Miami Dolphins: 2011 Game-by-Game Preview

Mark David SmithCorrespondent IJuly 10, 2011

Miami Dolphins: 2011 Game-by-Game Preview

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    The Miami Dolphins finished 2011 with a second consecutive 7-9 season. Expectations were higher, and Dolphins fans everywhere were dissatisfied with Miami's season.

    Head coach Tony Sparano has gained many critics, and quarterback Chad Henne is on the tightest of leashes.

    The young defense is the bright spot on this team, with the potential to be a top five unit. The front seven is deep and if the secondary can hang on to more interceptions, this defense will be a daunting one for opposing offenses.

    Miami's offensive line is improved, the backfield is revamped, and the receiving corps has a ton of potential. If the offense clicks with new coordinator Brian Daboll's gameplan, this offense could put up a lot of points.

    Here is your complete 2011 Miami Dolphins season preview.

Week 1: September 12 vs. New England

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    This is not the start to 2011 Miami wanted.

    New England finished with the league's best record of 14-2 last year. Expect them to be great again this year, with nothing holding them back from leading the league in scoring again.

    Chad Henne has to start the season well. He can't afford bad games at the beginning of the year. The entire organization can't afford to fall too far behind the race early in the season.

    But the Patriots are still the Patriots, and it will basically take a mistake-free game for the Dolphins to win this one.

Week 2: September 18 vs. Houston

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    Houston has never been a great team, but the Texans have always had Miami's number.

    Houston has beaten the Dolphins in 2003, '06, '07, '08, and '09, though they've never had a playoff team since entering the league in 2002.

    The Texans had the league's worst defense in 2010 and will be the perfect prescription for Chad Henne to prove his worth. After a tough matchup against the Patriots, expect Henne and the entire offense to go big against Houston and finally end the 0-5 drought.

Week 3: September 12 at Cleveland

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    I still can't believe Miami lost to Cleveland last season. The Browns' 27th ranked rushing defense should allow for rookie Daniel Thomas to have a good game for the Dolphins.

    Miami's defense will hold the Browns' 29th ranked offense to minimal damage, and Miami should leave Cleveland with a second-straight win.

Week 4: October 2 at San Diego

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    San Diego regressed in 2010, missing the playoffs with a 9-7 record. Statistically, the Chargers were fantastic, with the best offense and defense in the league.

    This game will be a huge challenge for the Dolphins, but if Henne doesn't make mistakes and the secondary doesn't give up big plays, the Dolphins have a shot to win this one.

Week 6: October 17 at NY Jets

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    These two teams do not like each other. Arguably Miami's worst rival, New York will be playoff contenders again this year and will present a big obstacle for the Dolphins.

    However, Miami has beaten New York in four of the past five match ups, including a 10-6 win at New York late in the season last year. Miami will be coming off a bye week and the 'Fins always put up a good fight against the Jets.

Week 7: October 23 vs. Denver

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    Miami should beat the Broncos at home, as the offense should get back on track against Denver's league-worst defense in 2010. Expect Henne and Thomas to have good games, and Brandon Marshall should play great against his old team's poor pass defense.

    Denver finished 4-12, and unless quarterback Tim Tebow improves considerably in 2011, Miami's D should have no problem containing the Broncos.

Week 8: October 30 at NY Giants

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    Last time Miami played the Giants, it was in England during the middle of their miserable 1-15 season in 2007. A lot has changed for Miami, but unless they play mistake-free football, they'll have a hard time beating New York.

    The Giants had a top 10 defense and a top five offense in 2010, barely missing the playoffs. The Giants have one of the best pass rushing defenses in the league and should get plenty of shots at Henne.

Week 9: November 6 at Kansas City

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    Kansas City surprised many in 2010, improving from fourth in the AFC West in 2009 to winning the division last year. This team is legit, featuring the best rushing attack in the league last year. Their defense isn't great but gets the job done.

    If Miami's run defense can keep Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones from converting third downs and the pass rush can harass Matt Cassel into making bad throws, Miami has a shot at stealing one in Arrowhead Stadium.

