The Miami Dolphins season opener is only 26 days away, and it's time to make some premature predictions.
NFL schedule makers smacked the 'Fins with an absolutely brutal and daunting slate of games that severely hinders the team's chances of making a playoff push. Only six teams on Miami's docket finished the 2010 regular season under .500, and many of those squads (Cowboys, Raiders, Bills, Broncos) figured to be vastly improved in 2011.
However, what looks like a tough schedule in the preseason often looks like a reasonable one in retrospect.
We gave you a thorough breakdown of each game a few weeks ago, but now we're here to predict some actual scores and a final record. To the picks...
Miami suffered two absolutely shellackings at the hands of Tom Brady & Co. last season (lost by a combined 58 points) and it's difficult to envision anything different happening this season.
Granted Miami's defense has improved and probably won't surrender such inflated point totals, the Pats are simply miles ahead of the 'Fins. Bill Belichick bolstered his already-lethal passing game by adding Chad Ochocinco, and his young defense is now battle tested and prepared to take the next step.
In other words, the New England Patriots are a far superior team who got much better this summer. Even though the Dolphins play New England well at home, the disparity in talent and coaching is too much for Miami to overcome.
Dolphins 13, Patriots 27
Between Andre Johnson, Matt Schaub, Arian Foster and a healthy Owen Daniels, the Texans boast an unstoppable offense that promises to light up the scoreboard each and every week.
Can the Dolphins offense go punch for punch with them? Not a chance.
Not only does Miami lack the fire power that Houston packs, but the Texans defense should be vastly improved under the direction of Wade Phillips. The Dolphins will continue their home-field woes against a budding Houston squad.
Dolphins 20, Texans 30
Last year, most of us looked at the Dolphins' schedule, saw the Cleveland Browns, and scoffed. It looked like a sure win. But a pesky Cleveland team strode into Miami and smacked the 'Fins right in the stomach.
However, the Browns are still very young, inexperienced and largely unskilled. They are transitioning under a new quarterback, new head coach and a new offensive coordinator. There is simply no excuse for the Dolphins not to win this game, but if they do, Tony Sparano will be on the hottest of hot seats.
Dolphins 31, Browns 13
Basically everything about Miami's Week 4 matchup with the San Diego Chargers works in their favor. First of all, the Dolphins have won seven of the teams' last eight meetings. And, second, the Chargers are notorious for stumbling out of the gate (in 2007 started 1-3, in 2008 they started 4-8, in 2009 they started 2-3 and in 2010 they started 2-5).
The Dolphins will trek all the way out to California to face a San Diego squad poised for a deep-playoff run. Even though history sides with the 'Fins, the Chargers are simply too talented on both sides of the ball.
Dolphins 17, Chargers 23
We all might be dumbfounded by some of the New York Jets' offseason transactions (replacing Braylon Edwards with Plaxico Burress and Derrick Mason), but rest assured, their fans will find a way to rationalize it.
New York's roster is aging rapidly, and their offense actually looks far less potent than Miami's. The Dolphins haven't lost in New York in two years and that streak should extend.
Dolphins 17, Jets 16
Despite recording only four victories in 2010, the Denver Broncos should be improved in 2011. Kyle Orton, Knowshon Moreno, Willis McGahee, Brandon Lloyd and Demaryius Thomas gives the Broncos a rock-solid offensive nucleus, but their defense still lags far behind.
Denver might be on the path towards relevance, but the Dolphins are far superior.
Dolphins 28, Broncos 10
Much like their New York counterpart, the New York Giants made a slew of very questionable decisions this offseason that might undermine their 2011 outlook. Despite losing Steve Smith, Kevin Boss and Barry Cofield, the Giants still boast a playoff-caliber roster.
Miami will march up to the Meadowlands for the second time to face Big Blue. The Dolphins front seven should dominate New York's shaky offensive line, but the 'Fins will have a difficult time slowing their underrated passing attack.
Dolphins 24, Giants 27
The Kansas City Chiefs and Dolphins play a very similar brand of football, but Kansas City is miles ahead. They employ the league's best rushing attack, as well as a rapidly improving passing attack and defense.
