Miami Dolphins: Realistic Expectations for 2017

Dec 11, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) takes the field before a game against the Arizona Cardinals at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

After a surprisingly strong 2016 campaign, what are fair and realistic expectations for the Miami Dolphins heading into next season?

Expectations for the Miami Dolphins in the 2017 NFL season seem to be all over the spectrum. Many believe 2016 was a fluke and that the Dolphins will plummet back into the lower tier of the NFL next season. They look at the winning streak as an anomaly, see an easy schedule and a blowout playoff loss and write them off. The past decade and a half of mediocrity hasn’t helped either.

Those with a negative outlook will focus on a tougher schedule next season, but we really don’t know how tough a schedule is until the season plays out. There is so much turnover and are so many injury issues in the NFL that anything can happen.

Two of the top Super Bowl favorites in the NFC this season were the Carolina Panthers and Arizona Cardinals. Both were pretty bad and the defending champion Denver Broncos couldn’t even make the playoffs in the AFC thanks to these Dolphins. So don’t buy into the schedule in February. No matter what, you’re going to have to beat good teams to make the playoffs.

On the other side of the spectrum, you have rabid fans. While they are passionate, they aren’t necessarily the most realistic group. Then again, most fans aren’t. Aside from the regime of anti-Ryan Tannehill enthusiasts, many fans are hoping to be in the Super Bowl next season. That is the goal and blind loyalty is one of the great joys of being a fan. I mean look at the Carolina Panthers and Atlanta Falcons coming out of nowhere to make the Super Bowl the past two seasons.

Still, the experts appear too negative and the Super Bowl is a long shot to say the least. A realistic expectation for the Dolphins next season is to take the next step and hopefully win a playoff game. There is no reason the new regime in Miami can’t build off an outstanding first season. The Dolphins have a lot of talent and can establish themselves next season as a perennial playoff contender and a playoff victory would be huge for this franchise.

That leads to the obvious question: What do they need to do to take that next step? It all starts with a third-straight strong offseason. They need to make smart signings in free agency and have another good draft. Sometimes the best moves in the offseason are the ones you don’t make. Miami has a long history of being paper champions in the offseason and falling flat come game time. Hopefully they learn from past mistakes and continue this upward trend.

They also need to continue to develop Tannehill in Gase’s system. This is a talented quarterback with an intelligent coach that gets the best out of his signal callers. The defense should improve as should the surrounding pieces on offense. The key to taking that next step will simply be adding a few pieces to fill holes and their leaders, Gase and Tannehill, lifting them to that next level.

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