Last year, the Miami Dolphins won 1 game at home. Normally, when a team manages just one home win, they are drafting first overall. Miami, though, won six road games, resulting in a whopping five more wins away than at home.
There are 21 other teams since 1978 that had a winning road record and a losing home record in a season. None had as large a spread as Miami in 2010. Three teams had four more road wins than home wins — the Oilers in 1996 (understandable since they were in the process of leaving town), the 2000 Saints, and the 2001 Jets.
So how did those teams that could win on the road but not at home do the next season? Well, they usually won more home games, reverting toward the norm. They averaged 3.7 home wins and 2.9 road wins the next season. An improvement, though if we measure home field advantage as the difference between home and road performance, still not as strong as the league average.
Miami is generally seen as an uninspiring team in 2011 [Ed. Jason thinks they will be the worst team in the league], which is also a way to describe the offense and its lack of explosiveness last year. The once dominant franchise, which produced three Super Bowl appearances in the 1970′s and two more in the 1980′s, has now gone 26 seasons without a Super Bowl appearance, and 18 years since playing in a conference championship game. That span, by the way, is the fourth longest among teams that have been around since 1992, ahead of only Cincinnati, Detroit, and the fighting Snyders.
Why then, am I strangely optimistic that they will be a competitive team in 2011, in the running for a wildcard spot throughout the year? Lack of sleep, probably. Well, that, and the fact that they ranked poorly in turnover margin and in converting points to yards in 2010.
I’ve already talked about the turnover margin with the Buffalo Bills. The Dolphins were 30th in turnover margin, as the defense, despite playing pretty well, didn’t generate turnovers, while the offense was unable to handle it. Sometimes, turnovers are a necessary part of an offense, and if you have a high-flying passing game, a few extra turnovers are a tradeoff to more first downs. No one will confuse the Dolphins offense as high flying, though. The amount of turnovers was unacceptable.
But let’s talk about yardage differentials and point differentials. The Dolphins were actually 11th in the league in yardage differential (the difference between what the offense gained and the defense surrendered), but were only 22nd in point differential. I went back and looked at all other teams since 1990 that ranked at least 10 spots lower in point differential compared to yardage differential.
This typically happens when a team tends to squander opportunities, have turnovers that lead to empty yards, loses special teams, or struggle in the red zone. All of these things can be notoriously fickle from season to season.
The 37 other teams who met that criteria averaged 6.4 wins during the season they ranked poorly in scoring relative to yards. They improved by 1.7 wins, to just above average at 8.1 wins the next season. 23 of them improved their win total from the previous year, 8 declined, and 6 finished with the same record. 35.1% reached the playoffs.
The Dolphins don’t inspire public confidence because Chad Henne is at quarterback. His own fans were chanting for someone else, causing him to express his hurt feelings this preseason. It’s a team that has a very good left tackle, and a pretty good defense that we should expect to produce more turnovers in 2011.
The big offseason changes were bringing in Reggie Bush at running back and drafting Daniel Thomas in the second round, replacing the Ronnie Brown/Ricky Williams combo. The hope is that the running game produces more big plays in 2011, though Bush hasn’t exactly been a dynamic runner out of the tailback position, and Thomas has yet to show good form in the preseason. The other big addition may be a re-focused Brandon Marshall, who had issues throughout last year and also was injured. His mental health struggles were put in focus, and he appears to at least be ready. The Dolphins need him to be more consistent for the offense to improve.
On defense, ILB Kevin Burnett was added in what looks like an upgrade, to play next to Karlos Dansby, and coupled with the dynamic Cameron Wake, the linebacker group is pretty strong. Vontae Davis (Vernon’s brother) is emerging as an excellent cornerback.
This team doesn’t have the sizzle of their NBA brethren in South Beach. I think, though, they will be more competitive than people think, and I expect them to be in contention as the calendar turns to December. Whether they cross the barrier in a tough division (I think the AFC East is my pick for the toughest division) may depend on whether Chad Henne improves or stagnates in his third season as a starter.
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[photo via Getty]