The preseason is underway, so the time is ripe for premature predictions about the regular season.
New head coach Joe Philbin is preparing for his first season at the helm of the Dolphins, installing a new philosophy and pruning the roster to his liking. The team will look different on the field, with a few new faces and a more high-tempo offense.
The major question mark for the Dolphins' squad is the quarterback, and it may be a few weeks yet before either David Garrard, Matt Moore or Ryan Tannehill is named as the Week 1 starter.
The coaches will choose the player who gives the team the best chance to win, with all choices being reasonably equal with the possible exception of Tannehill, the rookie. My point is that I based my assumptions on what I know about Miami's offensive scheme, and not which QB they select. There wouldn't be a difference between them in terms of my predictions.
Without further ado, here are my game-by-game prediction for the Miami Dolphins' 2012 season:
Aside from the Patriots, Miami could not have drawn a worse team to open the season with.
Houston fields a potential top-five offense that will have all of its weapons healthy and fresh, with a borderline elite defense.
This will be a rematch of last season's Week 2 game, when the Texans came away with a 23-13 victory on a late Matt Schaub dagger to Andre Johnson. The game had been close throughout, but Miami's sputtering offense too often settled for field goals instead of putting themselves in a position to win.
The Dolphins hope that their offense plays a little better this season, but facing Wade Phillips' stout defensive unit will make the opening week a tough one for this developing group. Even worse will be when Miami hands the ball over to Schaub, Johnson and Arian Foster, who can be as deadly of an offensive trio as any in the league.
Miami is strong up front defensively, but their young secondary will struggle to keep up with Houston's aerial attack.
Expect it to be a long day for the Dolphins on both sides of the ball, but it won't be a blowout by any means.
Prediction: Dolphins 17, Texans 28
Miami then heads home for another rematch from 2011, this time against the Oakland Raiders.
The two teams met in early December, with Miami running the hapless Raiders off of the field. The final score was 34-14, and it wasn't even that close. The Dolphins dominated on offense and defense to jump out to a 34-0 lead, and Oakland added two late Carson Palmer touchdown passes.
The Raiders will have their shot at redemption in the sweltering Miami September midday heat. Oakland returns Darren McFadden and Denarius Moore, two key offensive weapons that missed last season's matchup with injuries.
While the Dolphins will see a tougher challenge from Palmer and the Raider offense this time around, Oakland's middle-of-the-pack defense should give Miami some matchups to exploit. Expect Reggie Bush and Davone Bess to find the holes in the Raider defense, as they were able to do last season.
Prediction: Raiders 13, Dolphins 20
No matter what the stakes, Dolphins vs. Jets is always a closely contested game between two teams very familiar with each other.
When these two teams last met, the Dolphins eliminated New York from playoff contention with a 19-17 victory on the last day of the regular season.
The Jets feature a new-look offense, engineered by former Dolphins head coach Tony Sparano, that will run the ball heavily and feature dual threat Tim Tebow in a wildcat role. This gives New York a lot of versatility in play calling and can give the Dolphins' defense many different looks.
But no matter what the Jets throw at the Dolphins, it will come down to the abilities of Tebow, embattled QB Mark Sanchez, and underwhelming tailback Shonn Greene to execute against the stout Miami defense.
Miami will be able to force mistakes on that side of the ball, and their offense should have enough success against Rex Ryan's multiple front defensive scheme to pull this one out.
Prediction: Jets 20, Dolphins 23
Now 2-1, the Dolphins head to the desert to face the Cardinals.
At this point in time, Miami and Arizona are not too different from each other; solid defenses, uncertainty at quarterback, and a hodgepodge of skill players that aren't flashy but can get the job done.
The advantage that the Cardinals have wears No.11 and can take over the game at any point, all-world wideout Larry Fitzgerald.
The advantage that the Dolphins have is while they may be equally unsettled at the quarterback position, any of their three options are superior to either Kevin Kolb or John Skelton, the Cardinals' choices.
Miami can schematically contain Fitzgerald considering he can only be as good as the player he has throwing to him, and the Dolphins have the ability to bottle up the run game and create pressure for either Kolb or Skelton.
The Dolphins and Cardinals may be similar teams, but Miami will use their edge at quarterback and good defense to secure the victory.
Prediction: Dolphins 27, Cardinals 19
The Bengals rode their surprising rookie duo of QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green along with a solid defense to a wild card berth last season.
Unfortunately for them, they lost leading rusher Cedric Benson and second leading receiver Jerome Simpson. They downgraded both spots with former RB Patriot BenJarvus Green-Ellis and rookie WR Mohamed Sanu.
Cincinnati has a talented squad and a bright future, but expect them to take a step back this season.
Miami will be able to contain Green and tight end Jerome Gresham enough to keep the game manageable, and allow their offense a chance to work against a strong Bengals defensive line and secondary.
