Will's NFL Predictions: Dolphins Playoff-Bound?

By Will Manso - Sports Director
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PEMBROKE PARK, Fla. - It's that time of the year when so-called "football experts" from all over the country start throwing out NFL predictions. Yes, the season officially gets under way tonight, and while I certainly don't call myself an expert, I do like to take part in the yearly tradition of taking wild guesses at what will happen. I use the word "wild" because most of us, honestly, don't have a clue what will really happen. Injuries, unexpected surprises and Cinderella teams happen every single year. Here's my crack at saying how it all turns out. First of all, I'll start with a local prediction that may make some eyes roll:

I think the Miami Dolphins will make the playoffs.

Yes, that's right; I said the Dolphins will make the playoffs. Before you laugh too hard, hear me out. I have no doubt that the best teams in the AFC are the Patriots, Jets, Chargers and Steelers, in no particular order. I also believe that the Texans are finally ready to turn the corner and win the AFC South, especially with the uncertainty surrounding the injury to Colts star Peyton Manning. That would mean one spot is up for grabs in the final AFC playoff race. That's where the Dolphins come into play. A look around the AFC and I see a few potentially bad teams in the Jaguars, Titans, Raiders, Broncos, Bengals, Browns and Bills. I don't see any of those teams winning more than 8 games. Then I see the usual contenders in the Ravens and Colts, but I already mentioned the injury to Manning, so I dip Indianapolis in the race. As for Baltimore, I really think this is the year that talented defense starts to see a slide. Age may finally be catching up to them, and quite honestly, I'm not a big believer in their offense. The only team I left out of potential contenders is Kansas City. Yes, the Chiefs were a surprise winner of the AFC West last season, but I think they take a big step back this year, due to injuries and a much tougher schedule. That means I've mentioned a total of 15 teams in the AFC, so that leaves only the Miami Dolphins.

Why do I think the Dolphins have a chance at the playoffs? Well, I can't imagine they'll go 1-7 at home again this season. Miami will be better at home (how could they really be worse?), so that should help in the process of turning around a 7-9 record. The Fins also had one of the top defenses in the league last season, and I think they'll be in the Top 3rd of NFL defenses again this year. Of course, that now leaves the offense. This is really the only reason most people don't regard the Dolphins as a playoff team. Chad Henne is leading the way again, and let's face it, he hasn't exactly inspired confidence as the starter over the last 2 years. But, that could be ready to change. Henne has shown signs of life in the preseason under the offense installed by new coordinator Brian Daboll. He also has a new playmaking weapon in Reggie Bush. If used properly, Bush will be the big play guy Miami has been lacking. More important of all, I think Brandon Marshall is ready to return to his Pro Bowl ways. Marshall and Henne never seemed to click last season, yet Marshall still ended up with over 80 receptions. I think Marshall passes the century mark in catches this year and becomes a consistent weapon for the Fins.

Finally, Tony Sparano has to win. It's no secret the Dolphins head coach and general manager Jeff Ireland are both on the hot seat. Owner Stephen Ross has made that clear. Sparano is focused on making that happen, and he has his team believing.

Okay, so do you believe now? Probably not, and I don't blame you. The Fins have little proven depth behind Bush, and the offensive line has some major concerns. But again, I think the Dolphins will win 9 games this season, and if thinks break well, possibly even 10. In this year's AFC, that might just be enough for a Wild Card spot. Now for all my NFL predictions?

AFC East

1. New England Patriots (12-4)

2. New York Jets (11-5)

3. Miami Dolphins (9-7)

4. Buffalo Bills (6-10)

AFC North

1. Pittsburgh Steelers (13-3)

2. Baltimore Ravens (9-7)

3. Cleveland Browns (7-9)

4. Cincinnati Bengals (3-13)

AFC South

1. Houston Texans (10-6)

2. Indianapolis Colts (7-9)

3. Tennessee Titans (7-9)

4. Jacksonville Jaguars (4-12)

AFC West

1. San Diego Chargers (12-4)

2. Kansas City Chiefs (8-8)

3. Oakland Raiders (7-9)

4. Denver Broncos (5-11)

NFC East

1. Philadelphia Eagles (12-4)

2. New York Giants (9-7)

3. Dallas Cowboys (9-7)

4. Washington Redskins (6-10)

NFC North

1. Green Bay Packers (11-5)

2. Chicago Bears (9-7)

3. Detroit Lions (8-8) 4. Minnesota Vikings (6-10)

NFC South

1. New Orleans Saints (11-5)

2. Atlanta Falcons (11-5)

3. Tampa Bay Bucs (9-7)

4. Carolina Panthers (3-13)

NFC West

1. St Louis Rams (9-7)

2. Arizona Cardinals (7-9)

3. Seattle Seahawks (6-10)

4. San Francisco 49ers (6-10)

AFC Playoff teams: Patriots, Steelers, Chargers, Texans, Jets, Dolphins NFC playoff teams: Eagles, Packers, Saints, Rams, Falcons, Bucs AFC Champion: Chargers NFC Champion: Falcons Super Bowl: Chargers over the Falcons