Porter: We're still the champs

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. -- Whether it be in Las Vegas or the various preseason power rankings all over the Internet, the New England Patriots have been chosen the AFC East's team to beat for 2009.

Miami Dolphins outside linebacker Joey Porter takes offense. Porter declared Friday morning that the road to the AFC East title will come through Miami this year, and the Dolphins are the "champions until proven otherwise."

"I don't understand how you can put somebody in front of us," Porter said Friday morning after he and quarterback Chad Pennington were named co-winners of the team's Dan Marino MVP Award in a ceremony at Joe's Stone Crab Restaurant on South Beach.

"We won the championship. We were AFC East champions. I just don't think it's supposed to happen like that. You've got to beat somebody to be the champs. We had to beat somebody to be the champs."

The Dolphins pulled off one of the most dramatic single-season turnarounds in NFL history last year, after Bill Parcells signed up to run the team's football operations and cleaned house.

With new general manager Jeff Ireland, new head coach Tony Sparano and Pennington running the offense, the Dolphins rebounded from a one-victory campaign in 2007 to edge out the Patriots for the AFC East crown. The Dolphins and Patriots each went 11-5, but the Dolphins made the playoffs on a tiebreaker.

"I feel that we've put ourselves in position to be a championship team," said Porter, who led the AFC with 17.5 sacks last year. "The doubting is over now.

"We proved that the AFC East comes through Miami, and having that feeling, knowing that we're the [division] champions until proven otherwise," he added. "Our mindset is to win the division, set ourselves up for a playoff spot and then anything can happen once we reach the playoffs.

"That wasn't always the thought a couple years ago. Last year, coming here with a new coaching staff, we didn't know how it was going to pan out. Now we've seen how it pans out. So we can get ourselves in position so we're not just happy with going to the playoffs anymore.

"We're thinking about championships."

Tim Graham covers the AFC East for ESPN.com.