Power Ranking the Most Important Games on the Miami Dolphins 2013 Schedule

Thomas GaliciaFeatured Columnist IVJuly 25, 2013

Power Ranking the Most Important Games on the Miami Dolphins 2013 Schedule

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    Excited for football season, Dolfans?

    You have every reason to be! This year looks like at least a very exciting year for Miami Dolphins football for the first time in a long time.

    After a free-agent spending spree came, what looks like a great draft that should set the Dolphins up for a good next five years. Training camp is already underway in Davie and the only question that remains is what will happen once we play the games.

    I won't answer that here, however, I will count down each and every one of the 16 games on the Miami Dolphins' schedule in a power ranking based off of the excitement generated by the game, how good the opposing team is, the stories that surround the game (for now, a lot can change until then) and, of course, the level of rivalry that surrounds the game.

    Plain and simple, it's the power rankings of each game on Miami's schedule based off of importance.

     

16. November 24th vs. Carolina Panthers

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    Last game vs. Panthers: 11/19/2009 (Dolphins 24, Panthers 17)

    All-time record vs. Panthers: 4-0

    There's only one team in the NFL that the Dolphins are undefeated against, and that's the Carolina Panthers.

    However, it's worth noting that they have only played four games against each other, with their last meeting coming in 2009.

    A lot has changed in the four years since that last meeting, which featured Ricky Williams as the leading rusher in the game for Miami (22 carries for 119 yards and two touchdowns) and Jake Delhomme as the leading passer in the game (19-of-42 227 yards, one touchdown and one interception).

    Cam Newton was spending his year at Blinn College at the time, while Ryan Tannehill was en route to being Texas A&M's leading receiver with 46 catches for 609 yards and four touchdowns.

    I think I've hammered in the point, it was a while ago. Why is it ranked at No. 16 despite the fact that Cam Newton's first appearance in South Florida is itself a draw? Well, look at the rest of the schedule. While the timing says stretch run, the real run will begin the next week when the Dolphins go on the road to face the Jets and Steelers on the road, followed by a trip back home to take on the Patriots, then finish off with a trip to Buffalo before closing the season at home against the Jets.

    The Panthers are simply the appetizer before a grueling stretch run, and while it will certainly be a huge game due to the time it's being played, it's not exactly one that we're looking forward to all too much.

    Especially when you consider the lack of history between the teams.

15. November 11th @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Last game vs. Buccaneers: 11/15/2009 (Dolphins 25, Buccaneers 23)

    All-time record vs. Buccaneers: 5-4

    Why doesn't Florida have a professional sports in-state rivalry as fierce as the college football in-state rivalries?

    The Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers can never manage to be good in the same season, so that's out. The Heat and Magic had potential two years ago, but with Dwight Howard being Dwight Howard and not only getting Stan Van Gundy fired but then getting traded to L.A., he killed any potential that might have had as well.

    Then with baseball and football, you have all of the Florida teams spread out in different divisions and conferences, meaning they never get the chance to face each other every year and build on that rivalry. With that being said, Dolphins vs. Bucs is somewhat underrated as a rivalry, mainly due to the fact that the two teams don't play each other every year.

    But there is animosity between the fanbases, as well as a mutual disdain for the Jacksonville Jaguars (clearly the third wheel of the NFL in Florida...send your hate mail here and leave the comments alone). Add in the number of Dolphins fans in Tampa (where the game takes place this season and should make for a very interesting crowd at Raymond James Stadium), as well as the fact that both of these two teams are on the rise, and you have a pretty good midseason Monday Night Football pairing. 

    But in terms of my power rankings? I have them at No. 15 because the two teams don't have any other connections to each other aside from simple geography. If they finish with the same record, it really won't make a difference. In fact, this game really doesn't count in any of the tiebreakers (but like every other NFL game is a must-win, this game is one either team can afford to lose more so than their conference and division games).

    It's about statewide bragging rights and nothing more. Obviously this game could be the difference between 9-7 and out and 10-6 and in the playoffs, but the division and conference games are a bit more important than this one.

14. September 22nd vs. Atlanta Falcons

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    Last game vs. Falcons: 09/13/09 (Falcons 19, Dolphins 7)

    All-time record vs. Falcons: 7-4 (last win: 12/30/01)

    Thanks to the NFL's scheduling rotation along with the fact that Chad Pennington was healthy for the start of the 2009 season, we were spared the Matt Ryan vs. Chad Henne matchup that would've made Dolphins fans puke.

