Why Sunday will be the start of a winning season

9-7.

That’s what my crystal ball tells me. That’s how I see this crazy season playing out for the Miami Dolphins. They surprised many of us a season ago, finishing 5-11 after an 0-7 start, coming on strong over the final two months of the season and punctuating everything with that season-ending victory over the Patriots.

Now I see no reason why this team can’t take the proverbial next step, why it can’t win more games than it loses, why it can’t continue this feel good turnaround story with a vastly improved and much deeper roster from top to bottom.

But the key to this team isn’t talent as much as it is how quickly that talent can come together. There are new starters everywhere and new coaches as well. There are two rookies starting on the offensive line alone and so many free agents playing prominent roles. It takes time to create the right chemistry and this team simply has not been afforded that luxury.

Nonetheless, we saw how well Brian Flores can coach a season ago. We saw what he could do with a vastly inferior roster. We saw the smart decisions, the patient demeanor and how this team came on strong at the end, beating the Patriots in the season finale.

Now they get the Patriots again and there’s no reason to believe the result won’t be the same. My pick: Dolphins 23, Patriots 17. No Tom Brady. No home crowd advantage. A Patriots’ defense limited by some key players opting out of the season And, oh yes, I’ll say it again: No Tom Brady.  I look for Ryan Fitzpatrick to have a solid game. I see much more balance on offense with new running backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida. I see a defense that will be improved in just about every area, especially at linebacker. I see the Dolphins winning this game late, maybe with a sweet dose of FitzMagic.

Yes, there are concerns. Are there enough playmakers? Enough depth? Enough of a pass rush? But none of that sways me away from 9-7. Nothing that makes me think the arrow isn’t clearly pointing up in the second season under Flores.

As for Tua? My gut tells me we’ll see plenty of him, maybe for a series or two each game, maybe for an entire quarter, or at least until the situation dictates a change in direction. As much as I respect and admire Fitzpatrick, he’ll be the first to tell you at 37 years old he’s simply a bridge until Tua is ready. A bridge with a strong, sturdy foundation.

Yep, 9-7 sounds about right. Can’t believe the season is finally here.  Enjoy the ride. I know I will.

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