2013 Miami Dolphins Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info & Analysis

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IApril 19, 2013

2013 Miami Dolphins Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info & Analysis

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    Head coach Joe Philbin, quarterback Ryan Tannehill, general manager Jeff Ireland and the Miami Dolphins as a whole will be under one giant microscope in 2013.

    The expectations have been raised, as have the stakes, as a result of their big offseason frenzy of additions. 

    Sometimes, projects like this take some time to pan out. It's not an instant success, because it takes time for all these new players to come together, no matter how talented they may be.

    Will this Dolphins team come together and prove the naysayers wrong?

    Here are my predictions for how the season will unfold.

Week 1: at Browns

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Dolphins open up Week 1 on the road with a tough matchup against the Browns.

    The Browns were a bad team in the standings in 2012, but their defense was right around average last year, ranking right around the middle of the pack across the board.

    Their pass rush graded out seventh-worst according to ProFootballFocus.com, but their coverage unit graded out seventh-best. With some improvement up front with the addition of outside linebacker Paul Kruger, the Browns defense could be scary.

    On offense, quarterback Brandon Weeden has just as much pressure on him to make a transition from Year 1 to Year 2 as Ryan Tannehill does. The difference: Weeden hasn't been gifted with some of the best skill position players money can buy.

    Instead, Weeden already has running back Trent Richardson to hand off to, and wide receivers Josh Gordon and Greg Little to look for in the passing game. Will all the pieces come together in 2013? Again, that all falls on Weeden's abilities as a passer. We'll truly have our answer in that regard following this season. 

    Prediction: Dolphins 28, Browns 20

Week 2: at Colts

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill were both taken in the top 10 of the 2012 draft, so the career arcs will be compared continually. This will mark the second meeting between the two.

    The last time these two teams met, Luck led another of his comebacks but didn't wait until the fourth quarter to get the lead back this time around. The Dolphins jumped out to a 17-10 lead before Luck delivered 10 unanswered points and later drove the offense within range for the game-winning field goal.

    The Dolphins defense was the league's best on third down at the time, but it gave up conversions on 13 of 19 third downs (68 percent), with many of those coming on 3rd-and-long. Luck evaded pressure time and time again and was able to find his receivers open downfield, finishing with over nine yards per attempt.

    If the Colts defensive front is more prepared to bring pressure than they were the last time around (nine pressures on 40 drop-backs), the Dolphins offense could struggle even more than it did in the second half of that game (three points).

    That being said, the Dolphins depth at receiver could pose a problem for the Colts, who don't have great depth at cornerback to match personnel. In fact, they were 31st in the league against "other receivers" and were 30th against tight ends according to Football Outsiders.

    Davone Bess and Dustin Keller could be in for big days if the Colts can't keep up in coverage.

    Prediction: Dolphins 28, Colts 24

Week 3: vs. Falcons

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 4:05 p.m. ET, Fox

    The Dolphins have an opportunity to build off two road wins to start the season, or they could fall flat and be in desperation mode by the time they play their first home game, but either way, bad news awaits in Week 3: the Falcons.

    The Dolphins have built an offensive powerhouse on paper, but the Falcons offense has been a powerhouse on the football field for years. With Roddy White and Julio Jones at receiver, the Dolphins likely don't have the firepower in the secondary to match up.

    With that in mind, they had better hope Cameron Wake brings his best to get pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and get him out of rhythm.

    The Dolphins offense could have its opportunities against a Falcons defense that will be without defensive end Jonathan Abraham, cornerbacks Brent Grimes and Dunta Robinson and linebacker Mike Peterson.. 

    Running back Lamar Miller could also have some success running the ball against that Falcons defense which ranked 29th in yards per carry allowed.

    Still, I'll take the more proven team over the brand new construction in Miami.

    Prediction: Falcons 38, Dolphins 30

Week 4: at Saints

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 8:40 p.m. ET, ESPN (Monday Night Football)

    Hey, did you know the Dolphins had a chance to sign Drew Brees way back in 2006 and went with Daunte Culpepper instead? This will be only the second time since then that Brees has gotten to show the Dolphins what they missed out on, but the last time around, Brees and the Saints commandeered a 21-point comeback to keep their then-undefeated season alive.

    The Dolphins have changed a lot since then, but the Saints haven't. Their bread-and-butter is still Brees from the pocket, and if the Dolphins defense looks anything like it did in 2012 while giving up chunks of yardage in the passing game, the Saints offense could get rolling once again.

    That being said, if the Saints defense looks anything like it did in 2012 while setting records for yards allowed, the Dolphins shouldn't have much difficulty keeping pace.

    This one could be a shootout, but look for the home team to come out on top here.

