races along the sidelines. From that point on, he was the RT from 2016 that could hit tight spaces and read the field with ease. Gase has to set him up for success so he can get to that point though and we just haven't seen it so far. Some of you will say that it's only pre-season....and I get that. But one TD in 3 weeks is definitely reason for concern. At least we got to see Gisecki in action tonight to match what we've heard....he's a match-up nightmare with his height and massive wingspan. If schemed properly, he will be lethal for our offense this season. Defensive Preview Defensively, I think we're a lot further along...especially considering the departure of Suh was the biggest question mark of the off-season. Yes, we've given up two huge runs in two weeks...but we've also shut down passing lanes and looked pretty dominant at times as well. We all know our run defense isn't a massive concern if our offense can score, so we'd better just hope that Gase has a master plan that will be unveiled in two weeks. If that's the case, we can genuinely be an 11 or 12 win team this season. The other thing that gives me hope is the combination of Howard, Jones, McDonald, Wake, Quinn and Fitzpatrick on the field. Folks, we could be top 5 in pass D this year if one of our other corners steps up. These guys are playing awesome and swarming around the field to the point where it may be the story of the year for our team. Quinn in particular has me excited because he's dominated just about everybody he's faced. However, I do think that we're going to struggle with the run. Our coaches are very high on McMillian and Baker- I personally am as well. But these guys are going to take some time to develop into reliable run stuffers and I unfortunately think we will see some more long runs against us early on in the season. We just don't have the middle tightened up like it needs to be and it will be a problem all year. The great thing about football though is that as long as you're scoring points and the other team is playing catch-up, a weak run D is minimized. We desperately need teams playing into our strengths....those 2nd and 9's or 3rd and longs. That only happens if we're controlling the score board though and making teams challenge us vertically- I think we will dominate in that department. So it really comes down to what situations will be the most prevalent. Will we be the predators or the prey? Team Strengths/Weaknesses Strengths- O Line, WR, RB, DE, TE, Secondary Weaknesses- DT, CB opposite Howard Unknown- QB, LB, Gase's play calling Just to be clear here, I'm expecting Tannehill to have a very impressive year. We're not going to repeat 2016's performance playing like crap on offense for 3 quarters and then stealing games with a few solid drives in the final minutes. This team wasn't built for 17-14 or 23-20 victories and we need to see 4 quarters of solid offense a heck of a lot more often. The 23 minutes Baltimore controlled the ball tonight in the first half just isn't going to cut it if we expect to be a playoff team. If we can find that tempo and take some early leads though, I have a feeling that you'll quickly see Gase's vision. This is a team that can crash the edge as good as anyone and completely shut down passing lanes while blitzing from exotic angles. This is a truly elite, all-pro defense that can punish you...we saw that last year against NE on prime time when everyone said, "Where the heck did that come from?" It's been there all along and this defense can dominate entire ballgames...all we need is an early 10 point lead to put others in catch-up mode. Then we're rolling and it becomes almost impossible to beat us. The key to this entire season will be getting Tannehill in his stride in the first quarter- we're undefeated over the past two seasons when this team starts fast. The problem, however, is that we've only managed to start fast in 4 of the last 32 ballgames (4 of 33 if we count the playoff loss). That has to change quickly or it's going to be a really long season. With that said, let's move onto some predictions. Predictions/Game Expectations Sept. 9: vs. Titans. This is a typical trap game for Miami with a solid team coming to our house on week one. We normally play up in these games, but I just haven't seen enough offensively to say that we'll be ready. Without Parker and Grant on the field, we're not going to have enough firepower to win unless the defense (or Drake) does it single-handed. Loss 0-1 Sept. 16: at N.Y. Jets. Hey, the Jets....they suck, right? I think this one will be competitive but we'll find a way to blow it in the 4th quarter. God I hate the stinkin' Jets and I hate playing down to weak competition even more! Loss 0-2 Sept. 23: vs. Raiders. The Raiders are intriguing because they have talent and one of the greatest football minds coaching them. Like us though, I think they're going to struggle early and we'll earn our first win on the