Final Game-by-Game Predictions for the Miami Dolphins' 2012 Season
But these numbers don't account for any variables, such as the Buffalo Bills adding Mario Williams and Stephen Gilmore—two key ingredients to their playoff push.
In actuality, the Dolphins schedule looks increasingly difficult as the season opener nears. The losses of David Garrard, Chad Johnson, Vontae Davis and Artis Hicks also make some shoo-in wins more tightly contested matchups (i.e. Week 9 at Indianapolis).
Last season, I correctly predicted the 'Phins would finish 6-10.
How do I see their season playing out in 2012?
Here's a look.
Week 1: Miami Dolphins at Houston Texans
The Miami Dolphins have never defeated the Houston Texans, and that winless trend won't end this year.
On the heels of the first playoff victory in franchise history, the Texans have a full head of steam entering the 2012 season. With a top-10 offensive line, the NFL's second-ranked rushing attack and second-ranked defense, the Texans have the pieces to make a deep playoff run, and they are a vastly superior team.
However, the Dolphins match up with the Texans better than you might think.
For starters, Houston's passing attack is slowly regressing. Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter are the only Texans wide receivers with more than two years of NFL experience. On top of that, tight end Owen Daniels still hasn't quite regained form since tearing his ACL in 2009.
Sean Smith should be able to, at the very least, contain Johnson, and Miami's defensive line can give Foster and Tate some problems. The Texans, like the Dolphins, employ a zone-blocking scheme, so Miami's defense is used to seeing the techniques Houston's line will utilize.
While the Dolphins might be able to limit the Texans' offensive output, they're going to have issues scoring. Last season, the Texans defense ranked fourth against the run and third against the pass. Brooks Reed, J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing and Jonathan Joseph won't have issues stopping Ryan Tannehill and his slacking supporting cast.
Score: Dolphins 10 - Texans 21
Week 2: Miami Dolphins vs. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders and Dolphins are in very similar situations right now. Both teams hired new head coaches this offseason as they try to wipe the slate clean, start fresh and rebuild. There's only one distinct difference: the Raiders hired a new GM (sigh).
Reports from Raiders camp cast a pessimistic outlook for Carson Palmer, but he's not the key to their success—Darren McFadden is. McFadden has missed 12 games in the last two years (23 in his four NFL seasons). Last season, the Raiders were 4-3 with him and 4-5 without him.
The Raiders have an uncannily fast stable of wide receivers. Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, Jacoby Ford and Rod Streater all recorded 40-yard dash times in between 4.27 and 4.42. Second-year running back Taiwan Jones also recorded a blazing 40-time of 4.27. If the Raiders choose to emphasize their vertical passing game, then the Dolphins suspect secondary could be exposed.
Ryan Tannehill will have a chance to generate some fireworks against the Raiders' 28th-ranked defense. Oakland has a very pedestrian pass rush that mustered 39 sacks last season, so this might be Tannehill's first opportunity to really show us what he's capable of.
This has the makings of a close game, and this is where Joe Philbin's uptempo practices will come into play. The average temperature in Miami in mid-September is 89 degrees, while the average in Oakland is a brisk 74 degrees. Add humidity into the equation, and the Dolphins are at an advantage.
Score: Dolphins 20 - Raiders 17
Week 3: Miami Dolphins vs. New York Jets
Things are mostly bleak and depressing in Dolphins headquarters right now, but the mood isn't much better in New York.
The Jets didn't score a touchdown until their fourth preseason game (yes, you read that right), and it didn't even occur with Mark Sanchez or Tim Tebow on the field—it was third-string QB Greg McElroy throwing a pass to sixth-round pick Terrance Ganaway (who was waived and claimed by the St. Louis Rams).
So far, the Dolphins look awfully smart for firing Tony Sparano, and the Jets look awfully dumb for hiring him as their offensive coordinator in this pass-happy NFL climate.
Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow have fewer weapons at their disposal than Ryan Tannehill does, and they don't have much better pass protection either. Santonio Holmes and Shonn Greene are the Jets' most dangerous weapons, and there's no reason the 'Phins can't blanket both.
