The only team since 2003 to win the East other than the Pats is Miami in 2008, the season in which Tom Brady was lost in Week 1. The Dolphins finished 7-9 last year, five games behind New England, and they are the second-favorites in 2013 at +325.
Miami has had one winning season since 2005, that 11-5 campaign in ’08 when they won the division tiebreaker with New England. Team ownership spent big to remedy that this offseason. The Dolphins landed the top free-agent receiver, Pittsburgh’s Mike Wallace. He totaled 132 catches, 2,450 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2010-11. Last year: 64 receptions for 836 yards.
The Fins were 27th in total offense last year under rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, and they threw for only 198.9 yards per game. Miami averaged 18 points and was held under 17 six times, all losses. While Wallace upgrades the team at receiver and new addition Dustin Keller does the same at tight end, Miami took a big loss in the backfield when Reggie Bush left as a free agent for Detroit. He had more than 1,200 yards of offense in 2012 and eight touchdowns. The new featured back likely will be second-year player Lamar Miller, who only carried 51 times a year ago, but did average an impressive 4.9 yards per attempt. The offense also lost starting left tackle Jake Long, the former No. 1 overall pick.
The 2012 Miami defense gave up some yards but allowed 19.8 points per game, good for seventh in the league. The team said goodbye to leading tackler Karlos Dansby, but free-agent signee Dannell Ellerbe is an upgrade at linebacker. He was one of the best players on the Ravens’ Super Bowl-winning defense, finishing second on the team with 89 tackles and 4.5 sacks. Pats fans may remember Ellerbe’s interception of Tom Brady with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter of the AFC title game. The Patriots were down 28-13 and Ellerbe picked off Brady’s pass at the Baltimore 16. That pretty much wrapped up the game as New England didn’t get the ball back until 2:05 remained.
Also, the Dolphins traded up in the 2013 draft to select Oregon pass-rusher Dion Jordan at No. 3 overall. Miami’s defensive line should be a strength, led by end Cameron Wake. He was fourth in the NFL with 15 sacks in 2012. The Fins also signed former Falcons Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes.
Miami is 18-1 to win the AFC and has a wins total of 8, with the under a -130 favorite. It was 2-4 in the division last year, getting swept by New England. The Pats won 23-16 in Miami in Week 11 to clinch the East despite a season-low 321 yards. In Week 17, the Patriots beat visiting Miami 28-0, New England’s sixth-straight win in the series. This year, Miami visits New England in Week 8 and hosts the Pats in Week 15.