season. Win 1-2 Sept. 30: at Patriots. We all know that winning @ Gilette stadium only happens for NFL opponents about once a year- it's the ultimate test for any team. That's why this will be RT's breakout game for the season as we take the early lead and send the front 7 loose for a Brady buffet. Win 2-2 Oct. 7: at Bengals. That stride I said Tannehill had to hit? Yup, he hit it. Close game but we take the W. Win 3-2 Oct. 14: vs. Bears. Another close one as our offense builds some rhythm and the secondary starts to flat out to scare people. We take the early lead and never let off the gas. Win 4-2 Oct. 21: vs. Lions. I think we drop one of the next two and I couldn't decide which was which. We probably win this one and drop our only prime time game on the short week. Win 5-2 Oct. 25 (Thursday): at Texans, 8:20 p.m. Loss 5-3 Nov. 4: vs. N.Y. Jets. This time around, we beat the brakes off the Jets and start to look like a real AFC contender....this is a blowout. Win 6-3 Nov. 11: at Packers. Big time match-up that may get bumped to the 4 PM slot. I think our D keeps Rodgers honest and this one's a shoot out...it is really too close to call. But since I have to then I'll call it a loss. Loss 6-4 Nov. 18: Bye Week Still 6-4...we avenge last year's shocking bye-week loss! Nov. 25: at Colts. I think the Colts are going to be a good team this year and I think it's another high-scoring battle. I have a feeling we squeak this one out though. Win 7-4 Dec. 2: vs. Bills. These last five games make or break the season for one reason- we will either be scoring in the first half and blowing people out on defense, or we'll be playing from behind and getting torched on the ground. I think we're 100% there by this point and this one isn't even close. But if I'm wrong and the offense is still sputtering, we could very likely end the year going 0-5. Win 8-4 Dec. 9: vs. Patriots. This game likely decides the division since the Pats will probably be 9-3 at this point. In the S Florida sun, we get all over Brady and leave this game in 1st place. Win 9-4 Dec. 16: at Vikings. We're on a roll. Our Fins can't lose! Oops, we just did in the frigid cold...and now we're back to 2nd place in the division. Loss 9-5 Dec. 23: vs. Jaguars. Momentum is headed in the wrong direction as the offense sputters and we wonder if this is the same team that beat the Pats, Colts & Bengals...1st place is now a distant memory. Loss 9-6 Dec. 30: at Bills. It always seems to come down to Buffalo in the cold, doesn't it? It almost feels like Tannehill's kryptonite. With the Wild Card on the line, we finally close a season out and RT gets his first playoff game. Win 10-6 Final Summary I will point out again that this was extremely frustrating to predict since everything depends on Gase and RT getting on the same page early. Folks, I think we have the legitimate talent on our roster to win 13-14 games this season and sweep the division.....but most of that talent is wasted if we can't start fast. Think of this team as a cheetah, we need that initial burst to grab our prey and lock in the kill. If it doesn't happen quickly, then we burn out and just can't manage to catch up down the stretch. That will be the story of every single game this season- if we can get a few early scores, we likely win in impressive fashion. If we putter around though, then it's a blowout for the other guys or a last second victory. One good thing we have going for us is that we have 9 games we could/should win fairly easy- and I'm counting our home game against NE in there since we can shut down Brady with a lead. The problem though is that we've never blown out weak teams in the Gase era...that's happened only a few times out of the last 32. And we're just not built to hang around in tight games or come from behind.....our young LB's almost guarantee that. Best Case Prediction Scenario- 13-3, AFC Champs, Cinderella Story, Super Bowl Bound Worst Case Prediction Scenario- 5-11, last place AFC East Actual Prediction- 10-6, sweep the Pats, win in 1st round playoffs Well, there ya go...I'm on record for the most befuddling preseason of my entire life. I've been saying for awhile now that it all comes down to Tannehill and I still think that's the case...but I think it's really a Gase/RT combo at this point to figure out the new offensive weapons. If we do start quick and some of those early predicted losses end up being wins, this can actually be our year folks! One final thought- you may have noticed that I didn't mention Drake or the run game a single time. I believe that will be a huge strength this year IF we use him as a change-up instead of a one-trick pony that is tested throughout the 1st half. If the run game is there early, then fine...pound away Mr. Gase. But if it's not, then this team's season depends on you kicking off the training wheels and having Tannehill attack the field. Not in the 2nd quarter or the 2nd half, but on the very first drive.