Will a new era produce new results in Miami?

A lot has changed in Miami ever since the curtain came down on the 17-year career of quarterback Dan Marino. During the Hall of Famer’s tenure with the Dolphins, Miami posted a 163-108 regular season record (.601) and qualified for ten trips to the postseason. Times were good.

But there’s one thing that hasn’t changed in South Florida since Marino rode off into the sunset at the conclusion of the 1999 season and that’s the fact that this organization hasn’t won a Super Bowl since 1974. Despite Marino’s best efforts, the Dolphins came up short against Joe Montana and the 49ers in 1985 and haven’t made a trip back to the big game since.

Dan MarinoPlayoff appearances have been virtually nonexistent since Dan Marino called it a career in 1999.

No Vince Lombardi Trophies with Marino, no Vince Lombardi Trophies since Marino.

But here’s the thing: While the word out of Miami is likely to be the boilerplate, “Our goal is to win a Super Bowl,” the reality of the situation is that this is a franchise far from capable of playing in the final game of the season. Winning eight or nine games is a more realistic expectation, with the hopes of building upon that start in 2013.

Remember, this is a team that has posted just two winning campaigns over the last eight years and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2000.

As is the case with most organizations mired in shortcomings, the Dolphins underwent a significant facelift during the offseason. Head coach Tony Sparano was sent packing and was replaced by former Green Bay offensive coordinator Joe Philbin. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill was drafted in the hopes of putting an end to the revolving door that has existed at the position since Marino’s retirement. Chad Ochocinco was signed to bolster the wide receiving unit.

But will any of these changes turn the once-proud Miami franchise into a legitimate threat to win a championship?

THE BIG THREE

Joe Philbin: Miami’s defense wasn’t half bad in 2011, finishing the year ranked 15th in total defense and sixth in points allowed. But the offense was a far different story, ranking 22nd in total offense and 20th in scoring. Philbin has the background necessary to remedy this problem, having worked on the offensive side of the football in Green Bay over the last nine years. He also played a big part in the development of quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is considered by many to be the game’s best passer at the current moment. That experience should come in quite handy as Philbin begins the process of working with rookie signal-caller Ryan Tannehill.

Ryan Tannehill: Miami isn’t reloading, they’re rebuilding. That means there should be no rush to throw Tannehill to the wolves unless he demonstrates a strong command of the Dolphins’ playbook by mid-August. Spending time learning from veterans Matt Moore and David Garrard isn’t the same thing as playing behind Brett Favre in Green Bay, but it will alleviate some of the pressure and give Tannehill time to adjust to life in the NFL. The Redskins need to start Robert Griffin III from Day 1. The Dolphins don’t.

Chad Ochocinco: He’s 34-years-old and is coming off the least productive season of his 11-year career. But the Dolphins had a need at the wide receiver position and the six-time Pro Bowler was on the market, so the move made some sense. Expectations for a highly productive campaign in Miami may not be all that high, but Ochocinco can bring a lot more to the table this year than receptions of the field. He’s played with Carson Palmer and Tom Brady and knows what solid quarterback play looks like. Should the veteran receiver be willing to assume a leadership role in the locker room as well as provide some guidance to Tannehill in the process, he could turn out to be a decent investment.

THE SCHEDULE

Six games against the ultra-loaded New England Patriots, always-competitive New York Jets and upstart Buffalo Bills will be no walk in the park for the Dolphins in 2012. Throw in road games at Houston, Cincinnati and San Francisco and an 8-8 season looks like a solid start to the Joe Philbin era.

Chad OchocincoOchocinco's 11 years of experience could come in handy for the Dolphins in 2012.

However, crossover games against the NFC West and AFC South provide some much-needed opportunities to post a few notches in the win column. Therefore, it makes sense that our friends at Beyond The Bets.com have calculated the Dolphins’ projected win total at 7.58 using Cantor Gaming’s point spreads (favorite eight times, underdog seven times) and SBR’s point spread to win probability converter.

A 13-3 season in the first year under a new head coach like the one that took place under Jim Harbaugh in San Francisco last season would exceed any and all expectations for the Dolphins. But that outcome is unlikely. Instead, the franchise should be thinking about improving on the 20-28 record they have posted over the last three years while developing their first-round quarterback into a capable and consistent NFL starter.

Nothing comes easy in the NFL and the Dolphins have a tough challenge in front of them this season. But there are realistic goals that can be attained. Hitting those marks should be the focus of this franchise so that Miami can finally begin looking towards big things in the coming years.

Dan Marino isn’t coming back, but that shouldn’t preclude the Dolphins from finally finding a capable successor.

Hit me up on Twitter: @JoeFortenbaugh

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