Eight Key Matchups That Will Determine the Dolphins' Playoff Chances
It’s 3:50 pm on Sunday afternoon.
I realize that this quiet time in front of the computer analyzing stats and taking notes will soon be interrupted with the echoing whistles and crashes from the TV and the groans and cheers of my loved ones.
That’s right; it will be football season again.
The quiet happiness I am languishing in now is nothing compared to the boisterous excitement that surrounds me beginning the second week of August. Both times make me happy—but in drastically different ways.
It’s time to store up for the season, get all the finalized stats into my head before the unpredictability of the new football season begins. Last year absolutely put my head into a spin, all around the NFL.
As I sit and peruse the 2009 Miami Dolphins schedule, I am thrown back a year into the past where I find myself reliving the moments of that fanatical season.
There are always specific details I can remember; since in our home football rules our lives. It even interrupts our plans to engage in the sport.
Aside from actually attending games at the stadium formally known as Joe Robbie Stadium, we always try to get outside and throw the pigskin around. In this case, it’s a junior-sized football, since it’s easier for me to throw.
I can distinctly remember last year there being a few Dolphins games that really interrupted our between-games activities.
My husband is not a Dolphins fan, but who can resist rooting for a local station team to win in the last fragile moments of a tight game?
As I was reviewing the schedule this Sunday afternoon, these memories got my wheels turning.
Game five against the Chargers following a huge win in New England got this team motivated, but it was the nail biters at Houston, Seattle, Oakland, and San Francisco that kept me glued to the TV when I wanted to be outside throwing around the 'ol pigskin.
A lighter schedule last year brought this team to the playoffs; but the four wins that were determined by five points or less last year were against teams that did not make the playoffs.
A heavier schedule this year against rejuvenated AFC East rivals should be the biggest obstacle for the Dolphins.
The battle here is not necessarily between Miami and its own schedule. Other teams in its division have easier schedules and may be able to capitalize to push Miami out of contention.
The AFC had six teams in 2009 with 11 or more wins, while the NFC only had three teams with 11 or more wins.
There is definitely more of an even playing field in the NFC, and I would bet the Dolphins would fare well against this division.
However, this is the AFC, where you have to bring your A-game.
Here's my take on the key games Miami MUST win to get back to playoff glory.
Indianapolis, Week Two
Since this game is early in the season, the Dolphins need to strive to change their starting record from last year, a scary start with only two wins in the first six games.
The Colts have only lost four games total out of their first five games of the regular season since 2002.
Ironically, one of those loses did come against the Dolphins in 2003, and it was the second game of the year.
If the Dolphins can beat this team that comes out of the gun with a bang each season, they can have a good start at aligning themselves with a playoff spot.
Buffalo, Weeks 4 and 12
Buffalo and Miami do have a rivalry, yet it is Miami that is winning the war.
Buffalo has acquired some major off-season drama, and we can expect Miami will show Buffalo who's boss for at least one matchup this year.
The Dolphins defense will sniff out any Buffalo crap and bury it quickly.
Dolphins’ record evens out at 2-2 with a win against Buffalo at home in week four, but may struggle against the Bills in week 12, their fourth road game in five weeks.
Jets, Weeks 5 and 8
The Dolphins—Jets yearly battle is a see-saw one at best, and the Dolphins hold a 5-9 record against the Jets since 2002.
The Jets lacked in defense last year, and I can see Miami could easily expose their weaknesses in the first matchup this season.
Week Five Prediction: Miami goes into a bye week early in the season with a 3-2 record and a lot of climbing to do.
Week Eight Prediction: Call it the law of averages, but the second game is an easy (safe) guess for the Jets to win.
The Dolphins need to break this trend and come up with a game plan to surprise the Jets in order to stay ahead of them in the AFC East.
Patriots, Weeks 9 and 13
With Tom Brady back in charge of the bunch, the Patriots are looking to be stronger than ever.
This is basically a game of Bill vs. Bill, and it’s the one with the last name Belichick who has the weapons to win both games between the two this season.
However, winning in Miami has been a somewhat of a problem for the Patriots. They have lost five of their last 11 games against Miami since 2002.
Last year's meetings resulted in a 1-1 tie.
If the Dolphins can win one of these two games, it would shake up the AFC East and put them closer to a shot at playoff glory.
Of course, they’re going to need some wins against the other teams in this division to guarantee them a spot on the post-season schedule.
If Brady stays healthy and does what he does best, the Patriots will be the Dolphins' biggest nemesis this season.
Carolina, Week 11
My only pick of the NFC teams for the Dolphins to beat in 2009 is the Carolina Panthers.
This game, if won by the Dolphins, could propel them straight into the post-season. That’s hugely dependent upon them winning at least half of their games at this point in the season.
That is going to be met with some resistance from this Carolina team, which is eagerly awaiting their next chance to redeem themselves from their defeat at the hands of the Cardinals last season.
The Dolphins are 5-1 all time on Thanksgiving, yet the Panthers have never played on Turkey Day.
The strength of these teams is in opposition; the Panthers have the edge on the ground, while the Dolphins have the edge in the air.
Jacksonville, Week 14
This is one game where Miami needs to make sure it is paying attention.
The Jags were bottom-feeders last year in the AFC and the Dolphins should be prepare as if they were playing against the Patriots.
Walking into Jacksonville after taking on the Patriots may give the Dolphins the toughness they need to not write this one off as a win before it starts.
Tennessee, Week 15
Aside from the last game of the regular season against the Steelers, look for this game against the Titans to expose the Dolphins’ greatest weaknesses.
If the Dolphins have any chance of proving themselves among the AFC’s best, this is going to be a challenging game against a team with a redefined offense.
The Titans average margin of win over opponents in '08 was 13.5.
The Dolphins are going to have to tighten up their defense in order to restrain the Titans' improved offense, which shows new life with additions at RB and WR.
Houston, Week 16
Last year's matchup was a nail-biter and came down to the last two minutes for these two teams.
This team surprised not only the Dolphins, but the Titans as well by taking down their first loss of the season.
I wouldn't expect this Miami Dolphins team to make the same mistakes that it did in this game last year.
Somehow, the Texans are 4-0 against this Miami team and Miami needs to figure out what their number is this year to put this one up as a "W."
There's no easy solution to this year's Dolphins season.
The biggest keys are found in last year's schedule.
The Dolphins' margin of loss averaged out at 13 points.
The average win margin for the Dolphins was only 8 points—an average aided largely by the 25-point win over the Patriots in game three.
They're going to need help on both sides of the ball to go up against their tough schedule.
Of course, nothing is ever set in stone in the NFL and that's why these predictions can be so meaningless.
If the Dolphins can overcome adversity in these eight key matchups, Dolphins will be saying "I told you so" on their way to Landshark Stadium.
Otherwise, we can look to the 2010 season as a more reasonable goal for the Dolphins' playoff hopes.