    What we get here is Miami's home opener, which unfortunately will not be played at 1:00 p.m. ET to capitalize on the Falcons' dark red jerseys and the fact that they play indoors and therefore will not be used to South Florida's mid-September afternoon heat and humidity. Rather, this is for the comfort of the Dolphins fans, fans who would be perfectly comfortable with 97 degree heat and 100 percent humidity as long as the Dolphins are victorious in the end.

    Other than that, this is perhaps the first game the Dolphins will play against the NFL's elite (sorry Indianapolis, even with Andrew Luck and the fact that that game is ranked higher on the list, the Colts are not elite just yet). However, once again, the fact is that this isn't a divisional or conference game, so it ranks lower prioritywise despite the Matt Ryan subplot and the many what-if articles other news organizations might publish about the Dolphins drafting Matt Ryan instead of the recently departed Jake Long with the top pick in the 2008 draft.

13. September 30th @ New Orleans Saints

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    Last game vs. Saints: 10/25/09 (Saints 46, Dolphins 34)

    All-time record vs. Saints: 6-4 (last win: 10/30/05)

    There was no good that came from Miami's last game against the Saints.

    First off, since this matters, they couldn't be the team to derail a New Orleans undefeated run, which actually resulted in Greg Cote advising Dolphins fans to cheer for the Patriots (no, seriously) a few weeks later when Miami was only two games behind New England and would play them the following week. (I wrote about it too—here's the link).

    Miami was winning 24-3 going into halftime with the Saints about to kick a field goal. Tony Sparano called a timeout to ice the kicker (when it was a 19-yard field goal), and the Saints decided to go for the touchdown instead, meaning it would be 24-10 at halftime (because the Saints with Drew Brees and Sean Payton can't outscore any team by 14 in a half, especially not a Dan Henning-led offense).

    Keep this in mind, at the time, Sparano still had trust in South Florida: The Dolphins were defending AFC East champions and were 2-4 with Chad Henne about to hit his stride. Hell, Henne actually had a better game than Brees once you factor in turnovers (he threw one less interception) and nothing else.

    This game was a mini-turning point in the Sparano era. Could the 2013 rematch be a turning point in the Philbin era?

    Not really. Honestly, if the Dolphins are competitive in this game, I'll be happy. New Orleans, with Brees and Sean Payton, are just about unbeatable inside the Superdome. On a Monday Night? Forget about it, that's one of the most electric crowds, and for a team that will still be in their feeling out process, it will be a test—a test that I'm somewhat inclined to say they'll pass by holding their own without winning.

    It's a game to look forward to, as well as the Dolphins' first prime-time game since October of 2011. Out of their out-of-conference games, it is the most intriguing as well, however, overall, I'd put it at No. 13.

12. October 20th vs. Buffalo Bills

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    Last game vs. Bills: 12/23/12 (Dolphins 24, Bills 10)

    All-time record vs. Bills: 56-37-1

    I'll admit, I have this game ranked low mainly due to the timing. This is the first divisional game of the season for the Dolphins, and for a first divisional game, it comes fairly late in the season, even though it is only Week 7 and will be the Dolphins' sixth game of the year. I guess I'm just used to playing at least one divisional game in September though.

    As for this game's intriguing storylines, going by their early schedules, I actually expect the two teams to have a similar record going into the game. I already wrote about how I see the Dolphins finishing 11-5 after a slow start, but what I haven't told you (unless you've listened to the Dolphins Central podcast)is that the Bills are a sleeper team that I could actually see finishing 9-7 and beating the Patriots in Week 1.

    Now, the more intriguing game will come later in the season in Buffalo, but this one does have it's own merits, due mainly to the fact that it is a divisional game and the first divisional game as well. I look at this as a game that will set the tone in the division, but as a whole, in terms of most interesting games, it grabs my No. 12 spot, which should tell you exactly how intriguing and great the rest of Miami's schedule is.

11. November 17th vs. San Diego Chargers

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    Last game vs. Chargers: 10/2/11 (Chargers 26, Dolphins 16)

    All-time record vs. Chargers: 12-12 (Last win: 10/05/08)

    I usually like the Dolphins' chances when the circumstances involve a 1:00 p.m. ET home game against a West Coast opponent. The Chargers aren't any different in this case.

