By DAVID B WILSON
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If there was ever a year for the Dolphins to take the jump from afterthought in the AFC East to challenging the Patriots for the division title now is the time. Tom Brady could be suspended for four games and Miami, which went 8-8 last season, is on the upswing with Ryan Tannehill entering his fourth year as the starting quarterback.
By the numbers
Amount, in millions, high-profile free agent acquisition Ndamukong Suh will be paid by the Dolphins over the next six years, making him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.
Amount Suh has been fined by the league during his five-year NFL career.
Career sacks for linebacker Cameron Wake, second most in Miami history behind only Jason Taylor's 131.
Needs a big season from: Ryan Tannehill | QB
Last season was something of a breakthrough from Ryan Tannehill. He's been solid each year since being taken by the Dolphins out of Texas A&M with the eighth pick in the 2012 NFL Draft and in 2014 he set career highs in passing yards, touchdowns, yards per attempt and rushing yards, and threw the fewest interceptions of his young career.
Now 27 years old, Tannehill should be entering his prime.
Miami's schedule starts off easy, too. The Dolphins open the season in Landover, Md., against the Redskins before making an in-state trip to Jacksonville. Miami's next two games, a pair of home games, are against the division-rival Bills and Jets before it goes to Tennessee. A 5-0 start is a possibility and a good foundation for Tannehill and the Dolphins to make a run at the postseason.
Ndamukong Suh, DT
Suh has been one of the most intimidating--if controversial--defensive players in the NFL since the Lions took him with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2010 Draft. With 239 tackles and 36 sacks during his first four season in the league, Suh earned a six-year, $114-million contract with the Dolphins. He could turn Miami's already-good defense into one of the best in the NFL.
Deep at: Defense
Thin at: Wide receiver
Dolphins' Dominant Defense
Miami underachieved its projections last season and still finished with its best total defense since 2010. That performance was buoyed by the league's sixth best pass defense and a solid pass rush anchored by linebacker Cameron Wake. The Dolphins struggled to stop the run last year, but bringing in Ndamukong Suh, whose Lions were best in the NFL at stopping the run in 2014, should fix that.