2014 Miami Dolphins Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

Erik Frenz@ErikFrenzSenior Writer IApril 24, 2014

2014 Miami Dolphins Schedule: Game-by-Game Predictions, Info and Analysis

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    Can Ryan Tannehill (above) take the next step in his development in 2014?
    Can Ryan Tannehill (above) take the next step in his development in 2014?J Pat Carter

    We already knew the "who" and the "where" of the Miami Dolphins schedule, but now we also know the "when." 

    The Dolphins fell short of the playoffs in 2013, and if they want to get back, they will have to overcome a difficult early stretch to the season. The Dolphins kick off the season with three of their first five games coming against playoff teams. They also have to travel to face the Buffalo Bills, where they have not played well in the recent past.

    To make matters worse, the Dolphins don't get the advantage of a midseason bye week, instead getting their off week very early in the season.

    What does it all mean for their season? Now that the NFL has released the schedule, let's take a look at some very early predictions of how their season will turn out.

Week 1: Vs. Patriots

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    USA TODAY Sports

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

    The last time these two teams faced, the Dolphins earned their first win over the Patriots in the Joe Philbin-Ryan Tannehill era.

    The Dolphins defense did a fine job of limiting Tom Brady in their two meetings last year, holding him to just 61 percent in completions, three touchdowns, two interceptions and an 81.1 passer rating, but they capitalized in the second meeting with Tannehill turning in one of the finest performances of his career.

    He threw three touchdowns, no interceptions and earned a 120.6 passer rating, the second highest of his career. He also guided the Dolphins to touchdown drives with four minutes or less to go in each half. 

    The Patriots were short-handed in that game, but they could be short-handed yet again this time around. The statuses of wide receiver Aaron Dobson (foot) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (ACL) are in question for Week 1, and the Patriots will definitely be without Brandon Browner for this game (suspension).

    One way the Patriots were successful in last year's first meeting was attacking the Dolphins offensive line (28 blitzes on 49 dropbacks). If the Patriots can take advantage of a group that could feature at least two inexperienced starters, they can edge out the road win.

    Prediction: Patriots 30, Dolphins 24

Week 2: At Bills

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    USA TODAY Sports

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

    The Dolphins went 0-2 against the Bills last season, but these games will be much different than they were last year. Bills quarterback EJ Manuel was injured for both games and was replaced by backup Thad Lewis. The Dolphins have no experience against the Bills' franchise quarterback, but by the same token, Manuel has no experience against the Dolphins. This will be an interesting dynamic to follow in the first meeting between the two teams.

    Tannehill has not played well against the Bills, completing just 47.9 percent of his passes for 547 yards, six touchdowns, four interceptions and a 64.3 passer rating. This year will be the third different "look" Tannehill sees from the Bills defense, with their third defensive coordinator in three years now that former Lions head coach Jim Schwartz has taken over for new Browns head coach Mike Pettine.

    The Bills offense is not a scoring machine, so if the Dolphins can stay efficient and finish drives with points, they should be able to emerge with a victory.

    Prediction: Dolphins 20, Bills 10

Week 3: Vs. Chiefs

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    QB Alex Smith (left) and RB Jamaal Charles (right) lead the charge for the Chiefs offense.
    QB Alex Smith (left) and RB Jamaal Charles (right) lead the charge for the Chiefs offense.USA TODAY Sports

    Kickoff Time and Network: 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

    After surprising the NFL by bouncing back from the league's worst record to earn an 11-5 record and a playoff bid, the Chiefs are working to get back to the playoffs for the second straight year for the first time since 1994-95. 

    If they want to do it, they'll have to stay as balanced as they were in 2013. Their efficient and explosive rush attack could give the Dolphins trouble, with Jamaal Charles averaging 4.97 yards per rushing attempt. Charles is the focal point of the whole offense, though, as he led the team with 70 receptions and seven receiving touchdowns. It will be up to Dannell Ellerbe and Philip Wheeler to deliver a top-notch effort to keep Charles in check. 

    The attention then turns to the Dolphins offense, and whether their offensive line can keep the Chiefs' aggressive front seven at bay. The Chiefs yielded 4.49 yards per attempt, so the Dolphins would be wise to get the ball to Knowshon Moreno and let him soften up the defense.

    In the secondary, the Chiefs don't have a stacked unit, but it's their pass rush that helps them get the job done against the pass.

    It truly comes down to the battle up front. At present, it looks like the Chiefs hold the advantage.

