Long road ahead: How close are Dolphins, Jaguars, Buccaneers to reaching the Super Bowl?
For some in the Sunshine State, playing on Super Sunday is a possibility on the horizon. For others, there are roadblocks, sinkholes and so many detours that must be taken before even dreaming of such a destination.
For some, competing for the Lombardi Trophy is a goal that can be achieved with savvy offseason choices and a little luck. For others, the vision should be a far-out fantasy.
On Sunday, the Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots will be the latest to entertain on the day diets throughout America forgot. That leads to a simple question: How far are Florida’s NFL teams from doing the same?
FOX Sports Florida writers give their opinions on where the Miami Dolphins, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers stand in the chase to make that final Sunday super …
2014 record: 8-8
Since parting ways with general manager Jeff Ireland one year ago, the Miami Dolphins have made some progress toward relevancy, but their goal of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2008 failed to materialize once again. When it was all said and done, the team again stumbled in December in a virtual replica of 2013.
All of this has the impression of Miami treading water, so if substantial improvements aren’t made, it’s just as likely that the soon-to-be-renovated Sun Life Stadium will have a better chance of having anything to do with a future Super Bowl then the actual team will.
State of the team: Owner Stephen Ross seems to be pleased enough with the team’s progress that he is sticking with head coach Joe Philbin, who has a 23-25 record over the past three years. To its credit, the team was largely able to put the bullying scandal and the Ireland era behind them with a fresh attitude, and new general manager Dennis Hickey did an adequate job in the draft and free agency to fortify the roster. The players said all the right things and they showed flashes of promise here and there, but the reality is that they still finished 8-8.
The roadblock: Philbin has led the Dolphins to an underwhelming 7-8 December record during his tenure. Simply put, the team was unable to raise its level of play in the second half of the season. Whether it was the offense failing to put together meaningful drives, or the defense unable to stop opposing teams from scoring in crunch time, they let winnable games against the Green Bay Packers, Denver Broncos and Detroit Lions slip away. Then there’s the Mike Wallace drama the team needs to deal with and decide if he’s a part of their future. Similar decisions by Hickey — now working alongside new hire Mike Tannenbaum, who will oversee the front office — need to be made on the offensive line, special teams, linebackers and running back. And just what is the front office hierarchy anyway?
Reason to believe: The future is bright for first-year players Ja’Wuan James and Jarvis Landry. There is stability with Tannehill, who had a career year with 4,045 passing yards and 27 touchdowns. Hickey must hit a few home runs in the offseason for them to improve on their average record the past two seasons with largely the same core. If they can pull it all together, the Dolphins may be just as improved as their stadium will be. But a Super Bowl appearance any time in the near future doesn’t seem viable.
2014 record: 3-13
For a franchise that has been to the playoffs twice in the past 15 years and still has just one postseason victory since a 62-7 drubbing of Dan Marino and the Miami Dolphins, the Jacksonville Jaguars remain a long way from being mentioned in the same sentence as the Super Bowl. Next week marks a decade since the Jaguars hosted a Super Bowl, and that seems difficult to fathom now. Playing in one? Even should both Tom Brady and Peyton Manning retire in the next few years, the Jaguars aren’t about to come out of nowhere to vie for AFC supremacy.
State of the team: Though the players seem to love coach Gus Bradley, the fan base can’t be enamored with his 7-25 record in the two years since he and general manager Dave Caldwell were entrusted with turning things around. "I didn’t have grandiose expectations in these first two years, to be quite honest with you," Caldwell said in his end-of-the-season meeting with reporters, adding that "we may have won more games than I anticipated when I first took the job." How much have Bradley and Caldwell gutted the roster? All 11 starters on offense in the season finale at Houston last month were different from the group that ended the 2013 season at Indianapolis.
The roadblock: Of their seven victories under Bradley, none have come against teams that wound up going to the playoffs that year. Caldwell viewed it as a sign of progress that the Jaguars were competitive against both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens, as well as in their second meeting with the Colts. What he didn’t mention was that the Jaguars failed to score a touchdown in any of those losses. They finished 31st in both total offense and passing offense, and though the defense improved from dead last overall through four weeks to 26th by season’s end, it will likely start 2015 without tackle Sen’Derrick Marks, as their leader in sacks rehabilitates a knee injury suffered against the Texans.
Reason to believe: Should the Colts somehow stumble, the Jaguars might not have far to go to move upward in their division. Then again, the Dolphins have probably been saying the same thing for years about the New England Patriots. Building through the draft instead of bringing in a bunch of over-30 free agents for a quick fix seems prudent, although the Jaguars don’t have much to show from their first-round selections of the past eight years. Can quarterback Blake Bortles change that?
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
2014 record: 2-14
Remember when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers figured to have escaped the Bermuda Triangle? Remember when Lovie Smith’s hire was supposed to mean better days would arrive soon? Remember when the worst was supposed to be over?
Welcome to a cold reality: What was old became new again in 2014, and we’re not talking about conjuring up the era of Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and Jon Gruden.
The Bucs bumbled to the bottom of the historically awful NFC South at 2-14, and Destination: Super Bowl might as well be Destination: Mars at this point. Before dreaming about playing on Super Sunday, the Bucs should focus on retooling their roster (again) with hopes of earning their first winning season since closing 10-6 in 2010.That’s a not-so-super outlook.
State of the team: A smoldering mess. That about sums it up. Bucs fans are used to disappointment in recent years, but a 2-14 record in what was supposed to be a season of renewal under Smith was a larger letdown than anyone could have imagined when he was hired last January. There are so many holes to be filled on the roster: Quarterback and offensive line, mainly, but the defense could use some tweaking at linebacker and in the secondary. The Bucs’ bet on free-agency signees proved to be a bust. About the only silver lining present is that they earned the NFL draft’s top pick for the first time since 1987. Likely, Tampa Bay will take a quarterback with the No. 1 selection, but don’t rush to make postseason plans. There’s so much work in other areas to be done.
The roadblock: The offense needs a major overhaul. Hiring Dirk Koetter as coordinator after he worked in the same capacity with the Atlanta Falcons gives the Bucs veteran NFL eyes leading the unit next season. The group spun its wheels when former offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford was absent following a heart procedure in late August, and quarterbacks coach Marcus Arroyo failed to grow into an effective play caller before the Bucs finished 29th in the NFL in scoring (17.3 points per game). So the Bucs have pretty much started over with their approach. Expect more adjustment of the line to happen — Will Anthony Collins ever start again? Why should he? — and a stronger running game would help too. Beyond Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson, it’s hard to find potential difference-makers on offense.
Reason to believe: Forget the Super Bowl. The Bucs feel so far away from reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2007. Remember, as bad as the NFC South was last season, Tampa Bay never scraped together a division victory. So keep everything in perspective. Still, there will be some optimism found in whoever is taken with the No. 1 pick. And the urgency to produce should help the Bucs as well. Tampa Bay can’t finish with two wins again, or Smith might not see a third year.
FOX Sports Florida writers Surya Fernandez, Ken Hornack and Andrew Astleford contributed to this report.