    Prediction: Saints 31, Dolphins 27

Week 5: vs. Ravens

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    Three of the Dolphins' first five games of the season come against playoff teams, and they cap that five-game stretch with a contest against the Super Bowl champions.

    With a significant amount of turnover on their defense (six starters no longer with the team), the Ravens are far from the same team that took the field in New Orleans and won the Lombardi Trophy.

    The growing pains on defense should be eased by a front seven that still has talent with Marcus Spears, Elvis Dumervil and Rolando McClain added to make that unit more athletic.

    That group should give the Dolphins offensive line a tough go of it, but if Tannehill plays anything like he did in 2012 while under pressure, he should be okay to find open receivers against a Ravens secondary that lacks depth.

    The bigger question is whether the Dolphins can get pressure on Joe Flacco and throw a wrench in the Ravens' aerial attack. Their run defense will be tested by Ray Rice, but if they can slow him down and force Flacco to beat them, they could be better off for it.

    The Ravens don't have great depth at receiver now with Anquan Boldin gone, but new Dolphins linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Phillip Wheeler will also have their hands full with tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson over the middle.

    This one will be close. The Dolphins are fortunate to get the Ravens on the road, where they were 4-4 last year and averaged just 18 points per game. Picking up a win over a Super Bowl champion is a big accomplishment, especially since it lifts Miami back over .500.

    Prediction: Dolphins 27, Ravens 19

Week 6: Bye Week

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    After such a grueling stretch to start the season, the Dolphins will be more than ready to take their bye week. This will give them a great opportunity to assess where things need to improve and also to help the team self-scout as they try to bring multiple new pieces together as a unit.

Week 7: vs. Bills

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Dolphins don't play their first division game of the season until nearly the midway mark.

    If the Dolphins offense is going to get moving against the Bills, their line is going to have to bring its "A" game. Jonathan Martin clearly cannot be trusted to man up on Mario Williams as he was last season.

    Mike Pettine brings his aggressive and exotic style of defense to the Bills, who are already stocked to the hilt with athletically talented players. Can they come together under a new system and finally show the progress that's been expected of them?

    Beyond their front four, the Bills don't have a world of talent to speak of defensively. Yes, there's safety Jairus Byrd and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, but no one else has stepped up to truly solidify themselves as a starter. 

    If the Dolphins defense is as good at defending the run this year as they were last year, the Bills could have a hard time getting C.J. Spiller moving. It's hard to know whether to trust the Bills passing game without knowing who their quarterback is, but given their receivers, it's not hard to imagine the Bills having a hard time moving the ball through the air, as well.

    This is a home game the Dolphins absolutely must win if their offseason frenzy is to avoid great scrutiny.

    Prediction: Dolphins 23, Bills 21

Week 8: at Patriots

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The barometer for improvement for almost any team is how they fare against their division's champion. 

    If the Dolphins are able to generate pressure on Tom Brady, they'll make their lives a lot easier. He was the seventh-least accurate quarterback under pressure in the NFL in 2012.

    That being said, he was also the third-least pressured quarterback in the NFL last year, so getting pressure on him is a tough task. If they're successful, though, Brady will be without Welker, who was a terror to Miami's defense and one of Brady's most reliable targets when the pressure was on.

    All that being said, the last time the Dolphins beat the Patriots at Gillette Stadium, Chad Pennington was the quarterback and the Dolphins unveiled the Wildcat offense for the first time. That's not to say it can't be done, but it gives a barometer for New England's dominance of its division over recent history.

    One thing that bears watching: The Patriots really made it a point to stay balanced on offense in both games against the Dolphins last year, totaling 70 rush attempts and 81 pass plays (76 pass attempts, five sacks). The Dolphins were elite in run defense last year, and although they have placed a bigger focus on athleticism at linebacker, their defensive line is large across the board and disciplined in gap integrity.

    That balanced attack could be focused on attacking Philip Wheeler and Dannell Ellerbe in coverage with play-action fakes to get them out of position. Look for a big game from the tight ends, who have had success against Miami in the recent past.

    Prediction: Patriots 31, Dolphins 21

Week 9: vs. Bengals

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 8:25 p.m. ET, NFL Network (Thursday Night Football)

    The Dolphins and Bengals faced off once last year, with Miami sealing a win with a game-ending interception on the Bengals' final drive. It was Tannehill's most efficient game at the time, with 65.4 percent completions and a 92.3 passer rating both ranking the highest for him through five games.

    That game actually kickstarted a flawless four-game stretch for Tannehill in which he didn't throw a single interception.

    The running game provided the Dolphins only two scores on the day, but it didn't do much else besides that, with fewer than two yards per carry on offense. If they don't do better this time around, the Bengals' fierce defensive front might tee off on the Dolphins offensive line for more than just two sacks.