Despite their offensive ineptitude, the Jets secondary is still one of the league's finest. Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie will have no problems shutting down Tannehill and his wide receiver corps. In order to win this game, the Dolphins need to effectively run the ball against Gang Green's 13th-ranked rushing defense.
Score: Dolphins 13 - Jets 10
Week 4: Miami Dolphins at Arizona Cardinals
The Dolphins struggles to find a franchise quarterback are well documented, but at least they've avoided some huge busts along the way. Brady Quinn and Matt Flynn come to mind, as does Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb.
One year after signing a six-year, $65-million contract with Arizona, Kolb lost his starting job to former fifth-round pick John Skelton. Although he's not a big name, Skelton went 5-2 down the stretch last season. He's surrounded by a pair of promising running backs in Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, and of course, he's got Larry Fitzgerald.
The key to victory is shutting down Fitzgerald, but that's an impossible task. Instead, the Dolphins must aim to contain him. Sean Smith has the tools to do the job, but it still remains to be seen whether he'll regain 2010 form or continue in the downward spiral he stumbled into last season.
Playing this game in Arizona will work against the Dolphins' favor. They lost their only West Coast game last season (Week 4 at San Diego), and the Cardinals went 6-2 at home.
Score: Cardinals 21 - Dolphins 13
Week 5: Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals
Under the direction of rookie Andy Dalton, the Bengals improved from 4-12 to 9-7 and clinched a Wild Card playoff berth. This is an inspirational tale for the Dolphins, but they're lacking one vital component to such a turnaround—a dominant playmaker like A.J. Green.
Again, Sean Smith will be tasked with shutting down a topflight wide receiver. If Smith is up to the task, then the Dolphins chances of winning increase greatly. Aside from Green, the Bengals offense is mostly devoid of weapons with the exception of mid-tier players BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Jermaine Gresham.
Even if the 'Phins can tame the Bengals offense, they're going to have a tough time scoring on their seventh-ranked defense, which surrendered only 20.2 points per game last season. Kevin Coyle spent 11 years as Cincinnati's defensive backs coach, so he should be able to provide some valuable intel.
Still, the Dolphins need a rookie quarterback to defeat a superior team on the road, and the odds are stacked against them.
Score: Dolphins 17 - Bengals 27
Week 6: Miami Dolphins vs. St Louis Rams
Does anybody still blame Jeff Fisher for choosing the Rams over the Dolphins?
Although the Dolphins offer superiority in everything from destination to history to facilities, their front office is an embarrassment, and Fisher was wise to say "thanks but no thanks."
Although Sam Bradford hit the sophomore wall last season, he has the makings of a franchise quarterback. The Rams added rookies Isaiah Pead and Brian Quick in April's draft to give Bradford some viable weapons to go along with Steven Jackson and second-year tight end Lance Kendricks.
St. Louis' defense has made tremendous strides this offseason thanks to the additions of ex-Dolphin Kendall Langford, draft picks Michael Brockers, Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson, and blue-chip free agent Cortland Finnegan. Merging these additions with Chris Long and James Laurinatis gives the Rams a great defensive nucleus, one that can shut down Miami's rushing and passing attack.
Nobody is talking about the Rams, but their roster is replenished with talent, and they're in position to make some noise in 2012.
Score: Rams 24 - Dolphins 16
Week 8: Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
The Dolphins return from their bye week to face the New York Jets for the second and final time.
On the heels of a three-game losing skid, the Dolphins need a break, and they'll get one. The Jets face the Patriots in New England in Week 7, a matchup that leans heavily in the Pats' favor. That game could be a demoralizing blowout loss for the Jets, leaving them in turmoil entering Week 8.
That's only a hypothetical scenario, but it's a very plausible one.
Either way, the Dolphins need to run the ball effectively in order to walk out of New York with a win. The Jets can and most likely will stack the box and send an array of creative blitzes at Ryan Tannehill, and his ability to stay composed will be the difference.
Score: Dolphins 17 - Jets 13
Week 9: Miami Dolphins at Indianapolis Colts
Don't underestimate the Indianapolis Colts.
For a team that literally started from scratch this offseason, they're in impressive shape. General manager Ryan Grigson and head coach Chuck Pagano replaced Peyton Manning with the most NFL-ready QB prospect in recent history, drafted a pair of athletic tight ends for him to throw to, re-signed Reggie Wayne and added a few more intriguing prospects (running back Vick Ballard, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton) through the draft.