Miami has better players in the backfield, and Chad Johnson might be a little extra motivated in his return to Paul Brown Stadium. The Dolphins will make just enough plays to emerge victorious in a grind-out game.
Prediction: Dolphins 20, Bengals 17
The Dolphins will get a crack at Jeff Fisher, the coach that spurned them this offseason, in a matchup with the St. Louis Rams.
As good of a coach as Fisher might be, he doesn't have many good cards in his hand with his new team. An aging running back, big question marks at receiver and quarterback, and a below average defense suggest another tough year for the Rams.
Still, they have some promising young players and shouldn't be discounted. But I fully expect the Dolphins to have plenty of success on both sides of the ball.
Miami hits their stride against an overall inferior opponent and coasts into their bye week at 5-1.
Prediction: Rams 10, Dolphins 35
The Dolphins get their second matchup against the Jets out of the way early. I fully expect the Jets to have a tough, disjointed year due to poor quarterback play and a difficult schedule.
That doesn't mean they aren't a talented team, and a home game against a familiar foe could be just what the doctor ordered.
Jets' offensive coordinator Tony Sparano gets his second chance to beat the team that fired him. He doesn't have an arsenal of impressive weapons, but his offensive line will get a push and he will pound the ball with Shonn Greene and Tim Tebow.
A balanced use of the Tebow-run wildcat and effective defensive play will propel Gang Green to a victory in this game. Don't expect the Dolphins to have repeat of the mistake-laden 24-6 debacle that was their 2011 trip to MetLife Stadium, but the Jets will flash their potential in this game.
Prediction: Dolphins 14, Jets 23
Many fans called for the Dolphins to 'Suck for Luck' last year, tanking games for a chance to select heralded QB Andrew Luck in the draft. Of course, Matt Moore's late season hot hand dashed any chances of that happening. Miami gets a close look at what they missed out on
Much like the Rams, the Colts have a bright future and some promising young talent on the roster. But, also like the Rams, the Colts will be over-matched much of this season.
This game will be no different. Indianapolis' defense, in particular, will suffer from a lack of veteran talent and an abrupt scheme change that doesn't fit all of their personnel. Miami should be able to control the tempo of the game and score enough points to win.
Miami's defense will face a challenge with star rookie QB Andrew Luck. He is truly NFL-ready and can make all the reads and throws that the position requires. What he doesn't have, however, is many good, experienced complements.
The Dolphins will stifle the running game early and force Luck to play catchup, and they should comfortably beat a Colts team built for the future.
Prediction: Dolphins 24, Colts 10
Tennessee is a good all-around team, and could make some waves in the AFC if Chris Johnson returns to form. Like Miami, they haven't chosen a starting quarterback yet but both of their options can lead them to victories
The Tennessee Titans are not a great team. But they are very good.
They are still deciding whether their reliable veteran, Matt Hasselbeck, or their talented young gun, Jake Locker, will start this season. Either way, this team was just on the outside of the playoffs in 2011 and will be very competitive again this season.
If RB Chris Johnson and WR Kenny Britt can return to their normal levels of dominance, the Titans have a chance to push the Texans for the division or a wild card.
Their defense is solid, especially in the secondary, and will give any of Miami's quarterbacks plenty of problems. Unless Miami can get Reggie Bush or Lamar Miller in space early and often, they will struggle to find an effective way to attack this group.
Overall, the Titans are better team than the Dolphins. Miami will still play them tough, in a game with two grinding offenses and only a couple of playmakers. In the end, the production of Johnson and the steady QB play will be just too much for the Dolphins.
Prediction: Titans 16, Dolphins 13
The Bills had a great offseason in terms of revamping their defense, a group that struggled mightily in the back half of 2011. The key to getting it done on the actual field is good coaching. That is where they made their best move in adding longtime coach Dave Wannstedt
Now 6-3, the Dolphins head to Western New York to play the division rival Bills.
For the first time in a while, the Bills have genuine expectations for them going into a season. This is based on an offseason haul of defensive talent, including pass-rushers Mario Williams and Mark Anderson through free agency and cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the draft.
Combined with some quality existing pieces, the Bills defense looks really good on paper. Often, winning free agency championships doesn't lead to immediate success on the field (Read: 2011 Eagles).
Perhaps the most valuable addition to the Bills defense is new coordinator Dave Wannstedt. Wannstedt is a experienced coach who will give this unit their best chance to be truly special.
That all being said, the Dolphins will have difficulties finding much space offensively. The Bills have all the tools to mitigate anything that Miami can throw at them, and the Ralph Wilson Stadium crowd will be in a frenzy now that they have a potential contender.
A tough day at the office for the Miami Dolphins results in a resounding victory for the Bills.
Prediction: Dolphins 10, Bills 28
Like much of 2011, it's tough to know what to expect when the Seahawks take the field. They face potential problems at a number of positions, but they have a defensive group that can put together a good game and lead their team to victory
Miami returns home to host the Seattle Seahawks, where they could potentially face Matt Flynn, the quarterback who spurned the Dolphins this offseason.