    Prediction: Chiefs 20, Dolphins 16

Week 4: At Raiders (Wembley Stadium)

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    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

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

    The Raiders went to great lengths to bolster their roster this offseason. Their most notable move was trading for quarterback Matt Schaub from the Houston Texans, which may give them a capable quarterback for the first time in a long time—if Schaub can rediscover his 2012 form, when he threw for over 4,000 yards, completing 64.3 percent of his passes and earning a 90.7 passer rating.

    He'll also have brand-new weapons at his disposal, with running back Maurice Jones-Drew and wide receiver James Jones added to the arsenal. 

    Defensively, the addition of defensive ends Justin Tuck and LaMarr Woodley, along with defensive tackle Antonio Smith, could make a huge difference as the Raiders try to create more pressure on quarterbacks. The Dolphins' revamped offensive line will be tested, but if they can hold up against that group, Tannehill should be able to find some favorable matchups in the passing game. 

    Prediction: Dolphins 30, Raiders 24

Week 5: Bye

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    John Raoux

    Joe Philbin has to be frustrated with the team's early bye week. They may need some rest after a week of travel back and forth to London, but they would probably much rather have that week off in the middle of the season, when they can put that rest to best use.

    They will need the rest, though, because they have an important Week 6 game that will see Philbin go head-to-head with his former team for the first time.

Week 6: Vs. Packers

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    Mike McGinnis/Getty Images

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

    Aaron Rodgers and Ryan Tannehill square off in their first duel, and Joe Philbin takes on his old team for the first time.

    The Packers have slowly lost weapons in the passing game, although they still feature Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb. Rodgers is still one of the best quarterbacks at spreading the ball around to all of his receivers; six receivers had over 30 receptions in 2013, and five in 2012. That said, the Dolphins will have to stay disciplined and do their best to cover any threats.

    The Packers defense gave up 27 points or more in eight of their final 10 games of the season. Re-signing Sam Shields at cornerback was a smart move, but even if he takes away Mike Wallace, the Dolphins will still have Brian Hartline, Rishard Matthews, Brandon Gibson and tight end Charles Clay as reliable targets in the passing game.

    This could be a high-scoring affair, but in that case, the team with the better quarterback will always have the advantage.

    Prediction: Packers 30, Dolphins 21

Week 7: At Bears

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

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

    The Chicago Bears demonstrated their confidence in quarterback Jay Cutler with a seven-year, $126.7 million contract to cement him as their franchise quarterback of the future. His future is bright as long as he has Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery at his side; the two receivers combined for 189 receptions, 2,716 yards and 19 touchdowns. The Bears also have a dynamic receiving back with Matt Forte in the backfield.

    On that note, Forte had the best rushing numbers of his career, with 1,339 yards and nine rushing touchdowns, both career highs. He ranked third in the NFL in yards from scrimmage, so needless to say, any game plan to slow down the Bears offense starts with that guy.

    The Bears are often regarded as being synonymous with good defense, but that couldn't have been further from the truth in 2013, when the Bears were the third-worst team in the league in both points allowed and yards allowed, and the league's worst defense against the run. If the Dolphins can get things going on the ground (and even if they can't), they should have some success on offense.

    However, the Bears simply have too much firepower for the Dolphins to handle. 

    Prediction: Bears 27, Dolphins 23

Week 8: At Jaguars

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

    Cameron Wake, Olivier Vernon, Randy Starks and Jared Odrick may be salivating at the thought of facing the Jaguars offensive line. That unit was one of the league's worst last year; their quarterbacks were sacked 50 times, the second most in the league (behind the Dolphins, of course), and their rushers averaged 3.3 yards per carry, the second lowest in the league.

    Who knows who their quarterback and running backs will be in 2014, though? Chad Henne was the starter in 2013, but the Jaguars are considered in the market for a quarterback. At running back, the Jaguars said goodbye to veteran Maurice Jones-Drew and are now looking at Toby Gerhart as potentially being the lead back.

    One question: How do the Jaguars propose they will cover the Dolphins' receivers? The Jaguars will need a monster performance from their defensive line if they are going to prevent Mike Wallace, Brian Hartline and the rest of the Dolphins' skill position crew from having career performances.

    Across the board, the Dolphins are a far more talented team. They have an opportunity to pick up a valuable road win and should be able to capitalize.

    Prediction: Dolphins 23, Jaguars 14

Week 9: Vs. Chargers

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    USA TODAY Sports

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

    The schedule has the AFC East facing off with the AFC West, which featured three playoff teams in the Denver Broncos, Kansas City Chiefs and San Diego Chargers.