    Now, this game will likely be important in terms of playoff positioning and seeding. The Chargers are another team I see surprising some people and getting it together this season, simply because they upgraded at head coach.

    So once again, Chargers vs. Dolphins is interesting, as all of their games tend to be. The two teams are at .500 against one another not just in the regular season but even in the playoffs, and they have played some classic games against one another over the years.

    I don't see that changing here in 2013, for this game will be a fairly entertaining game to watch between two teams competing for playoff positioning in a possible playoff preview.

10. December 29th vs. New York Jets

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    Last game vs. Jets: 10/30/12 (Dolphins 30, Jets 9)

    All-time record vs. Jets: 44-49-1

    There's no guarantee that Mark Sanchez will play in this game or the one in The Meadowlands that's ranked higher. However, it's the butt fumble with Benny Hill music. No justification is needed for me using that video.

    With that being said, I have this ranked fairly low out of the sheer optimism that the Dolphins will go into this game at 10-5 with a playoff spot completely wrapped up, and probably the division too.

    The Jets, meanwhile, will want to lose this game since there's a chance that they'll probably be in a fight with Jacksonville for worst record in the league. The desire to beat the Dolphins likely won't be as strong with Marty Mornhinweg as the interim head coach (all bets are off if Rex is still there since that team will fight for him).

    Usually a season finale at home against the Jets would be one of the top five games of the year, but this season, they barely crack the top 10.

    Their earlier game, however, is a top-five game.

9. September 15th @ Indianapolis Colts

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    Last game vs. Colts: 11/4/12 (Colts 23, Dolphins 20)

    All-Time record vs. Colts: 44-25 (Last win: 9/15/2002)

    Seeing that we're going on 11 years since the Dolphins beat the Colts is a fairly stark reminder of how low the Dolphins have sunk this decade, especially considering their overall record against the Colts all time (from 1970-2001, the Colts were in the AFC East with the Dolphins).

    Last season's game was the first of what looks to be many marquee matchups between Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill, and after the nail-biter that game was along with the juicy second-year quarterback battle, one would think this would get a Monday night slot (or at the very least a Thursday night slot).

    Instead, it's a 1 p.m. ET Week 2 game, but that doesn't diminish it's importance, seeing as both of these teams hope to compete for a wild-card spot (or more) in the AFC this season.

     

8. October 31st vs. Cincinnati Bengals

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    Last game vs. Bengals: 10/7/12 (Dolphins 17, Bengals 13)

    All-Time Record vs. Bengals: 14-5

    Beating the Bengals on the road was one of Miami's signature victories of 2012, and based off of the schedule placement, looks like the marquee home game of 2013.

    Halloween night at Sun Life Stadium should be exciting game to be in the stands for, as many fans will likely dress up for the occasion in their best (or scariest) costumes and hopefully not as plastic orange seats.

    As for the action on the field, hopefully it isn't the typical Thursday night fare that we saw from the NFL as a whole in 2012, when we were treated to a series of games with very uneven performances. The good news is these games do tend to favor the home team, which Miami is in this contest.

    Overall in the AFC, this matchup is huge. The Bengals are favorites to win the AFC North, so seeding will likely be in play on Halloween night. It will, however, come off of Miami's first contest against New England, so there will be the possibility of a letdown game if Miami is victorious in Foxborough four days prior to this contest.

7. December 8th @ Pittsburgh Steelers

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    Last game vs. Steelers: 10/24/10 (Gene Steratore Steelers 23, Dolphins 22)

    All-time record vs. Steelers: 9-12 (Last win: 9/20/98)

    The strikethrough will be the last reference to the last meeting between these two teams, as Miami will visit Pittsburgh for the first time since 2007 when the two teams played in one of the ugliest games to ever be played.

    Hopefully this game won't have such ugly field conditions, nor will it be so excruciating to watch. It's Mike Wallace's homecoming game, and I'm sure he will want to show the Steelers why they should've committed to him long-term.

    It will also be a crucial game in the playoff race, with a good chance that the loser of this game will have a rougher road to the postseason ahead of them.

