Miami Dolphins (0-0) at Cleveland Browns (0-0)
The Dolphins were hailed by the media as the winners of the off-season, after all of the millions they spent, but like previous “winners” of the off-season, they should disappoint. The Buccaneers were the “winner” of last off-season, after shelling out big money for Carl Nicks, Vincent Jackson, and Eric Wright, but managed just 7 wins. The “Dream Team” Eagles came before them and they won just 8 games. Dan Snyder and the free spending Redskins came many a time before them, but largely produced no results.
The well run teams who sustain consistent success, the Packers, Patriots, Giants, 49ers, Ravens, Steelers, Falcons, Saints, etc. of the world, almost never make a big move on the first day of free agency. They instead focus on strong drafting, developing and re-signing their own guys, and letting the market come to them and filling holes with solid starters on cheaper deals on later days in free agency. They never make panic signings early in free agency.You can say it’s because they are already good or because they don’t have a lot of cap space, but none of those teams was built through big free agency signings. No consistently good team ever was.
I don’t know how much better of a team the Dolphins are as a result of this off-season. Mike Wallace was the big signing, signing this off-season’s biggest contract, getting 60 million over 5 years from the Dolphins. He’ll undoubtedly be an upgrade on the outside opposite Brian Hartline, but he’s overrated and not worth what he was paid. In 2010 and 2011, Wallace was one of the best receivers in the league, catching a combined 132 passes for 2450 yards and 18 touchdowns. However, Wallace held out long into Training Camp last off-season, putting himself above the team and was not the same all season. He caught just 55.2% of the passes thrown his way and averaged just 13.1 yards per catch. They also added Dustin Keller and Brandon Gibson in the receiving corps, but the former is out for the year with a knee injury, while the latter is a pure depth caliber receiver with very limited slot experience.
On the defensive side of the ball, the two big signings they made were linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler. Ellerbe displaced Karlos Dansby at middle linebacker, while Wheeler displaced Kevin Burnett on the outside. They may be upgrades over what the veterans would have been this season, but both veterans actually had great seasons last year so it’s hard to see them being better than that. On top of that, they are both much less proven and the Dolphins are essentially paying for one year wonders. Prior to last season, Ellerbe had played 917 career snaps in 3 seasons and graded out below average in all 3 seasons. Wheeler, meanwhile, had topped out at 537 snaps in a season in 3 years as a part-time base package linebacker in Indianapolis, prior to last year’s breakout year.
On top of that, they had serious losses this off-season, losing running back Reggie Bush, cornerback Sean Smith, and most importantly left tackle Jake Long. They’ll attempt to replace those 3 with in house Lamar Miller, free agent Brent Grimes, and free agent Tyson Clabo respectively. I like Miller’s chances and Grimes could be good if they stay healthy, but, as good of a player as Clabo is, his presence moves Jonathan Martin to the blindside, where he was awful last season in 5 starts there. He wasn’t good at right tackle, but he was awful on the left side. That could make it tough for the Dolphins to set up the deep strikes to Wallace they would like.
I don’t think the Dolphins and Browns have serious talent disparities or anything. The Browns have a great offensive line, a strong and deep front 7, and the potential to be a very good running team depending on how Trent Richardson plays and how healthy he stays. Brandon Weeden is awful under center and the presence of shutdown cornerback Joe Haden could be wasted by the fact that they really lack cornerback depth and have plenty of other guys who can be picked on in the secondary. That being said, I do think the Browns will win here at home, against a pick ‘em line. I can’t bring myself to put anything on it though.
Also, one note, I’m changing how I do picks this year. I’ll be grouping my picks into high confidence, medium confidence, low confidence, and no confidence picks. I’ll also have one pick of the week.
Cleveland Browns 16 Miami Dolphins 13
Pick against spread: Cleveland PK