Week 10: November 13 vs. Washington

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    Washington is a mess right now. Are they really going to start former Dolphin John Beck at quarterback? Good luck with that.

    The Redskins had the third-worst rushing attack in the NFL, and their defense was terrible last season.

    Last time these two teams played, it was the season opener in 2007. I went to see that game. Miami lost in overtime.

    History will not repeat itself.

Week 11: November 20 vs. Buffalo

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    The Bills haven't been good in a very long time. You can never rule them out against Miami, as the two teams have split the season series the past two years.

    Buffalo is still in rebuilding mode and don't match up with the Dolphins on paper. Miami should win this one.

Week 12: November 24 at Dallas

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    Miami vs Dallas on Thanksgiving always reminds me of Leon Lett's infamous mistake. I'm not predicting an ending like that, but I expect this game to come down to the final possession.

    Dallas has recently been underwhelming after plenty of preseason hype. A 6-10 record didn't make any Cowboys fans happy, and I expect the Cowboys to improve this year.

    Dallas' defense was a weak point last year, and expect a somewhat high-scoring Thanksgiving Day game with a very close final score.

Week 13: December 4 vs. Oakland

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    Miami actually had a convincing win against Oakland last year, winning 33-17. Oakland finished the season at 8-8 and could be a contender for the AFC West title in 2011. 

    The Dolphins will be going for their third win over Oakland in four years, and it will be a good match up. 

    This is crunch-time for Henne and the Dolphins. In the past two seasons, they've hovered around .500 for most of the season, only to finish poorly. Miami should be in about the same position in 2011 and will need to close out the year strong.

    This is a must-win game at home against Oakland.

Week 14: December 11 vs. Philadelphia

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    Last time Miami played the EaglesDonovan McNabb and John Beck were the starters at quarterback. Four years later, both players are in Washington, and the Eagles are one of the best teams in the league.

    If Miami's D can contain Michael Vick and the offense can control time of possession, the Dolphins have a shot at stealing one from Philly.

    Those are some big if's, though. The Eagles will be tough to beat for any team.

Week 15: December 18 at Buffalo

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    The Dolphins face Buffalo twice in four weeks. The second time they play in Buffalo in December, giving a good home-field advantage to the Bills.

    Miami is the better team. Division rivalries are more than stats and talent alone. Buffalo will put up a good fight, but the Dolphins have to win this one if they're going to improve on last season.

    Henne has to be consistent.

Week 16: December 24 at New England

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    Miami faces New England to open the season, and then again in the penultimate game of the regular season. A second consecutive away game in the freezing Northeast won't set up the Dolphins favorably. New England will be great again this year, and I'm not counting on a Week 16 win for Miami.

    There is a very small chance that the Patriots will have their best playoff seed available locked up by this point and would, therefore, not really have anything to play for. That usually doesn't phase Bill Belichick's gameplan (i.e. Week 17 game vs. New York Giants in 2007).

    But hey, one can hope, right?

Week 17: January 1 vs. NY Jets

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    New York won't be an easy opponent to end the season against. The Jets will probably be fighting for a wild card spot, and quarterback Mark Sanchez is proven to be able to close out games.

    This will be a great game with two similar quarterbacks going up against two great defenses.

Prediction: 9-7

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    Miami needs Chad Henne to play inspired football. If Henne shakes off whatever funk he was in last year, I see Miami winning 9 or 10 games, possibly even getting to the postseason. They have a great defense, an improved offensive line, and all the tools for Henne to make this a good year for Miami fans.

    If Henne plays great, Miami should win their games against Houston, Cleveland, Denver, Kansas City, Washington, Buffalo twice, Dallas, Oakland, and the Jets once.

    However, if Miami comes out of the gate cold and struggles early, expect a long season of quarterback changes, poor teamwork, and probably Tony Sparano's last game as Miami's head coach.

    I've been frustrated with Henne a lot in the past two years. I've been one of his worst critics. However, I think he will finally pull it together in 2011, and get the Dolphins over .500 for the first time in his starting career.