6. October 6th vs. Baltimore Ravens

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    Last game vs. Ravens: 11/7/10 (Ravens 26, Dolphins 10)

    All-Time Record vs. Ravens: 5-3 (Last win: 12/16/07)

    This is Miami's last game prior to the bye week, and if my predictions are correct, it will be an absolute must-win for the Dolphins.

    The Ravens are expected to contend for a playoff spot again in 2013, however they are right now an unknown commodity. Part of the reason for this is the departure of Dannell Ellerbe, who now resides in Miami with the Dolphins.

    This game also has a bit of city pride riding on it in light of some Ravens' trash talk directed towards the fanbase of the Miami Heat. I'd suggest the Dolphins use this game to honor the Miami Heat (something I must add the Dolphins have had yet to do in the three seasons the Heat have won a championship, which means Tim Tebow has been honored more by the Dolphins than Dwyane Wade), but alas, this likely won't come to pass.

     

5. October 27th @ New England Patriots

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    Last game vs. Patriots: 12/30/12 (Patriots 28, Dolphins 0)

    All-Time record vs. Patriots: 49-43 (Last win: 12/6/09)

    This is the first time this season the Dolphins face the Pats, and luckily it's in New England in the autumn instead of in the winter.

    As crazy as this sounds, this game isn't even the biggest test of Miami's first eight games, but it's the most important, if for no other reason than the fact that it is the New England Patriots.

    But it's not the most important game between the two teams.

4. December 1st @ New York Jets

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    Last game vs. Jets: 10/30/12 (Dolphins 30, Jets 9)

    All-time record vs. Jets: 44-49-1

    We already highlighted how the two teams will face off in the last game of the season. This game is more important, however, because it's a road game during a time when the playoff race will likely still be a bouillabaisse waiting to finish cooking in order to be served.

    Due to the game being on the road, it's likely this is a game where you will see the Jets play harder in an attempt to keep their AFC East rival out of the postseason. In fact, the Jets themselves might even have very faint postseason hopes of their own (by faint I mean they'd have to win this game, and every game thereafter, while at least two other teams pull a massive choke).

     

3. December 22nd @ Buffalo Bills

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    Last game vs. Bills: 12/23/12 (Dolphins 24, Bills 10)

    All-time record vs. Bills: 56-37-1

    You know you're a Dolphins fan that grew up in the late-80s to early-90s when the thought of Miami going up to Buffalo in December scares you.

    Yeah, this scares me to the point where I have this game ranked third over games against playoff teams and second among divisional games. Why do I have this game ranked so high?

    Let's start with Buffalo, who I see as a sleeper and has one heck of a home-field advantage, as we saw during the first meeting of these teams last season.

    Let's now add possible freezing temperatures and snow to the equation and the fact that neither Chan Gailey or Dave Wannstedt are anywhere near this team (meaning Buffalo is competently run for the first time in nearly a decade).

    Sound scary yet? It is to me.

    Miami might be able to go to the playoffs if they lose this game, but they certainly can't win the division with a loss at Buffalo.

2. December 15th vs. New England Patriots

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    Last game vs. Patriots: 12/30/12 (Patriots 28, Dolphins 0)

    All-Time record vs. Patriots: 49-43 (Last win: 12/6/09)

    Here's the more important Dolphins-Patriots game, if only because it comes later in the season, will likely be shifted to Sunday night and the winner of this game will win the AFC East.

    Seems simple enough, but it's still not the most important game, as the Dolphins will have to take their first step before even dreaming of a division crown.

1. September 9th @ Cleveland Browns

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    Last game vs. Browns: 9/25/11 (Browns 17, Dolphins 16)

    All-time record vs. Browns: 7-8 (Last win: 12/26/04)

    I can take the Dolphins going a decade and a half without beating the Steelers, a decade without beating the Manning-era Colts and eternity without beating the Texans.

    But to tell me Miami hasn't beaten the Cleveland Browns since 2004 almost seems like a misprint. Alas, it's true.

    But that's not why this is the most important game on the schedule. The reason for that is because it's the first game. Miami must get off to a good start, and  the Browns are arguably the easiest of their first five games.

    A loss in Cleveland could be a bad harbinger of things to come.

     

    Listen to Dolphins Central Radio with Thomas Galicia and Ryan Yousefi. New episodes go up every Wednesday.