Is Miami a playoff contender?
Improved QB play from Chad Henne and a strong defense could mean a playoff berth
Prevailing logic will tell you that the Miami Dolphins aren't a real challenger for a playoff spot this season. Most of this logic comes from the perception that Chad Henne isn't a good quarterback, and that likely stems from Brandon Marshall's very public discontent with Henne's performance last season. Marshall, naturally, has problems with all quarterbacks who do not follow Rule No. 1 of playing with Marshall: If he's in single coverage, he's open.
Henne did have a poor season by traditional statistics last year, as long as the only traditional statistic you look at is "interceptions." But Henne was also quite unlucky. Nineteen interceptions seems like a lot, but with the help of our game charting project, we track the number of interceptions that a defender drops -- and the quarterbacks who throw those same dropped interceptions. Henne threw 19 picks, but had only one ball marked as a dropped interception.
For the sake of comparison, Mark Sanchez threw 13 picks, but had an additional 15 balls marked as dropped interceptions. It seems rather likely that both of those numbers will regress to the mean, making Henne a good bet to lower his interception total. As former FO staffer Bill Barnwell recently pointed out on Grantland, Henne's 2010 season smacks of the third season that Drew Brees had for the Chargers in 2003. We're not saying the Henne tale ends with him being an elite quarterback, but there is more bounce-back potential than you might think. Especially since Henne actually improved his completion percentage and yards per attempt in his disaster season.
Beyond that, Miami suffers from a lack of star power, which is somewhat ironic given all the famous minority investors the club has. On the field, the Dolphins' best players are probably left tackle Jake Long, who is anonymous by virtue of playing offensive tackle, and Pro Bowl linebacker Cameron Wake, who was a complete unknown until coming over from the CFL before the 2009 season. The public faces? Marshall, the diva wide receiver who has endured a number of off-field problems, was probably the biggest name prior to free agency. Now that honor may belong to Reggie Bush, who is dangerously close to becoming a less-relevant athlete than Nets forward and fellow honorary Kardashian Kris Humphries.
Despite that, our preseason simulations in Football Outsiders Almanac 2011 give the Dolphins an average of 8.3 wins. While that's hardly elite, it certainly marks a team capable of securing a playoff spot.
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