    The Dolphins did a solid job defensively of preventing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton from destroying them on deep throws (234 total passing yards, 5.4 YPA) and although A.J. Green had nine catches and a touchdown, he had just 65 yards. With another solid performance like that, the Dolphins should be able to hold serve at home.

    Prediction: Dolphins 27, Bengals 21

Week 10: at Buccaneers

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 8:40 p.m. ET, ESPN (Monday Night Football)

    Back-to-back prime-time games for the Dolphins? The NFL must really be banking on a big turnaround for them. 

    The Dolphins have the personnel to completely shut down what the Buccaneers do offensively. Their front seven is dominant against the run, which takes away Doug Martin as well as the play-action passing game for Josh Freeman (23.4 percent play-action attempts ranked seventh in the NFL).

    The Buccaneers also don't have multiple top options in the passing game, although they could have problems if they don't have an answer for wide receiver Mike Williams.

    One important matchup to watch will be Dolphins cornerback Brent Grimes against Buccaneers receiver Vincent Jackson.

    Grimes, 5'10" and 180 pounds, is much smaller than Jackson at 6'5" and 241 pounds. In fact, as of now, the Dolphins don't have an answer physically for Jackson, so expect them to bracket him with safety Reshad Jones when he goes deep.

    Likewise, the Buccaneers have major questions at cornerback of their own. They ranked dead last in the league in passing yards last year and sixth-worst in defensive passer rating. With all the additions to the Dolphins receiving corps, there may simply be too many guys for the Bucs to cover.

    Prediction: Dolphins 34, Buccaneers 10

Week 11: vs. Chargers

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Dolphins have classically not fared well when traveling out west. Thankfully, this one's in their own backyard.

    The Chargers are far from the passing juggernaut they once were and were actually one of the league's worst passing offenses in the NFL last year. A good deal of the blame can go to the offensive line, where the Chargers have lost talent in droves over the past few years and lost another talented player this offseason in guard Louis Vasquez.

    The vicious interior defensive line for the Dolphins could have its way with the Chargers offensive line, which would make life difficult for Rivers and running backs Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle and whoever else might be carrying the ball if Mathews is injured as he has been for 10 of his 48 career games thus far. 

    The Chargers defense is great at stopping the run and ranked in the top 10 in every major category of run defense last year, but against the pass, they struggled and allowed completions on 61.1 percent of throws, 28 touchdowns and had just 14 interceptions. 

    They don't have nearly enough corners to account for all of Miami's receivers, and if their defensive front struggles to get pressure without Shaun Phillips, the Chargers could have a tough time putting the brakes on the Dolphins.

    Prediction: Dolphins 30, Chargers 16

Week 12: vs. Panthers

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, Fox

    In this projection, the Dolphins are riding a three-game winning streak into a homestand against the Panthers.

    The Panthers ran the ball 462 times in 2012, ranking 11th in the NFL, and averaged 4.5 yards per carry, ranking ninth. The Dolphins front had great success against the run last year, holding opponents to just over four yards per carry for the tenth-lowest average in 2012. 

    How will they fare in containment against Cam Newton? They did fairly well to bottle up Colin Kaepernick when they faced the 49ers last year, only allowing one big run, but it was a big one at 50 yards for a touchdown. 

    The Dolphins' biggest problem in this one might be the Panthers' front four, including defensive ends Greg Hardy and Charles Johnson and defensive tackle Dwan Edwards.

    If the Dolphins' failure to address the offensive line is going to be an issue, that will rear its ugly head against the better pass-rushing teams like the Panthers. The Dolphins could find it hard to get their offense moving against a talented line.

    If the Panthers can complement that with an efficient passing game and good enough ground game, they'll be in good shape to pick up the win over the Dolphins.

    Prediction: Panthers 20, Dolphins 17

Week 13: at Jets

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Dolphins don't face the Jets until December, and then they face them twice in the final five weeks of the regular season. These showdowns will be interesting, since both teams will have come so far already this season—for better or worse.

    With cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (if not traded) and Antonio Cromartie to take Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline, the onus will be on Davone Bess, Brandon Gibson and Dustin Keller to get the job done if the Dolphins' offense is going to be successful in the air.

    Bess could have opportunities against cornerback Kyle Wilson, and Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller poses the kind of threat over the middle the Jets have had trouble with at times.

    Will it all be enough for the Dolphins to pick up a win at MetLife Stadium?

    Rex Ryan had some success shutting down Ryan Tannehill the one time the two met for a full game in 2012, and unless Tannehill has made significant strides, that could be the case yet again. That will be especially true if the Dolphins offensive line isn't working at its highest potential, or if the Dolphins fail to address their gaping hole at tackle in the draft.

