In the spirit of thinking outside of the box, I thought I would put together a little piece highlighting a few factors that the Dolphins ultimately have no control over, but could make or break their season.
A team's sole focus is always to take care of their own business and not worry about what other teams are doing. As fans though, there's no harm in snooping around the league, and recognizing some interesting happenings that are unfolding, that could impact the Dolphins.
So what are some of these story lines to keep an eye on? And how exactly could they impact the Dolphins?
1. Ben Roethlisberger's suspension- By now, I'm sure all of you are well aware that Big Ben has been suspended for the first six games of the season for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Coincidentally, the Dolphins are scheduled to face off with the Steelers in both team's six game.
But before you rejoice about Miami playing against a Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch led offense, it's likely Roethlisberger will get that suspension reduced to only four games.
If he can stay out of trouble, that is. Of course, that doesn't mean the Dolphins can't beat the Steelers at home, as they nearly accomplished that feat a year ago, despite Henne missing the entire second half. But there's no doubt, the Dolphins chances would improve significantly if he was still suspended.
2. Wes Welker's knee- When Welker tore up his knee in Week 17 last season, many thought he would be sidelined for a good portion of 2010. To Welker's credit though, he's had limited participation in offseason workouts, which likely puts him ahead of schedule in the rehabilitation process.
Welker returning by the beginning of the season, would be quite a feat, but due to the nature of the injury and Wes' style of play, he may never be able to tear defenses apart like he has in the past. There's little arguing the fact that New England has one of the most dominate passing attacks in football with Welker racking up catch after catch from the slot, and Randy Moss providing the big-play fireworks on the outside.
You simply can't double-team both. If Welker's knee can no longer enable him to cut on a dime though, which has played a large role in making him virtually un-coverable, the whole Patriots offense could take a significant hit. And that could mean finally overtaking the Pats as the class of the division, would be a less daunting task for the Dolphins and Jets.
3. AFC East contract disputes- While the Dolphins have enjoyed a relatively smooth offseason from a business standpoint, the Jets and Pats both have major headaches on their hands. Logan Mankins has requested out of New England and Darrelle Revis recently said he is willing to sit out all of camp on his quest to become the highest-paid corner in the league.
Now, both could probably miss all of training camp, step in Week 1, and still be as productive as ever, but any locker room disruptions on the Dolphins' two biggest rivals has to be a positive. Let's hope things get real ugly, real quick, in both of these cases.
4. Mark Sanchez's development- I have let it be known all offseason where I stand on the Mark Sanchez vs. Chad Henne debate. Obviously, I may be a bit biased, but I'm convinced that if I was a fan of another team, and still followed Sanchez and Henne like I did last season, I would still feel strongly that Henne was far better in 09', and that he projects to have the better career.
As I look at the Jets roster though, they have a potentially great defense, and despite trading away Thomas Jones, and bringing in a washed up LaDainian Tomlinson, they should, at least, have a very good running attack. They only thing that is missing, is solid quarterback play.
Defenses used to win championships, and maybe they still can, but it seems like nowadays you have to have a franchise quarterback, now more than ever. And if, god forbid, Mark Sanchez emerges as a franchise quarterback, I don't see why the Jet's wouldn't be a legitimate Super Bowl contender, as much as it pains me to say it.
On the bright side though, let me just say, I don't see this happening, ever. And until it does, I don't think the Jets are ready to make the jump from good to great.
5. Weather- Looking at the history of this football team, there is a troubling pattern. On many occasions, the Dolphins were right in the thick of things heading into December, but fell apart playing in cold weather climates. This season, Miami makes the trip to New York to play the Jets, on December 12th, and New England for the season finale, on January 2nd.
Considering that both are late-season divisional contest, the AFC East title and the playoff picture could be on the line. The Dolphins can control being physically and mentally prepared to play in those likely freezing conditions, but what if they get a lucky break in one, or possibly both, of those games.
Does anybody remember Week 17 in 2008? I'm sure you all do for obvious reasons. After all, the Dolphins completed the greatest turnaround in NFL history, won the division title, and beat the Jets in the Meadowlands, all in a day's work. But does anybody remember the weather? It was in the beautiful (for that time of year, anyway) mid-50's. Who knows; it could have been a completely different outcome if the temperature was in the single digits, or if they were forced to play on a snow-covered field.