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Five Critical Questions Facing the Miami Dolphins

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Also, check out the five critical questions facing the Arizona CardinalsCincinnati BengalsSan Diego ChargersCarolina PanthersMinnesota Vikings , Tennessee Titans and Detroit Lions.

Miami is coming off two consecutive 8-8 seasons and has not made the playoffs since 2008. Is this the year the Dolphins snap those streaks and get back into the tournament?

The answer to that larger question lies in the five queries below.

1. Can Ryan Tannehill prove he’s worth the money? 

The Dolphins signed Tannehill to a four-year, $77 million extension back in May. That’s a shocking turnaround for a player who was on the verge of being benched just three weeks into the 2014 season. He certainly put up the numbers to justify that contract, setting career-highs with 4,045 passing yards and 27 touchdown passes.

However, all of those numbers failed to bring the Dolphins a winning season, as the franchise is now more than six years removed from its last winning campaign.

Tannehill must continue to bolster his game. He needs to do a better job protecting the football (he fumbled nine times in 2014, although only two were lost). Additionally, he needs to be more consistent. There were five games last season in which the Dolphins scored 16 points or less … there’s is no reason for that with a franchise quarterback under center.

According to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor, who is entering his second season in Miami, Tannehill is ready to take the next step.

“I think everything should be better,” Lazor said. “Ryan is an extremely hard worker. … I don’t know that you can script a better formula for a guy to be successful.”

2. Can the remade receiving corps elevate the offense? 

Four of the Dolphins’ top-five pass catchers are new to the team. DeVante Parker was Miami’s first-round pick. Kenny Stills was picked up in a trade with the Saints. Greg Jennings came aboard after being cut by the Vikings. And TE Jordan Cameron signed as a free agent from Cleveland.

The only meaningful holdover is Jarvis Landry, a 2014 second-round pick who caught 84 passes as a rookie. He figures to be Tannehill’s go-to target early on — he averaged nine targets per game over the second half of last season — while the rest of the receiving corps gets acclimated.

Parker will miss most of training camp and possibly the first couple weeks of the season after suffering a setback with his surgically repaired foot. Look for Jennings to play a larger role while Parker s on the mend.

“It’s unbelievable how [Jennings] can break corners down, with his savviness of how to get guys leaning,” Tannehill said.

3. Can Ndamukong Suh transfer his success from Detroit to Miami? 

Miami’s offseason makeover wasn’t limited to the offensive side of the ball. The Dolphins signed the top free agent available by landing Suh with a massive six-year, $114 million contract. The deal makes Suh the highest paid defensive player in history.

Suh’s play in Detroit justified that massive contract. Despite facing constant double-teams, he averaged better than 47 tackles and seven sacks per season. He was at his best in the biggest games, too, including posting two sacks in Detroit’s postseason loss in Dallas.

The question is: Will Suh’s productivity remain sky-high in a new defense with a new scheme and new surrounding personnel? There is no question Suh is a dominant (if not dirty) player, but if all those variables causes his play to suffer in the slightest, the Dolphins will have massively overpaid for his services.

Head coach Joe Philbin seems unconcerned.

“The best part about the addition is that what he is good at is the way we like to play defense,” Philbin told ESPN.com. “He’d be an excellent player anywhere, don’t get me wrong. But system is important and the fit of the system and a player. So I think that, in and of itself, is a great starting point. I think he’s a great fit for what we like to do.”

4. Can Joe Philbin be more than just an average coach? 

There is a downside to Miami’s aggressive offseason: the pressure on Philbin, which was already uncomfortably high, is now reaching ridiculous levels. Miami starts the season with a pair of road games (in Washington and Jacksonville) before hosting division foes in the Bills and Jets. If the Dolphins have a losing record after those four games, Philbin will be unlikely to survive the bye week in Week 5.

“The focus is really just one game at a time,” Philbin told the Sun Sentinel. “We’ve got to treat every game like a championship game for us to put ourselves in position to compete for true championships in my mind.”

Even if the Dolphins get off to a hot start, the pressure will not let up until Miami gets back into the postseason. Philbin has a losing record in his three seasons as a head coach (23-25) and cannot survive another year out of the playoffs. But just qualifying for the postseason is no easy task, especially given all the upgrades the rest of the AFC East made this offseason. That brings us to our final question …

5. Can Miami post a winning record in the AFC East? 

The Dolphins were not the only AFC East team to go all in trying to catch the reigning Super Bowl champions from New England. The Bills brought in LeSean McCoy, Percy Harvin and Charles Clay. The Jets added Darrelle Revis, Brandon Marshall and Antonio Cromartie. Both of those teams picked up wins over Miami in 2014.

So while Miami has its sights set on first place in the AFC East, it is still too early to proclaim the Dolphins as even the second-best team in the division.

Miami’s 3-3 record in division play last season was a big reason it missed the playoffs. That wasn’t the first time the AFC East came up and bit the Dolphins, either, as in 2013 Miami was eliminated from the playoffs by the Jets in a Week 17 matchup.

If the Dolphins want to accomplish all of their goals in 2015 — including winning the AFC East — they need to win at least four games inside their suddenly loaded division.

What do you expect from the Dolphins? Discuss with Michael Lombardo during his weekly NFL Chat on Friday at 2pm EST. But you don’t have to wait until then … you can ask your question now


About Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo

Michael Lombardo has spent more than 10 years as a team expert at Scout.com, primarily covering the Chargers, Cardinals and Panthers. He has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and other venues.