Seattle hasn't declared a winner of their three-way QB competition yet, and they face issues at wide receiver and running back with the potential suspension of Marshawn Lynch.
There is no telling how Seattle will play on the field this season. Even last year, they alternated between nearly-helpless and competitive.
Side by side, the Dolphins look like a superior team than the Seahawks. But Seattle has an underrated defense and an offense that can catch a team off guard. The Dolphins fall victim to this.
Prediction: Seahawks 23, Dolphins 10
The Dolphins have had Tom Brady's kryptonite over the years more than basically any other team in the league, but that still only results in about one win every two years. New England's dominance in the AFC East continues to go largely unchallenged
The Dolphins wait until December to face the mighty Patriots for the first time, but this is usually the time of year when Tom Brady and friends are reeling off an extended winning streak.
Miami, like few other teams of such low recent stature, has had success toppling the giants of their division from time to time. No matter how poorly the Dolphins play, they find a way to surprise New England and pull off an unlikely victory once every couple of years.
This will not be one of those times.
The Dolphins did not adequately address the Gronkowski/Hernandez problem nor are they, like any other team, fully equipped to stop Wes Welker. Patriots newcomer WR Brandon Lloyd is expected to make an immediate impact as well.
How well Miami's offense stacks up against the Patriots' defense is frankly a moot point. The Dolphins had two of their better offensive turnouts of 2011 in the games against New England and they were simply outscored.
Prediction: Patriots 37, Dolphins 20
The Dolphins' offense is based on creating mismatches. They will not be able to accomplish this when they play San Fransisco, as linebackers Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman can cover slot receivers and backs, while playing the run
This is a group utterly stacked at every spot, and is returning all starters from 2011. They are nearly impossible to run the ball against, and their cover-corners and pass-rushers present a nearly impossible challenge to all but the best of quarterbacks.
Naturally, my point is that the Dolphins will be out of their league when their offense is on the field. It won't make much of a difference which of the three quarterbacks starts, they don't have enough individual playmakers to score enough to win.
Justin and Aldon Smith will cause havoc for Miami's offensive line, and Patrick Willis and Navarro Bowman are the best all-around middle linebacker duo in the game. Their horizontal pursuit will negate many of the things Miami is hoping to do offensively, including getting their best weapons out on the perimeter.
Miami's own defense will keep them in it, but it will result in another loss.
Prediction: Dolphins 10, 49ers 19
The Jaguars are not a very good team. They are in the midst of a rebuilding effort, but their poor passing attack keeps their above average running game and defense from leading to victories
For those not keeping count, that is a five game losing streak for the Dolphins. A welcome respite for Miami comes in the form of a visit by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Jacksonville is a team that is plodding through their rebuilding process. Their success in 2012 is based on the hope that second year quarterback Blaine Gabbert takes a major leap. They had the league's leading rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew, but the ineptitude of the passing game left the Jags with a 5-11 record.
Gabbert may progress a little, but his lack of weapons will keep that growth in check and prevent the Jaguars from becoming a competitive team.
Miami's defense will victimize Gabbert, forcing turnovers and putting their offense in position to put up points. There isn't a facet of the game where Jacksonville has the advantage, with the exception of the power running game. With Miami's strong defensive front, Jones-Drew's impact will be minimized.
Miami coasts to a victory.
Prediction: Jaguars 7, Dolphins 34
Miami had one of their best games of the year when the Bills came to town, but it won't be nearly as easy this season. The Dolphins may now be the inferior team, but they will prove this season that they belong on the field with anyone.
The Dolphins face the Bills again in South Beach, which was a thorough 35-8 victory for Miami last season. As mentioned earlier, the Bills made changes in the offseason that will prevent a margin like that from being repeated.
Buffalo will likely at least be in the postseason hunt and, if my predictions hold true, Miami is on the fringe of playoff contention. This means both teams have something to play for.
The Bills are well-equipped to handle the Dolphins' offensive attack. But Miami has a strong defense too, and can contain Buffalo's mediocre offense. In a defensive game, Miami will pull out a thin victory in their home finale.
Prediction: Bills 14, Dolphins 16
The Patriots will play in another nearly-meanigless season finale, but the Dolphins won't be given a break. Miami ends another playoff-free season with a disappointing loss in New England
The Dolphins make their (seemingly) annual December trip to chilly New England.
The Patriots will have the division title and a high AFC seed wrapped up at this point, and don't have much to play for. I have the Dolphins at 8-7, with the playoffs likely out of reach.
The Patriots will start Brady and all of their dynamic offensive weapons, and throttle the Dolphins at home once again.
The backups eventually enter, but after the outcome is decided.
Prediction: Dolphins 9, Patriots 24
The Dolphins finish 8-8, missing the playoffs for the fourth straight season.