But just seven games into the 2006 season, the Dolphins are in rebuilding mode already as they struggle along with a 1-6 record. This was a team that finished last year on a six-game winning streak and added three-time Pro-Bowler Daunte Culpepper from Minnesota to fix their quarterbacking woes. But Culpepper wasn't ready to come back from a knee injury, the offensive line is in shambles, and All-Pro receiver Chris Chambers might be on the back of a milk carton before long.
And to think, head coach Nick Saban could have had the Bears job a year before saying yes to the Dolphins after the 2004 season.
Saban and Bears general manager Jerry Angelo go back a long way and are close friends to this day, so it appeared to be a match made in heaven for the Monsters of the Midway. But he chose to stay at LSU, eventually opening the door for Lovie Smith to get the nod. Bears fans were disappointed when Saban said no, but in retrospect, all seems to have worked out just fine in the Windy City.
The Dolphins travel to Chicago for a battle with the Bears this Sunday at Soldier Field.
Saban was asked about the progress the Bears have made since he turned Angelo down, and he was overflowing with praise from top to bottom.
"I can't compliment this team and this organization enough for the great team that they've put together," Saban said. "And the coaching staff and Lovie for how they have the team playing right now. They're playing with a lot of confidence, making a lot of plays. Defense is outstanding, get a lot of turnovers. Offense is hitting on all cylinders, able to run the ball effectively and make big plays throwing it. And they have outstanding special teams."
In Chicago, most of the credit has gone to the coaching staff and the players themselves for establishing the Bears as the team to beat in the NFC, but Saban acknowledges Angelo's wizardry in the front office.
"Jerry has done a tremendous job there of putting a talented team together," he said. "And the coaching staff has done a marvelous job of getting them to play together and developing great team chemistry. This is one of or the best team in the National Football League right now."
Most of Miami's problems this season have come on the offensive side of the ball, and Saban knows exactly why his team seems to be snakebit.
"I think a couple things," he said. "Ball security and turnovers have been a big issue for us this year. We've played okay on defense at times, (but) we haven't gotten as many turnovers as we would like. And we've turned the ball over way too much offensively, and that's been the difference in several of our games."
If the Dolphins need a lesson in winning the turnover battle on Sundays, Saban says all his players have to do is look to the other sideline.
"That's something the Bears do very well," he said. "They get lots of turnovers. They take care of the ball well. But that's going to be a key to us getting this turned around is having better ball security and getting more turnovers. We just need to improve our consistency and execution. We've moved the ball effectively at times offensively but just made some critical errors, critical drops, critical tipped balls in critical situations that have made a big difference in terms of being drive-stoppers."
One notable absence on offense from last year for the Dolphins is Ricky Williams, who was suspended for an entire season following yet another positive drug test in the offseason. Despite missing all of 2004 after his pseudo-retirement, the former Longhorn averaged 4.4 yards per carry and scored six touchdowns as a backup to then-rookie Ronnie Brown. With Brown now shouldering the load on the ground by himself, the Miami running game is currently ranked 28th in the league.
Saban knows there is nothing he can do about Williams at this point, but he admitted that having the mercurial runner at his disposal made his offense better.
"We try to focus on the guys that we have here, and we think Ronnie Brown is a good player. But the thing that Ricky gave us was we had two really good backs, and we kind of rolled them in there last year. And I think they kind of complemented each other, and both guys stayed fresh, and both guys ran extremely well. But we're pleased with the way Ronnie Brown is playing for us this year. We just haven't had another guy to go with him."
If Saban wants to pair those two tailbacks again this season, he'll have to trade Brown to the Toronto Argonauts, where Williams is currently playing in the Canadian Football League.