    The Chargers offense was one of the most prolific in the league last year, but unlike in the days with Norv Turner as head coach, the Chargers were far more balanced between the run and the pass with Mike McCoy leading the charge. Quarterback Philip Rivers took some steps back over the years, but he proved he still has some gas left in the tank; he led the league in completion percentage (69.5) and had the highest passer rating of his career since 2008. 

    When the Dolphins have the ball, they should keep it as balanced as possible. The Chargers ranked 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt (8.01) and 27th in yards allowed per rush attempt (4.59). The Chargers were also 4-7 in games where they allowed 100 yards rushing or more.

    Ultimately, this will come down to which team is able to keep the opposing defense more honest. Now that the Dolphins have some semblance of a decent running back, they should be able to stay balanced more often than they did in 2013.

    Prediction: Dolphins 31, Chargers 27

Week 10: At Lions

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    Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

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

    Led by quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, the Detroit Lions offense was a one-dimensional passing juggernaut for years. The Lions' front office finally went out and added a running back in 2013, and with Reggie Bush in the fold, the offense became a well-rounded unit that could hurt you in a number of ways. They are still spearheaded by Megatron, though, and his league-leading 45 receiving touchdowns in the past four years.

    They are also somewhat one-dimensional on defense, with defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley as the top two players on an otherwise average-to-below average defense. The Dolphins have to try to stay balanced to prevent those two from pinning their ears back and going straight after Ryan Tannehill.

    The Dolphins have a secondary capable of covering Calvin Johnson, and if defensive tackles Randy Starks and Jared Odrick can have a big game against the run, with the help of Wheeler and Ellerbe, they should be able to do enough on offense to pull out the win.

    Prediction: Dolphins 28, Lions 24

Week 11: Vs. Bills

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    USA TODAY Sports

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

    The Bills' suffocating defensive line figures to be its linchpin in 2014, especially with Jim Schwartz as the defensive coordinator. The defense's success as a whole will be driven and determined by the success of the men up front. That group was stonewalled by the Dolphins offensive line in the first meeting in 2013, but they came at Tannehill full bore the second time around with seven sacks.

    The matchups in the secondary will bear watching, as well. With wide receivers like Wallace, Hartline, Gibson and Matthews and tight end Charles Clay, Tannehill should be able to find someone open. The Dolphins have plenty of pass-catching talent but again, it means nothing if Tannehill has no time to throw the ball to them.

    The Bills offense will have to attack the Dolphins with a steady rushing attack. Forcing the safeties into the box will open things up for the big plays and take the pressure off EJ Manuel. 

    Prediction: Bills 24, Dolphins 13

Week 12: At Broncos

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    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time and Network: 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS

    Peyton Manning lit the record books on fire in 2013 with over 5,500 yards and 55 passing touchdowns on the season. He may have to repeat his success in 2014 if the Broncos are going to repeat their success, and he may have to do it without one of their top receivers, Eric Decker, and their top running back in Knowshon Moreno.

    Adding Emmanuel Sanders should help fix that, and if Montee Ball is ready to step up, the Broncos may not feel the sting. 

    The Broncos defense was not considered a strength in 2013, but they spent much of the season playing without their best player in linebacker Von Miller. With Miller at full health and other players like cornerback Chris Harris Jr. and safety Rahim Moore also returning from injury, the Broncos could improve. Add T.J. Ward, DeMarcus Ware and Aqib Talib to the mix and the Broncos have a recipe for a top defense in 2014.

    All in all, the Dolphins could find it hard to slow the Broncos down, and harder to find rhythm against their defense.

    Prediction: Broncos 38, Dolphins 20

Week 13: At Jets

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    Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

    Kickoff Time and Network: 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN (Monday Night Football)

    The outcome of the Dolphins' matchups with the Jets could be determined by which Geno Smith shows up. Smith collected three total touchdowns and threw 11 interceptions in a seven-game stretch in the middle of last season, but closed out the year on a high note with seven total touchdowns and three interceptions in the final four games. 

    Smith still doesn't have a bevy of pass-catching threats at his disposal, though. The Jets added Eric Decker as a free agent, but other than Decker, the Jets' only true threat is slot receiver Jeremy Kerley. David Nelson showed flashes of potential, but he remains an above-average third option in the passing game. If Brent Grimes can hold his own against Decker, the Dolphins pass defense should be able to hold its own.

