As I see it, N.E. was really 11-5 this year and Miami was 8-8. IMO, without the rash of injuries they had this year, N.E. is a 12 or 13 win team (at a minimum). I see the Phins as a 10 win team if a lot of things go their way. So even with Miami "improving," I still don't see them challenging the Pats in 06.
I just love the line of argument that New England should be considered an 11-5 team and Miami an 8-8 team because BB chose not to take a game seriously. As I said before, I would like to hope that the lack of playing time in that game led to the mistakes that the team made in Denver.Here in reality, Miami finished 9-7 and was one Ronnie Brown fumble plus a TD against the Bills away from 10-6.
I'll note here that both New England and Miami played the AFC West and NFC South this season. They get the AFC South and NFC North in 2006. Miami does draw what has to be considered the harder teams for the remainder of their schedule with Kansas City plus Pittsburgh compared to New England's Denver plus Cincinnati, particularly when you consider that New England gets Denver at home.
In the end, the difference in those two games against different opponents may be enough to keep the Patriots on top. I wouldn't say that's automatic, though. I do see both teams winning 11+ games and making the playoffs because they have fairly easy schedules due to the sad state of the Jets and Bills and the soft games both teams will have in common.
The Patriots lost to Miami playing third stringers by 2 points in a game they INTENDED to lose. If you want to say that you think that the Dolphins are close to the Patriots talent and coaching wise, that's up to you, but IMO a healthy Patriots team is 3 games better than the Dolphins next year.
NE intending to lose? That is absurd, no team especially one trying to gain momentum going into the playoffs wants to lose. Yes, they rested some starters in the second half, but Miami was beating them nicely in the first half against the first team as well. Pats fans can rationalize their weaker performance this year by saying injuries played a role, but what team didn't face injuries? (see Pitt and Seattle)
The Pats are a team on the decline, they have a had a good run but age, injury, free agency, and changing coaches have taken their toll.
The Dolphins time in the sun is coming back. Though I hope for a better season with more wins next year and I hope for a young QB to make us forget about (Huard, Fiedler, Lucas, Greise, Feeley, Ferrotte, and Rosenfels). But the reality of it is if they do draft a young QB and allow him to play then the odds are we will see a decline in wins rather than a gain. This team is still in a rebuilding mode, and though the wins streak this year was refreshing after the Wanny years, realistically I do not see that happening again next year.
I hope I am wrong and Miami contends for the division and / or a wild card spot. I think if we have a rookie QB it is unlikely, however if they do trade for a veteran then it may be possible. But, rookies generally blow hard (i.e. Mannings) their first year, and rarely do they excel (i.e. Rothlesberger).