(CBS Miami) -- There is daylight in Miami. The Dolphins are coming off a 5-11 season that the team started as the laughing stock of the NFL and finished as a respected foe. With a roster in shambles, the Fins lost their first four games of the season by an average of 34 points. But things started to come together after their Week 5 bye. First-year coach Brian Flores managed to turn them into competitive group.
Vegas expects that growth to continue. "For my strongest over play, I'm going to look at a different team, the Miami Dolphins," says SportsLine senior analyst Larry Hartstein. "They've gone from 12-1 all the way down to 7-1 (to win the AFC East). Everyone is jumping on their bandwagon. And I'd say jump on now, because the win total is sitting at six. It's juiced to 120, it may go up to six and a half. I'd say get on the over right now.'
The Dolphins already had momentum coming out of the 2019 season. Free agency and the NFL Draft kept things going in the right direction.
"This is a team... I mean they drafted Tua [Tagovailoa]," says Hartsteain. "[Ryan] Fitzpatrick played very well down the stretch. They won three of their last five, 5-4 over their last nine. Everyone wants to play for Brian Flores. Look who came in, Kyle Van Noy, Byron Jones, Shaq Lawson. And now they've got Matt Breida. So this is a much-improved team."
The Dolphins had a ton of cap room, which allowed them to bring in so much free agent talent. The list of free agency acquisitions also includes guard Ereck Flowers, center Ted Karras and running back Jordan Howard. The team also picked 11 players in the draft. Beyond Tua, the haul included offensive tackle Austin Jackson and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene.
With so much new young and veteran talent, look for the 2020 Dolphins to be vastly improved over last year's team. Tua will have the opportunity to learn from the seasoned Fitzpatrick. An overhauled offensive line should give both quarterbacks time in the pocket and Breida and Howard holes to run through. The Dolphins defense should give up noticeably fewer yards per game than the almost 400 it averaged last season.
It will also help that the AFC East as a whole should be more even. All four teams are projected to win between six and nine games. The Buffalo Bills may very well end the New England Patriots decade-plus streak of division titles. The New York Jets should be somewhat improved. And the Dolphins, with their offseason stock rising, have the potential to surprise some people.
What a difference a year makes.
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