The Miami Dolphins are 2-0 and have looked relatively impressive in each of their first two victories, each of which came on the road. But they are entering the most important stretch of the 2013 season starting in Week 3.
No longer can fans take solace in the team "looking good" for stretches, or harping on things like "development" and "potential." This team can, and should, win now.
Expectations are currently as high as they've been in over a decade. That may be unfair, but when you spend that much money in free agency and have a quarterback playing well, it is inevitable.
The Dolphins need to finally show that they can put everything together and have a stretch of consistent success. Their upcoming stretch will reveal whether or not they are ready to take that step.
Many people are talking only about their next three games, but in reality, the crucial stretch goes on for their next six, all the way to October 31st against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Starting with Week 3, the Dolphins get a preseason Super Bowl contender in the Atlanta Falcons who happen to look like a shell of themselves right now.
Stealing a win in their first home game against a team originally thought of as a heavy favorite would be a huge way to kick things off.
Next, the Dolphins have their third road game in four weeks as they take on the confusing New Orleans Saints.
It is a big Monday Night Football matchup in the Superdome, which will be as difficult to play in as ever for the big prime-time showdown.
If Miami wins against the Falcons in Week 3, the media could really take off and run with their "breakout" season and have this Monday Night game be their "coming-out party" to the league, which will put a ton of pressure on the Dolphins' shoulders.
The Saints may be 2-0 right now, but they narrowly beat a struggling Tampa Bay team and their usually high-powered offense hasn't clicked yet.
By Week 5, we may not even be talking about the Baltimore Ravens as a legitimate threat anymore, but as of now the defending champs are still marked with a big star on the schedule.
How Will Miami Fare in their Next Six Games?
After a Week 6 bye, the Dolphins have a challenge against the Buffalo Bills. Truly good teams beat the ones they are supposed to, and Miami and Ryan Tannehill will have to prove their worth against Buffalo and E.J. Manuel.
They have to make sure that they aren't looking past the Bills into Week 7, when the Dolphins get their first matchup against a suddenly vulnerable New England squad.
Rob Gronkowski will be back by then, and Danny Amendola as well, but the Patriots are still looking extremely beatable for the first time in a decade. Miami needs to take advantage of that opportunity.
Finally in Week 8, the Dolphins will come out battered and bruised against a very solid Cincinnati team. Andy Dalton has a lot of weapons on offense, and Miami will have to play all-out to slow them down.
There will be a lot of challenges to overcome, and the next month and a half will be extremely revealing for Miami.
If they come out of it looking strong, there is no reason to think they couldn't make some noise in the playoffs. But if they fold under pressure, it will turn into another season of looking ahead to the next.