Super Bowl XLVI will not be an easy one for Dolfans to stomach. Forced to choose between rooting for a hated rival or a team from New York, South Floridians are left wondering why the Dolphins have been mired in mediocrity while the Patriots and Giants keep making the playoffs.
But a quick glance at the rosters at each team and it's apparent to see why: explosive offenses stocked with talented players. The New York Giants and New England Patriots have made all the right moves in creating top 5 offenses, largely in personnel. Neither team has a defense that will blow opponents away (both finished in the bottom third in the NFL in terms of yardage). The NFL is now a passing game, and if the Dolphins want to compete in the future, they will have to improve their passing attack considerably.
It all starts with the quarterbacks. Tom Brady and Eli Manning will never be confused for Matt Moore, Chad Henne, Cleo Lemon, or any of the plethora of middling passers that have suited up in Miami since Dan Marino retired.
What's interesting about these teams is that they found their star quarterbacks in almost opposite ways. The Giants traded up to acquire Manning, the first pick in the NFL Draft (swapping Philip Rivers, selected with the fourth pick of the very same draft, along with other picks, for Manning, who had been drafted by San Diego).
The Dolphins will be forced to make a trade to improve their draft position if they want to take one of the top two quarterbacks in the 2012 Draft. Andrew Luck is effectively impossible to reach; the Colts will not trade the top pick nor do the Dolphins have enough 2012 picks to trade for it. But Miami could grab Robert Griffin III by trading with the St. Louis Rams for the second pick.
Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland was asked about the prospect of trading up in the draft by the Sun Sentinel
, and he played it coy
. "It depends on what the other team is looking for," he said when asked how much is too much to pay for a top pick.
Instead, the Dolphins may opt to sign free agent backup quarterback Matt Flynn, most recently of Green Bay. A former seventh round pick who spent the early part of his career backing up an All-Pro passer, Flynn bears a superficial resemblance to Tom Brady of the Patriots.
Brady was a lightly-regarded passer coming out of college who had limited starting experience, selected in the sixth round by the Patriots. Originally selected to back up Drew Bledsoe, Brady shined when Bledsoe was injured in 2001, leading the Pats to their first Super Bowl.
Flynn is not guaranteed to replicate Brady's success (indeed, there have been plenty of quarterbacks taken in the late rounds of the draft, and none have been as successful as Brady. But Brady's success (as well as that of Houston's Matt Schaub, another former backup) proves that it is at least possible to build a strong passing game around an overlooked quarterback.
And unlike incumbent Dolphins starter Matt Moore, Flynn could have the accuracy and arm strength to be the centerpiece of the attacking West Coast offense new Dolphins coach Joe Philbin is expected to instill.
Finding a new quarterback will not solve all the Dolphins' problems. The Patriots and Giants both have more talent at the skill positions than Miami - it is not enough to simply trot out WR Brandon Marshall and hope he lifts the performance of his teammates. The Giants have supplemented WR Hakeem Nicks With Victor Cruz, while the Patriots' Wes Welker gets help from TEs Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.
If Miami does not use its first draft pick on a quarterback, then the team could do well to grab another receiver who can make a dangerous tandem with Marshall. If he is available, Oklahoma State WR Justin Blackmon might be the other weapon the Dolphins need to counterbalance Marshall and RB Reggie Bush.
The Dolphins can learn plenty from whichever team wins the Super Bowl on Sunday. Whether it's the Patriots or Giants, the next champion will have built its title on a lethal passing attack that averaged over 300 yards passing a game in 2011. If Miami can put the right personnel in place now, there is no reason the Dolphins cannot make the playoffs as early as next season.
The Super Bowl kicks off at 6:30 p.m. Sunday Feb. 5 on NBC.