    The Dolphins and Jets have always been very evenly matched, and despite a surge of talent for Miami coupled with a mass exodus for the Jets, this one could also come down to the wire.

    Prediction: Jets 17, Dolphins 16

Week 14: at Steelers

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Steelers had a down year in 2012, and although they have never missed the playoffs in back-to-back years in the Ben Roethlisberger era, that appears to be in danger in 2013. 

    Salary cap problems forced them to bid farewell to eight starters from 2012 this offseason: wide receiver Mike Wallace, cornerback Keenan Lewis, linebacker James Harrison, guard Willie Colon, defensive tackle Casey Hampton, left tackle Max Starks and safety Will Allen.

    Of course, Mike Tomlin, Ben Roethlisberger and Dick LeBeau could be the fix-all for these problems, but at some point, the mass exodus of talent could catch up to them. 

    Teams with elite quarterbacks and good head coaches tend to find a way to win at home, and the Dolphins offensive line will have to deal with not only the complex looks of LeBeau's defense, but also the noise at Heinz Field.

    Trust this: LeBeau will not let Mike Wallace have a big day against his defense. Neither will Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, who allowed 44.1 percent completions into his coverage in 2012 and who likely knows Wallace's game inside and out from practicing against him for four years.

    Prediction: Steelers 24, Dolphins 16

Week 15: vs. Patriots

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Dolphins have a history of making life difficult for the Patriots when the two teams play in Florida. For whatever reason, the Patriots haven't traveled well to Miami on a consistent basis. In fact, the Dolphins defense has statistically given Brady more trouble than any other defense in the AFC East over the past two years. 

    The Dolphins also finally no longer have to worry about Wes Welker destroying them as he did every time he had an opportunity.

    Although the Dolphins are transitioning on offense with a new-look core of skill position players, and although they still have some question marks on the offensive line, they could get themselves an answer to those woes in the draft.

    The Dolphins significantly upgraded their athleticism at linebacker, which should (in theory) help them in coverage against tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski.

    The question is whether the Dolphins' new-look offense is enough to capitalize on the same-look Patriots defense. There were some missed opportunities for Tannehill last season, and if he's a true pro, he won't miss those opportunities again.

    Prediction: Dolphins 21, Patriots 20

Week 16: at Bills

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Dolphins could be riding high if they're able to pick up a home win against the Patriots, but heading into Buffalo for a tough matchup with the Bills could bring them down a bit.

    The Dolphins were one of the league's best defenses against the run in 2012, allowing just over four yards per carry on average, which was the 10th-best in the NFL.

    They had mixed success against C.J. Spiller and the Bills running game last year, though. The Dolphins gave up 120 yards on 31 carries in a 19-14 loss and a whopping 154 yards on 28 carries in a 24-10 victory.

    Spiller got the ball more times in those two games than in all but one other game last season. Expect him to get a similar workload in 2013 with Doug Marrone as offensive coordinator. He may have West Coast principles in his blood, but he proved willing to run the ball last year; his Syracuse team ranked first in the Big East in rush attempts per game.

    As for the Bills defense, we know that Mike Pettine will likely bring the blitz quite a bit more as defensive coordinator than Dave Wannstedt did. If the Dolphins offensive line isn't ready for it, they could have trouble keeping Tannehill upright and ready to throw to his vast array of targets.

    Prediction: Bills 19, Dolphins 17

Week 17: vs. Jets

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    Kickoff Time and Network: 1 p.m. ET, CBS

    The Dolphins get three division contests to close out the season, and four in their final five games.

    Will Miami's offense go off without a hitch, even without an offensive line to protect Ryan Tannehill? The Dolphins desperately need to add an offensive tackle in the draft, or else their franchise savior could find himself calling to the heavens for a little help.

    Rex Ryan might send hell in a handbasket at the sophomore quarterback with one aggressive defensive play call after another.

    That might be their best bet if they don't want to let Mike Wallace run free through the secondary on deep routes. Of course, Wallace could have a hard time doing that with Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie on the back end—Revis wasn't around the last time Wallace played the Jets.

    Of the players the Dolphins have added, though, Dustin Keller may have the biggest impact in this game.

    It has nothing to do with his familiarity with the Jets defense—it's largely a new cast of characters—but instead it has to do with the Jets seemingly having no real answer for Keller. They don't have a linebacker that excels in coverage, their safeties left the fold and their slot corners will be busy with the likes of Davone Bess and Brian Hartline.

    If the Dolphins can close out the season with a win, they finish my projection 10-6.

    Prediction: Dolphins 26, Jets 16