We have likely seen the last of the starters for the preseason and now have a pretty good idea of the teams Miami and its opponents will field.
The 2009 Dolphins that will start the season in Atlanta will be an improved team, perhaps dramatically so on the defensive side of the ball. Unlike last year, the Phins D is shutting down the run between the tackles and bringing the pass rush from every direction rather than simply relying upon Joey Porter. Smith and Davis both showed they can handle starting CB duties. The pass rush should give the young corners further time to get their feet under them.
The offense is harder to read. When given something more than vanilla plays, Pennington moves the the team down the field for scores without much problem. Henne is still working things out and Miami will have a severe downgrade on offense if Penny goes down. Despite the investments on OL, the running game does not appear to be dramatically better. The big question mark is what the new Wild Pat offense will look like. The standard wild cat still appeared to have gas in the tank against the Panthers. However, the addition of a slash QB like White under center should transform a two dimensional attack into three.
That being said, here are my preseason predictions for 2009:
@ ATL: The Phins D has a greater advantage over the backsliding Falcon D than the Falcon O has over the Phins O. Miami should be able to eat clock and keep Ryan and Turner off the field and then send in the heat when the they do get there. MIA 28, ATL 17. [1-0]
IND: The strength against strength of Manning vs. the Phins D will largely cancel one another out. Manning will score, but not as much as usual. This one will be determined by which Indi defense shows up. The Colts D has been either awful or great during the preseason. This might be a great time to throw the Colts a curveball and unveil the Wild Pat. MIA 23, IND 21. [2-0]
@SD: This may be the toughest game of the season after going to Foxboro. SD looks damn good this year and IMHO is the class of the AFC, not NE. I have a feeling that the Bolts will bring the Phins back to Earth in a big way. SD 24, MIA 16. [2-1]
BUF: The Phins D is going to take out the Bolts game out on the Bills with a vengeance. 5 sacks, 2 picks and MIA 31, BUF 13. [3-1]
NYJ: This is going to be a brawl from start to finish between the AFC East's best defenses. The difference will be Pennington protecting the ball over the green Sanchez' turnovers and sacks. MIA 13, NYJ 7. [4-1]
NO: Miami gets into its first shootout of the season. Miami makes more ay with the Wild Pat. The first defense to get consecutive stops wins. Miami 33, NO 30. [5-1]
The Phins are tied with the Pats (who lost to the Ravens) and feeling too good about themselves. Time for a reality check.
@ NYJ: Sanchez has improved and gets his revenge with a long TD pass against one of our rookie CBs in another brawl. NYJ 17, MIA 14. [5-2]
@ NE: When the Phins pass rush is not pounding Tom, Brady, Moss and Welker school our young secondary. NE 24, MIA 20. [5-3]
TB: Home sweet home and another rookie opposing QB (Freeman has replaced Leftwich) to be schooled by the pass rush. MIA 27, TB 10. [6-3]
@CAR: Carolina's offense sits on the sideline as Miami's rushing attack and Wild Pat dominate the TOP. MIA 23, CAR 17. [7-3]
@BUF: Ambush game. On its fourth road game in five weeks, the Phins are half stepping against a division opponent seeking payback. BUF 23, MIA 21. [7-4]
NE: Revenge game by a motivated Phins team (Sparano ripped them a new one after losing in Buffalo). Smith and Davis are far better this time around. Brady is showing wear and tear from all the teams trying to duplicate the NYG recipe for beating the Pats by beating up on Tom. The Phins are no different and empty the blitz play book. MIA 24, NE 20. [8-4]
@JAX: The Jags are not a good team. Miami cruises. MIA 28, JAX 13. [9-4]
@TEN: The Titans are tough at home, too tough for Miami. TEN 14, MIA 13. [9-5]
HOU: Miami makes its final sprint for the playoff at home. The Texans cannot manage the last minute heroics of 2008. MIA 27, HOU 17. [10-5]
PIT: Miami wins and its in. Pittsburgh needs to win to have a chance at a bye. No game against resting starters for the Phins. This will be a defensive war that Miami loses by a Ricky fumble on its last drive in the 4Q. PIT 20, MIA 17. [10-6 & missing the playoffs] If Miami wins this game, anything is possible in the playoffs.