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NFL countdown: Rebuilding Dolphins on rise in AFC East

This is the fifth in a series of 32 NFL team betting previews in 32 days leading up to the league’s Sept. 10 season opener. We’ll count down the teams from the lowest season win total to the highest.

The Dolphins appeared to be tanking for Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa last season when they were outscored 163-26 in their first four games en route to an 0-7 start.

But Miami finished strong, going 5-4 behind rookie coach Brian Flores and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and beating the Patriots in the season finale to deny New England a first-round playoff bye.

The Dolphins still landed Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick after his draft stock dropped because of a dislocated hip. They added several other key pieces through the draft and free agency.

“They definitely added a lot of talent to last year’s team,” Westgate sportsbook vice president of risk Ed Salmons said. “The only question is, are they going to use Tua or Fitzpatrick? I’m sure they’ll start with Fitzpatrick.”

Handicapper Hank Goldberg, a longtime Miami resident and ESPN analyst who lives in Las Vegas, is high on Flores and Tagovailoa, who is poised to become the team’s 22nd starting quarterback since Dan Marino retired in 2000.

But Goldberg questions the team’s offseason hire of offensive coordinator Chan Gailey.

“I didn’t understand that hire at all,” said Goldberg (VegasInsider.com). “We’ll see how healthy Tua is. But if Chan Gailey is going to coach Tua, he’s going to set him back. He is an ultraconservative guy. He has no creativity whatsoever.”

Miami, one of 10 NFL teams to average fewer than 20 points per game last season (19.1), returns wideout DeVante Parker, who was fifth in the league in receiving yards (1,202) and tied for fourth in touchdown catches (nine).

The Dolphins added running backs Jordan Howard and Matt Breida and bolstered their offensive line by signing former New England starting center Ted Karras and former Washington starting guard Ereck Flowers and drafting a lineman in the first and second rounds.

Miami also fortified last season’s NFL-worst scoring defense (30.9 ppg) by adding former Dallas cornerback Bryon Jones and former Patriots linebacker Kyle Van Noy, among others.

Jones and Xavien Howard give the Dolphins two of the league’s highest-paid cornerbacks, though Howard was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list Tuesday.

“No team was busier in the offseason than the Dolphins,” Sunset Station sportsbook director Chuck Esposito said. “The team’s arrow is pointing up. There’s a lot of pressure on the Bills to be the team in the AFC East. I don’t know what we’ll get out of New England.

“I could see the Dolphins moving into the third spot in the AFC East.”

Miami’s win total is 6. The Dolphins are the 10-1 third choice at the Westgate to win the division behind Buffalo (-110) and New England (+150) and ahead of the New York Jets (12-1).

The Dolphins face one of the NFL’s toughest schedules based on both opponents’ winning percentage last season and their 2020 win totals at Las Vegas sportsbooks.

Salmons said Miami might top its win total, but is still at least another year from contending for a division crown.

“I don’t think they’re good enough yet. It’s essentially another rebuilding year,” he said. “Maybe next year will be their year.”

Contact reporter Todd Dewey at tdewey@reviewjournal.com. Follow @tdewey33 on Twitter.

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