1. The Dolphins can get after the quarterback. Some of Tom Brady’s worst games have come against the Dolphins, mostly because Miami has always been stout up front, ever since Jason Taylor arrived 17 years ago. Cameron Wake is coming off a bit of a down year with 8½ sacks but is still one of the best two or three pure pass rushers in the game, and he warrants consistent double-teams. Olivier Vernon benefitted from all the attention put on Wake last year and had a breakout season of 11½ sacks, and he is primed for an even bigger season. And the Dolphins get good interior pressure with Randy Starks, Jared Odrick, and newcomer Earl Mitchell.
2. Ryan Tannehill is developing with his weapons. Tannehill’s rookie season was a blur, and last year he had to work to get on the same page with newcomers Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson. But Tannehill now has two years under his belt, and has all the familiar faces around him: Wallace, Gibson, Charles Clay, Brian Hartline, and Lamar Miller. Wallace didn’t quite have the breakout season Miami fans wanted, but the Fins return three players with 65-plus catches and 750 receiving yards. And Clay, who had 759 yards and six touchdowns last year at tight end, is on the verge of becoming a bona fide star.
3. The heat. No, not the team recently spurned by LeBron James. The heat — as in the weather — is a great home-field advantage for the Dolphins and is no joke. General manager Dennis Hickey came off the practice field Monday dripping with sweat, and that was just from standing on the sideline. The humidity punches you in the face right when you get off the plane in South Florida, and makes life hell for football players, especially at 1 p.m. on a Sunday early in September. The Patriots lost to the Dolphins in Miami last December, and don’t be surprised if they wilt in the heat this time.