In a little over 24 hours, the New England Patriots will square off against the Atlanta Falcons in Houston, Texas to decide the winner of Super Bowl LI. For most, it is no surprise that the Patriots are in the final game of the 2016-2017 NFL season. They have the best coach, talent developer, and overall football mind in the history of the league in Bill Belichick. They have a franchise quarterback who has (regardless of your opinion of him) dominated the game of football at the position for the better part of the last decade.
They have a culture and a system that quite simply put, wins.
Then, on the other side of the ball, there is a team who has consistently been in the playoff picture and mix for the better part of the last half decade, but has always lacked that something to get to the next level and make the big game. And then Dan Quinn came along. Last year, they went 8-8 under Quinn, experiencing a late season slide that left many questioning the new head coach's ability to run the team and organization. One extremely productive off-season later, and Quinn is in the Super Bowl in just his second year.
We have seen a complete transformation of Matt Ryan at a moment in his career when many other quarterbacks are on the decline or contemplating retirement. We have seen a defense that got trashed many times last season get faster, stronger, and quite frankly dominant at the right times in games.
Sunday's game is very much a story of old school bully vs. new kid on the block. Belichick will get a chance to silence any comparison to the great Bill Walsh and Tom Brady can win ring number 5. Matt Ryan can bring a championship back to the great city of Atlanta, and Dan Quinn can send a message to every young head coach out there, saying your time is now.
There is one young NFL head coach who doesn't need to hear that message to understand that the gap between playoff team and Super Bowl team is not 5-10 years ahead. That coach is Miami Dolphins HC Adam Gase.
Gase did the unthinkable in 2016. He took a team composed of the old regime's talent, or lack thereof on defense, and began the season 1-4. Like Quinn, the doubts came quickly and strongly. The Dolphins had done it again, selected an offensive minded dud for a coach. And then, the culture changed almost overnight after the Tennessee Titans game. They found an identity. Gase worked his magic, and the team ran off 9 of their last 11, making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Yes, they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers 30-12 with Matt Moore at the helm. But they still had their chances in that nearly impossible game on the road, despite starting 2nd and 3rd stringers at nearly every position on defense.
Gase and the Miami Dolphins find themselves in an even better position than Quinn and the Falcons found themselves this time almost exactly a year ago. They have a solid foundation of young, talented players mixed with wily and experiences veterans. They have a franchise QB who was putting up the best numbers of his career before going down with an injury. They have a defense that can only get better with added speed and strength. And most importantly, they have a coach determined to stick to a winning culture.
No, the Miami Dolphins will most likely not win the Super Bowl in Adam Gase's 2nd year, or even have the chance to like Dan Quinn's 2nd year Falcons. But, this kind of talk is not unfounded or completely nonsensical like it has been the past decade. This is a team with a changed culture, a changed identity, and a newer, hungrier chip on its shoulder.
The Miami Dolphins are closer to the Super Bowl than they have been since they last appeared in one, more than just a few years ago.
All eyes will be on Adam Gase and the new-look Miami Dolphins in 2017.