Taking a line from the old game show Match Game with Gene Reyburn: "The Miami Dolphins 2009 regular season schedule is sooo tough..."
The audience yells back, "How tough is it?"
Reyburn: "It is sooo tough, that (blank)."
Well, acording to analysts at NFL.com, the Dolphins have the toughest 2009 regular season schedule based on opponent records in 2008, and have, as 2008 playoff opponents, the Steelers, Chargers, Titans, Colts, Panthers, and Falcons in 2009.
One reason for this perceived toughness is that the AFC East plays the AFC South—a very tough division down to the losing Jaguars—and the NFC South, which had no team go under .500.
In fact, the Dolphins play only two teams with losing records, the Jags and the Bills, who went 5-11 and 7-9, respectively, last year. They play two .500 teams: the Texans and the Saints, and they have never beaten the Texans.
However, when the 2008 schedule came out earlier that year, the Dolphins' schedule didn't look that easy. First of all, they had to play the AFC Champ, the almost undefeated Patriots, twice. They also had the Chargers (12-4 the year before), and the Seahawks, who won the NFC West in 2007 at 10-6.
So, that was four games against playoff teams. They also played the Texans and the Cardinals, who both went .500. Thus, it was certainly easier than their 2009 schedule, but not the even easier one that they did wind up having, perhaps thanks to Tom Brady's injury.
So, maybe Miami's schedule won't be that tough when games actually start to be played. Analyzing where and when the games are played, one can see that maybe, all predictions of doom aside, the Dolphins can finish out in the playoffs again this year.
Week One, at Atlanta: Though the Falcons were very hard to beat at home last year, neither the Falcons nor Fins will be surprised at how much each has improved. The big factor here is will Matt Ryan play wonderfully the way he did in 2008, or will he have a sophomore slump? This game could go either way, but because I know the Dolphins will be better in 2009, I will pick them to win.
Week Two, Indianapolis: Last year, having just come to the Dolphins from the Jets because of Brett Favre, Chad Pennington almost pulled the Jet game out of the hat late in the fourth quarter, as the new, improved Miami D had their first game against one
of the true NFL greats, Favre.
This year, they will again have the home opener against an NFL great, Peyton Manning. I see Miami's D getting better than last year, especially now that Gibril Wilson is in the secondary. This game will be close, but I can see the Dolphins winning it.
Week Three, at San Diego: It has been a long time since the Chargers have beaten the Dolphins, in San Diego as well as in Miami. If the Fins can stop Peyton, they can stop Philip as well. The Fins held LT to little yardage the past year and Darren Sproles didn't do a whole lot better, and who can forget that great goal line stand late in the fourth quarter that iced the game for the Sparanos?
The Bolts are great on paper, but games aren't played on paper, so chalk up another probable win for the Dolphins. The only thing the Bolts have in their favor is home advantage and needing a win because they play the Steelers the following week. But let's see if they can come out of the tough Ravens game unscathed.
Week Four, Buffalo: The Bills are coming off the Pats, Bucs, and Saints, whereas the Fins are coming off three of 2008's playoff teams. If they haven't gotten themselves in gear by now, the Bills should provide a game to do so, even with TO. Who knows? Ted Ginn might be the big playmaker in this game. Since it's in Miami, I can't see the Fins losing here.
Week Five, NY Jets: Another home game. The Jets are coming off the Texans, Pats, Titans, and Saints, and could easily be 2-2 at this point, or even better. (Meanwhile, the Pats just might be 4-0 at this point, or at least 3-1, because mostly they are at home and against only the Ravens and Falcons from the playoffs, both at home. So both Fins and Jets need a win here.)
Last year, the Jets won in Miami and the Fins won in NY. This year, I see it going the other way, and give this to the Fins.
Week Six: Bye.
Week Seven, New Orleans: Since they are coming off a bye week and will have already faced a couple of the league's best quarterbacks, I see no reason why they can't beat Drew Brees as well.
Week Eight, at New York Jets: The Jets will have played the Bills at home and the Raiders in Oakland by then. As with the first meeting, this game could go either way, but I am willing to concede that the Fins will lose in NY.
Week Nine, at New England: Since the Pats are coming off a bye week after having played in London, England, I will give this game to the Pats. The Fins, however, did beat the Pats in Gillette last year. So, who knows? I will not give the rematch to the
Pats in Miami, however.
At this point in the season, I see the Dolphins at 6-2 or 5-3. The Pats are in about the same boat, with the Jets maybe a game behind, and the Bills two or three behind. Now the hard part comes, because some of their toughest opponents coming up are road games. BTW, the Fins were 6-2 on the road in 2008 (losses to Texans and Cardinals), and 5-3 at home (losses to Pats, Jets, and Ravens).
Week 10, Tampa Bay: Perhaps coming off two straight losses to division rivals, the Fins must win this game, and they will, Leftwich or not.
Week 11, at Carolina: This might be the toughest game to call, and all I can say is much depends on what kind of game Jake Delhomme has. The only real advantage the Panthers have is that it is very hard to beat them at home.
Now, the Panthers, prior to 2008 were, on the whole, about as mediocre as the Dolphins had been. Much also depends on whether or not the Panthers are still competitive at this point. I looked at the Panthers' schedule up to week 11, and if you think the Fins schedule is a killer, you should see theirs. Based just on that possibility, I will lean toward the Dolphins on this one.
Week 12, at Buffalo: Now we have to start taking weather as a consideration, and I can hear Dolphins fans yapping about, "Why do we have to play in Buffalo in late November?" Well, the Dolphins beat the KC Chiefs last year in single-digit temps and minus temp wind chills, so I don't see what the big deal is. Give this one to the Fins. By now the Bills will be out of the running.
Week 13, New England: I gave the road game to the Pats, so I give the home game to the Dolphins. BTW, I see both teams about even at either 9-3 or 8-4, or maybe the Pats will beat the Colts after all in week 10 and be a game ahead going into this game. They should be about even afterwards.
Week 14, at Jacksonville: By this time in their schedule, the Jags should be looking more like the 2007 team than the 2008 team. Still, the AFC South being what it is, and David Girard being what he is, I can see the Fins pulling this one out. Besides, they have the Titans and Steelers coming up. They will need this win badly.
Week 15, at Tennessee: The Titans may or may not be as good as they were last season with Kerry Collins a year older and no Albert Haynesworth. But I think all else being equal, the Titans, at home, will want and need this one more, so I give this one to the Titans.
Week 16, Houston: Finally, the Dolphins beat the Texans. There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.
Week 17, Pittsburgh: Do not assume the Dolphins can't beat the Steelers! I can just hear Joey Porter's mouth flapping again on this one, and as usual, backing up what he says. Besides, by now the Steelers will already have clinched their division. Further, when the Fins were a laughingstock in 2007, they held the Steelers to three points! In Pittsburgh! So, yes, the Dolphins WILL beat the Steelers at home.
Conclusion: Despite this very tough schedule, the Dolphins will wind up, IMHO, at anywhere from 10-6 to 12-4, based on my somewhat biased look at their 2009 outcomes. While, if they go 10-6, they could miss the playoffs, I see it more likely that
they will finish 11-5 again and make the playoffs, albeit as a wild card team, with the Patriots winning the AFC East for maybe the last time in years.
The future indeed belongs to the Dolphins.