Let me start by saying that I'm a fan of football first and my beloved Pats second. That is an important difference. I appreciate close games and respect opponents that fight the good fight. Familiarity can breed contempt and our most bitter rivals are the ones we see most often: the Dolphins, the Jets, and the Bills. As well as those conference foes we seem to battle annually: the Steelers, the Colts and the Chargers.
Who cares about a regular season loss to an NFC team that we won't see again for four years. Their entire roster will be changed in that time and so will ours. The next time we see them, we'll barely recognize them.
But the Phins we know and loathe. Last year the Dolphins made the journey from least in the East, to Division Champions. We can talk about the lack of Brady or their easier schedule, but that's just excuses. We can justify that we also had an 11-5 record, but that's what tie breakers are for. They took the Division; they're the champs. The AFC East now goes through Miami, and they have a tougher schedule to prove it (they face all the AFC Division champs this year).
While the rest of the division has grabbed headlines with Brady's knee, T.O. to the Bills, and Sanchez to the Jets; Miami has quietly gotten stronger on both sides of the ball. We can talk about how improved the Pats are and the potential we have, but it doesn't mean a thing until we can take back the Title from Miami.
I respect Miami (though their new theme song seriously sucks), but my respect doesn't mean a thing. Belichick repects them enough to know that we'll have to bring our best game, and we will. The newspapers may not proclaim that the Dolphins are great, but last year they got the attention of the league. This year the teams that give them their best shot are showing them respect. The AFC East is on the line, but we've got to go through Miami to get it.
My hats off to you, Dolphins.