Arrowhead Stadium is deafening loud, and Miami won't be able to overcome the Chiefs' home field advantage and superior structure.
Dolphins 16, Chiefs 22
John Beck, Tim Hightower and Anthony Armstrong assemble the Washington Redskins' offensive nucleus.
Dolphins 34, Redskins 6
The Dolphins have an edge in virtually every matchup (except quarterback), but that hasn't stopped the Buffalo Bills from pestering the 'Fins in recent years past. Buffalo and Miami have split their seasons' series in each of the past two years despite a rather significant gap in talent.
Ryan Fitzpatrick & Co. defeated Miami in Sun Life Stadium last year, but there's no reason to believe that will happen again.
Dolphins 20, Bills 10
The Dolphins take the national stage for the third and final time against the Dallas Cowboys on Thanksgiving Day. Miami is 5-1 on Thanksgiving, and 3-1 against Dallas on the holiday.
For the first time in recently memory, the Dallas Cowboys failed to land any blue-chip free agents. In fact, set aside a failed bid of Nnamdi Asomugha, they weren't even players in free agency. Instead, Jerry Jones was busy cutting dead weight like Roy Williams and Marion Barber to get his team under the cap.
Now, the 2011 Cowboys are beginning to take shape, and although their secondary's outlook remains bleak, the rest of this roster is absolutely playoff caliber. Tony Romo has a clean bill of health, Felix Jones will finally receive an opportunity to carry the bulk, Dez Bryant is yearning to breakout and Tyron Smith bolsters an offensive line that looks stable and solid.
This game is a toss up, so Dallas gets the nod because of home field advantage.
Dolphins 27, Cowboys 30
Believe it or not, the Oakland Raiders are making all of the right moves—well, almost. Set aside some questionable draft picks, Al Davis made a wise move by firing Tom Cable in favor of Hue Jackson. Plus, youngsters like Darren McFadden, Jacoby Ford and even Darrius Heyward-Bey are starting to realize their potential.
Miami must trek to California for the second time in 2011, but they will escape this trip with a win. Oakland's defense does not have the personnel to slow Miami's offensive attack, but the Dolphins will be able to slow the Raiders offense.
Dolphins 21, Raiders 9
It doesn't matter how great your defense, Michael Vick will find a way to torch it. The Philadelphia Eagles will fly down to Miami for a Week 14 matchup that could have great playoff implications, but let's hope this game isn't a must-win for the Dolphins.
Between Vick, LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and an endless list of weapons and playmakers, Philly poses a terrifying matchup for Miami—and every other NFL team, for that matter. Miami benefits from home-field advantage, but it's nearly impossible to see the 'Fins toppling the NFL's version of the Miami Heat.
Dolphins 12, Eagles 28
At 6-7, the Dolphins must win three straight games—all against AFC East foes—if they want any shot at a playoff berth. However, history says Miami has no chance. The 'Fins lost their final three games in both 2009 and 2010, and 2011 won't provide any breaks.
Miami will embark on their first of two consecutive trips to the frigid Northeast to take on the Buffalo Bills in Week 15. If weather becomes a factor, the Dolphins will be a serious disadvantage. Either way, the Dolphins last season woes could come back to bite them once again.
Dolphins 10, Bills 14
In all likelihood, Miami's playoff hopes will be dashed at this point in the season. Even if they are in the thick of the race, they have the serious misfortune of facing the Patriots in New England in Week 16.
It's rather safe to assume the Pats will have a playoff bid secured at this juncture, but based on Bill Belichick's past habits, he won't rest his starters and he won't take it easy on his opponents. This bodes very poorly for the Dolphins who might have to trudge through subzero temperatures and play a Super Bowl-caliber New England roster.
Dolphins 9, Patriots 17
Likely eliminated from the 2011 playoff race, the Dolphins will return home to an alienated fan base and infinite criticism. At this point, Tony Sparano will be as good as gone, and the entire organization will on the brink of overhaul and change.
However, the Dolphins still have to play the Jets, who figure to have a playoff spot secured. New York might trot out their reserves, but Miami might as well in order to gauge which youngsters should receive more focus and playing time in 2012.
Dolphins 20, Jets 26
Final Record: 6-10