    A bigger question may be whether Ryan Tannehill can find some consistency against Rex Ryan's defense. He had a solid performance against the Jets in 2013 with a 65 percent completion rate, two touchdowns and one interception in a 23-3 win, but he came right back down to earth in the season finale in completing only 50 percent of his throws with one touchdown and three interceptions.

    Given the mismatch of the Dolphins' weapons in the passing game against the Jets secondary, Tannehill should have at least one good game against the Jets this year.

    Prediction: Dolphins 23, Jets 14

Week 14: Vs. Ravens

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    Marc Serota/Getty Images

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

    The Baltimore Ravens fell hard after winning the Super Bowl, finishing the 2013 season 8-8 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 2007. One of those eight wins came against the Dolphins in a game that came down to the final seconds, with the Ravens driving through a game-winning field goal in the final minute.

    With some salary-cap constraints, the Ravens have not been able to make as many improvements to their roster as they might like. Although adding wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels could add a new dimension to the offense and help them get back to where they were when they won the Super Bowl.

    The bigger question may be whether running back Ray Rice is available for this game, depending on whether he gets suspended over allegations of domestic abuse. Either way, the Dolphins offense has the tools to make life difficult for the Ravens defense.

    Prediction: Dolphins 24, Ravens 17

Week 15: At Patriots

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    USA TODAY Sports

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

    The Dolphins were barely able to beat the Patriots when New England was at its weakest, with a handful of key starters out of the lineup with injuries. Now that the Patriots have dramatically improved their defense, it seems like the deck is stacked for the Patriots to sweep the series yet again. Crazy things always seem to happen between these two teams, though, and the games are almost always closer than they appear on paper.

    Let's not pretend that the running game will make a huge difference for Miami. It beat the Patriots with just 89 rushing yards as a team, and lost in a game where it amassed 156 rushing yards. If Ryan Tannehill can play as well as he played in Week 15 of the 2013 season, the Dolphins should be able to get one win against the Patriots. It will be tough against the likes of Revis and Browner, but it's what has to happen for the Dolphins to win.

    As mentioned before, the Patriots are still the dominant team in the AFC East, but the Dolphins had the Patriots on the ropes in their first meeting and were able to pull out the win the second time around, so it shouldn't be a surprise if the Dolphins are once again able to pull off an upset.

    Prediction: Dolphins 27, Patriots 23

Week 16: Vs. Vikings

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    Jim Mone

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

    The Vikings have a few underrated pass-catchers at their disposal with Cordarrelle Patterson, Greg Jennings and Jerome Simpson on the outside, which is enough to take advantage of the Dolphins' lack of depth in the secondary. Neither Matt Cassel nor Christian Ponder is going to take over a game, but each one has proven capable of managing the game. 

    Really, though, the Dolphins' primary objective will be to shut down running back Adrian Peterson, who has single-handedly accounted for over 33 percent of the Vikings' offensive yardage over the past two seasons. The Vikings run through Peterson, and without him, their offense is not nearly as dangerous.

    On the other side, however, the Vikings defense has slowly come unraveled over the years, with valuable defensive linemen either retiring or moving on to new homes. Their secondary has never been considered one of the elite units in the league, either, so there are plenty of holes in this defense for the Dolphins to exploit.

    Prediction: Dolphins 20, Vikings 12

Week 17: Vs. Jets

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    USA TODAY Sports

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

    The rivalry is beginning to heat up between the Jets and Dolphins as the two teams vie for the second spot in the AFC East. The Dolphins won the first encounter in 2013, but as a result of losing the second encounter, they fell to third in the division and also missed out on the playoffs.

    In the past, the Jets seem to have the formula for giving Tannehill problems. Their defensive line can contain him in the pocket. Their secondary can give him different looks, disguise their coverage pre-snap and mix it up between man and zone. Will they still have that formula without Antonio Cromartie and with Dimitri Patterson in his place? The Jets will have to hope so, facing off with Wallace, Hartline, Matthews and Gibson.

    What about the Jets offense against the Dolphins defense? Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell are probably salivating at the thought of facing the Dolphins defense; Miami struggled against the run last year, ranking in the bottom 10 in rushing yards allowed and 18th in yards allowed per rush attempt. It will be important for the Dolphins to make the Jets one-dimensional, shutting down the run to force Geno Smith to beat them on his own.

    Will they be able to do so twice? My guess is no. These two teams are close from a talent and coaching perspective, and the two teams should split their season series for a fifth straight year.

    Prediction: Jets 27, Dolphins 24