Let's break down the Miami Dolphins' 2012 strength of schedule.
First, let's start off with who Miami will play.
We can count on the home and home games against the Bills, Jets and Patriots. Then due to their third-place finish in 2011, they will host the Oakland Raiders (who, as you might remember, Miami practically kept out of the playoffs with a 34-14 victory) while traveling to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals, who did make the playoffs.
They also face the AFC South and NFC West, according to the schedule cycle, which means hosting the Jacksonville Jaguars, Tennessee Titans, St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks, while traveling to Indianapolis, Arizona, San Francisco and Houston.
Overall the Dolphins have a strength of schedule of .496, or 127-129 (the average in the NFL is .500 or 128-128) with six games against quality opponents (teams with nine wins or more). Five of those games against quality opponents are on the road and the only quality opponent they host is the New England Patriots.
Of course, that won't make a lick of difference, since we all know these things change from year-to-year in the NFL. But it's always fun to speculate.
Let's assume Miami improves at quarterback (if they don't, forget about anything I'm about to say) and look at the schedule then.
Four of Miami's games are against potential juggernauts: Houston, San Francisco and both New England games. Houston will likely have everyone healthy and back, San Francisco will only get better, and the Patriots know what they have to fix and still have Tom Brady.
Only one of those games are at home, and that's against the Patriots. If Miami improves at quarterback, it should go 1-3. If the Dolphins sign Peyton Manning, I'd even venture to guess that they would go 2-2 since he does well against the Texans.
I know that doesn't look too good, but bare with me, it gets much easier.
Two of the teams on Miami's schedule are against the two worst teams in the NFL; Indianapolis on the road and St. Louis at home. Both teams should improve, but we're talking about teams that Miami had two more wins than combined (and remember, they went 6-10). Improvement for them is 4-12. As long as they improve at quarterback, they should go 2-0 against those teams.
The Dolphins also have my candidate for "most likely to win the Matt Barkley sweepstakes" on their schedule as well in the Jacksonville Jaguars. Consider that a win.
Already we're up to 4-3 or 5-2.
As for two teams I see making a leap, Seattle and Arizona. That sounds like 1-1 to me, as both teams will compete for playoff berths in 2012.
The team on their schedule most likely to regress are the Jets and Bengals, which is three games. The Jets right now look like a sinking ship, while the Bengals have the look of a team that finishes 9-7 one year (their record in 2011), 7-9 the next year, then in year three rips off a 12-4 season.
I'm pretty confident that that's the trajectory for Cincinnati right now, so for these three games I'll go with 2-1 or 3-0, depending on when Miami gets the Jets and where.
Oakland is stagnant. It has neither the cap room nor draft picks to improve and will again have a new head coach. Plus, unless you're the 49ers, west coast teams tend to not do so well on the East Coast in a 1 p.m. ET game (and you know Dolphins vs. Raiders will likely be one of those mid-September 1 p.m. ET games where your butt sticks to the plastic orange seat). Yes, I'm counting that as a win.
The Bills were wiped out by the Dolphins in 2011, but Fred Jackson got injured in Game 1 and was missing in Game 2. I'm leaning towards 2-0, but it could be a 1-1 situation even though Buffalo in 2012 looks like a ho-hum 6-10 or 7-9 non-interesting team (I might change my mind after the draft though).
Then you have Tennessee, which looks like a giant maybe. It has the talent, but I really don't know where the Titans are going, since I'm not so sure whether they will start Locker at quarterback or remain with Hasselbeck. I'm really on the fence with this team.
So to sum it all up, the Dolphins record could be anywhere from at worst 8-8 to at best 11-5, depending on who the quarterback is and how healthy he is. The Dolphins finishing 8-8 would be a good sign, though, since it would be their first .500 season since 2008 and will likely mean that they went young at quarterback and there is still room to grow.