Those tight ends, Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen, pose a matchup issue for the Dolphins, who have a longstanding issue covering opposing tight ends.
However, the Colts running game is a glaring question mark. Former first-round pick Donald Brown still hasn't justified his draft billing, and neither Delone Carter, Vick Ballard nor Mewelde Moore are particularly threatening weapons. The Dolphins front seven should have no issues shutting down this rushing attack, which will force Andrew Luck to win this game.
Ryan Tannehill also has to be on his A-game against Indy's defense, which you also shouldn't underestimate. Although it ranked 25th in the league last season, Dwight Freeney, Robert Mathis and Pat Angerer return. The Colts also added Vontae Davis and Tom Zbikowski to bolster a thin secondary.
Score: Dolphins 16 - Colts 17
Week 10: Miami Dolphins vs. Tennessee Titans
Entering Week 10 with a 3-5 record, the Dolphins are desperate for a victory against a young and budding Titans squad.
The Titans have a very promising offensive nucleus consisting of Jake Locker, Chris Johnson, first-round pick Kendall Wright, Kenny Britt and tight end Jared Cook, who's a sleeper to watch for in 2012. These players are blessed with one of the league's best offensive lines, which includes Pro Bowlers Michael Roos and Steve Hutchinson.
With a nice stable of playmakers and a fortified offensive line, the Titans won't have problems moving the football against the Dolphins defense. Add Jake Locker's mobility into the equation, and Kevin Coyle will have his hands full preparing for this game.
Tennessee's defense ranked just 18th in the league last season, but its outlook is brightening. The Titans forced five turnovers in a preseason tilt with the Cardinals, and Pro Football Focus pinpointed three of their defenders as breakout candidates.
The Titans are trending upwards as the Dolphins trend downwards, and the score of this game will reflect just that.
Score: Dolphins 14 - Titans 28
Week 11: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Led by Ryan Fitzpatrick, Fred Jackson, C.J. Spiller, Stevie Johnson and Mario Williams, the Bills have assembled a star-studded roster that should propel them into playoff contention.
Although the Bills lost eight of their last nine games in 2011, Fitzpatrick played all of those games with a pair of cracked ribs. By signing superstar Mario Williams, Buffalo has effectively erased the stench from that foul stretch and generated positive momentum heading into 2012.
The Bills also added pass-rusher Mark Anderson and first-round pick Stephen Gilmore to a rapidly improving defense. Their defensive line—consisting of Williams, Anderson, Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams—is now one of league's most fearsome.
Even the league's best defensive lines will struggle to manage this defensive front, so the Dolphins young, unstable line most definitely will too.
The Bills can also utilize C.J. Spiller—who rushed for 91 yards on 12 carries, caught nine passes for 76 yards and tacked on two touchdowns against the 'Phins in Week 14 of last season—to create mismatches against Miami's playmaker-less defense.
The Dolphins will lose their only primetime game of the season.
Score: Bills 30 - Dolphins 10
Week 12: Miami Dolphins vs. Seattle Seahawks
Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson come from different ends of the NFL draft spectrum, but both managed to fight their ways into starting roles.
Seattle is abuzz with Wilson-mania. Its lovable third-round pick unseated pricey free-agent Matt Flynn with strong play throughout the preseason. Wilson is surrounded by a decent supporting cast that includes Marshawn Lynch, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, Braylon Edwards and tight end Zach Miller.
On defense, the 'Hawks have a core of playmakers, including safeties Earl Thomas (who the Dolphins could've had in the 2010 draft but opted to trade down with the Chargers instead) and Kam Chancellor, defensive end Chris Clemons and first-round pick Bruce Irvin. Their starting cornerbacks, Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman, measure in at 6'4" and 6'3" respectively.
This defense quietly finished in the top 10 last season.
The Seahawks were 3-5 on the road last season, and they're 1-3 on the East Coast under Pete Carroll. Traveling all the way to Miami with a rookie quarterback stacks the odds against Seattle's favor, but they'll be coming off of their bye week.
