If we rewind the clock just two seasons, the Miami Dolphins were a 70/1 bet to win the Super Bowl in 2019. Those odds were bottom 10 in the NFL. And those lofty odds proved to be fair, as the Dolphins began their 2019 campaign 0-7 under first-year head coach Brian Flores. At that time, they were the topic of every low-hanging joke as the worst team in the league, and the team headed for the No. 1 overall pick—along with perhaps a lot of regret about their new head coach and the new regime they just put into place.
But the Dolphins went on to win five of their final nine games that season, including winning the final two of three. In 2020, they built off that success to the tune of a 10-win season, their first double-digit win campaign since 2016 and just their second since 2008. Unfortunately, they fell just short of a playoff spot in a strong AFC.
Heading into the 2021 season, the expectation for the Dolphins should be a playoff push. Now, that’s not to say the Dolphins should hold your Super Bowl bet money—though their 30/1 odds this year are much better than they were two years ago—but the Dolphins narrowly missed out on the playoffs in 2020 and they should be poised to take that next step into the postseason this year.
The Dolphins won 10 games last year amidst plenty of controversy at quarterback. Following their 5-11 season the year before, they drafted Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa No. 5 overall in the 2020 NFL Draft. But their transition to their new franchise quarterback didn’t come as cleanly as some may have hoped. They also had veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick on the roster, and anyone who has followed Fitzpatrick’s career knows that he can sometimes catch lightning in a bottle. He did that for a bit as the initial starter for the 2020 season. The Dolphins dropped their first two games, but then went on to win three of their next four before their bye week, which included a two-game win streak heading into Week 7. But to many people’s surprise, the Dolphins benched Fitzpatrick in favor of the young Tagovailoa despite the recent success in the win column. The move came with controversy, as Tagovailoa showed his rookie struggles and a lack of ability to really take control of games—they even had Fitzpatrick come in in relief of the rookie in Week 16 for the fourth quarter to help them beat the Las Vegas Raiders.
The Dolphins made the move because they knew Tagovailoa was the future, and with their goal on the season not up to Super Bowl-caliber, they decided to make a move that might get them there sooner by allowing Tagovailoa to get some action as the starter—even as a rookie who probably wasn’t quite ready. But this year, he must be ready. This year, there is no Fitzpatrick, as he has moved on to the Washington Football Team. There is no veteran in waiting who will bring quarterback controversy. It’s just Tagovailoa—it’s Tua Time, if you will.
The goal for this upcoming season for the Dolphins should be a playoff appearance. Though the AFC is loaded, so is their defense. They showed last year they have the talent to stop some of the best in the league, and they only got better this offseason. The other big box to check for a successful season is with their quarterback. Tagovailoa must take a major step forward as a starter. He does not have to be perfect. Heck, he doesn’t even have to be the reason why they’re winning. But he must become confident in himself as a pro and in the Miami offense.
Winning the Super Bowl is likely once again a pipe dream for Miami, but a big step in the right direction for them and their young quarterback this year could mean their winning window opens as soon as next season.