Score: Dolphins 24 - Seahawks 27
Week 13: Miami Dolphins vs. New England Patriots
The Patriots pose matchup problems for the Dolphins across the board.
It'll take the 'Phins a few years to compile the personnel required to slow Tom Brady and his arsenal of weapons. In two meetings with the Dolphins last season, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 24 receptions for 300 yards and two touchdowns.
Considering the Dolphins didn't do anything to bolster their secondary, both tight ends will have field days again. And don't forget about the addition of Brandon Lloyd, who will only further strain Miami's defensive backs.
Although the Patriots defense ranked 31st in the league last season, the Dolphins don't have the firepower to keep up with New England's offense.
The Dolphins have only beaten the Patriots in New England once since 2005, and that trend will continue this season.
Score: Patriots 34 - Dolphins 13
Week 14: Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers
For the second consecutive week, the Dolphins are matched up against a Super Bowl favorite. This Sunday, it's the San Francisco 49ers, who restocked their offense with playmakers this offseason in an attempt to elevate their 26th-ranked offense.
Alex Smith's new toys include Randy Moss, Mario Manningham, first-round pick A.J. Jenkins, third-round pick LaMichael James and Brandon Jacobs. With Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter, Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis already in the fold, the 49ers now boast one of the league's deepest offenses.
With this supporting cast and the league's best defense, Smith simply needs to protect the football and manage the game. Because the Dolphins lack playmakers on defense, they'll struggle to force turnovers, which will allow Smith to accomplish both goals.
The Dolphins will predictably struggle against the 49ers offense, but their real issues will arise against the 49ers defense. Patrick Willis, Justin Smith, Aldon Smith and company will terrorize Ryan Tannehill throughout the afternoon.
Ultimately, the 'Phins don't stand a chance in this one.
Score: Dolphins 9 - 49ers 24
Week 15: Miami Dolphins vs. Jacksonville Jaguars
After a grueling slate of games, the Dolphins finally meet an opponent that they match up favorably with. However, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be no cakewalk.
The Jaguars are starting to build a formidable roster after years of atrocity. Under the guidance of new head coach Mike Mularkey, Blaine Gabbert looked like a competent NFL quarterback in the preseason. Gabbert still has to perform when it actually counts, but it's a positive sign nonetheless.
A primary factor for Gabbert's poor play last season was the absence of a passable supporting cast. The additions of wide receivers Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson will go a long way towards improving the league's worst passing offense, and Maurice Jones-Drew and preseason star Rashad Jennings give Jacksonville a topflight rushing attack.
Believe it or not, the Jaguars defense ranked sixth in the NFL last season. Their ranking may have been inflated because teams jumped out early and milked the clock, but this is still a solid unit.
Overall, the Jaguars are much better than most give them credit for. However, the Dolphins shouldn't have problems with Gabbert and his unproven wide receiver corps, and Ryan Tannehill can get comfortable against a defense that registered only 31 sacks in 2011.
Score: Dolphins 27 - Jaguars 17
Week 16: Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills
The Dolphins end their season with back-to-back games against divisional foes, starting with the Bills in Week 16.
At this point in the season, the Dolphins are playing spoiler, and the Bills may be vying for a playoff spot. Despite the gap in talent between these two teams, the 'Phins swept the season series last year, and that has to count for something.
Plus, Ryan Fitzpatrick still needs to prove he's worth $59 million, and Buffalo's wide receiver corps is very weak behind Stevie Johnson.
In order to defeat the Bills, the Dolphins need great play from their offensive line above all else, but they just don't have the personnel to get it. The 'Phins will put up a fight in their home finale; unfortunately, it won't be enough to topple a superior Bills squad.
Score: Dolphins 21 - Bills 23
Week 17: Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots
Barring a devastating injury to Tom Brady, the Patriots will walk through the regular season and capture the AFC East crown once again.
Bill Belichick doesn't like resting his starters, so Brady, Wes Welker and New England's offense will be out in full force for this season finale. The Dolphins have gathered some momentum from two consecutive wins, but they're still no match for a Patriots team that's looking ahead to the playoffs.
Not to mention that late-December brings frigid temperatures and swirling winds to New England, which puts the Dolphins at yet another disadvantage.
Score: Patriots 30 - Dolphins 20
Final Record: 4-12
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