Tough Road Ahead: Analysis & Predictions for the Dolphins’ 2016 Schedule

The NFL has released the full schedule of games for the upcoming 2016 season. At this time last year, Dolphins fans were complaining about a very difficult schedule weighted heavily with early road games.

Now, spirits will probably be even lower in Miami than they were with last season’s slate.

The Miami Dolphins will have an incredibly difficult road ahead in 2016. Each year, teams appear to be given a more difficult path than others in the incredibly difficult act of crafting the schedule. Now, for the Dolphins, the path seems as arduous as any they have been faced with in recent memory.

Week 1: @ Seattle Seahawks (9/11/16)

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(Tannen Maury/EPA)

It couldn’t get any rougher than this. The Miami Dolphins open the season in the NFL’s toughest setting for road teams. The 12th Man in Seattle will be rocking, and the Seahawks will in all likelihood come out firing on all cylinders. If the Dolphins were to win this game, it would be one of the most substantial Week 1 upsets in recent memory.

So, don’t hold your breath.

Week 2: @ New England Patriots (9/18/16)

After playing what could be their toughest game of the season in Week 1, the Dolphins play their next toughest matchup of 2016 in Week 2. The Dolphins struggle mightily in Gillette Stadium, but so does every team in the NFL (other than the Patriots of course). This will in all likelihood be no different, as the Patriots appear primed for another Super Bowl run, and will be ready to defend their home turf yet again.

Week 3: VS. Cleveland Browns (9/25/16)

Sweet, sweet relief. The Miami Dolphins have been given a much more favorable matchup for their home opener in 2016.

The interesting storyline here will be Hue Jackson entering Sun Life Stadium as a visitor after he was highly coveted by fans as a candidate to be the team’s next head coach. Can Adam Gase muster up a showing that sends the right message to fans about the team’s choice to hire him over Hue Jackson? Following what should be an 0-2 start, the Dolphins will be in a good position to notch their first win here.

Week 4: @ Cincinnati Bengals -Thursday Night Football (9/29/16)

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The Dolphins’ first prime time game of 2016 will be a rematch of the famous “Wake-Off Sack” game from Halloween of 2013. This time, the team will enter the jungle against the Bengals in Cincinnati.

The Bengals have become one of the NFL’s regular season darlings, and the struggling Dolphins will have a tough time knocking off this team on the road after coming off of a short week. Thursday Night Football is a tough task, especially for the team forced to travel as early as Wednesday following a Sunday game.

Week 5: VS. Tennessee Titans (10/09/16)

This is one of the wildcard games for 2016. Very few people can predict what the Titans will become next season, but if Marcus Mariota takes a step forward, the team could contend in a somewhat open AFC South.

The Dolphins had their best game of the season last year against Tennessee, but that was against a hobbled Marcus Mariota. With an arsenal of draft picks, and more experience for their quarterback, the Titans should be a much more dangerous group than they were last season. 

Week 6: VS. Pittsburgh Steelers (10/16/16)

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(Peter Dianna/Post-Gazette)

The Steelers enter 2016 with one of the NFL’s best offenses. You could make an argument for the team having the best wide receiver and the best running back in the league, as well as a top 10 quarterback. If the offensive line and Le’Veon Bell stay healthy, the Steelers will become a hot Super Bowl pick.

With that being said, it seems very unlikely that the Dolphins can slow down Pittsburgh’s offensive attack. If Miami’s defense is as porous as many expect it to be in 2016, this game could be a record setting one for Pittsburgh’s offense. It never shakes out as planned in that regard, but it is fair to expect an explosion of points that will be difficult for Miami to match.

Week 7: VS. Buffalo Bills (10/23/16)

The Buffalo Bills have been kryptonite for the Dolphins in recent years. They consistently come out strong and overwhelm the Dolphins with their physicality. Rex Ryan’s teams hit their stride around mid season, and this year’s Buffalo squad should be no different.

This could be one of the Dolphins’ more winnable games next year (which says something about the schedule), but they will have very little momentum coming off of a difficult opening stretch. Under a new regime, old patterns in terms of who the team plays well or poorly against are now moot. If Gase can rally the team for a strong performance heading into the bye, it would send a positive message in his first game against Buffalo.

Week 8: Bye Week 

Finally, a breather.

The Miami Dolphins could very well start the 2016 season with a 1-6 record. That would be a disastrous outcome to open the Adam Gase-era, but one of which they might not be able to prevent.

I fully expect the Dolphins to be competing in some of these games and to pull their usual “beat a good team and slip against a bad one” act. It seems fair to expect them to have one improbable win and then fall to a team that they seemingly could have beaten. However, there should be no doubt about how difficult the first half of 2016 will be for the Miami Dolphins.

Buy stock in Ben & Jerry’s franchises in Miami. They’ll be busy.

Week 9: VS. New York Jets (11/6/16)

Rivalry games are breeding grounds for the unexpected.

The Dolphins could attempt to build up a bit of steam here heading out of the bye week, and if the Jets have not secured their quarterback this could be a winnable game. With the Ryan Fitzpatrick situation up in the air, and the draft still to come, it is difficult to project how dangerous the Jets will be next season. 

Week 10: @ San Diego Chargers (11/13/16)

When the Miami Dolphins visited San Diego last year, it was as ugly of a game as you could imagine. It was the hardest to watch in recent memory for fans of the Dolphins, combining boredom and futility. The team was flat and couldn’t beat a Chargers group that was in the NFL’s bottom 3 in 2015.

This will be a toss up game between two teams who many do not have high expectations for in 2016. Most don’t believe in either as serious contenders, but the Chargers should have an edge as the home team facing a visiting group from the opposite coast.

 Week 11: @ Los Angeles Rams (11/20/16)

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(Allen Schaben/LA Times)

The Miami Dolphins knew that when the Rams moved back to Los Angeles, it meant an extra west coast trip. They supposedly lobbied with the NFL for a stay-over trip, which they were granted. The team very well could remain on the west coast following their game with the Chargers and face the Rams without the pressures of cross-country travel.

The Rams will have Jared Goff or Carson Wentz at quarterback as well as a fearsome defense. However, Jeff Fischer is capable of leading his teams to losses against pretty much anyone, leading one of the league’s most consistently inconsistent groups. This game will be another winnable meeting for Miami, but if the Rams’ young quarterback has developed confidence throughout the season, this game could be an opportunity for them to show their growth by exploiting Miami’s secondary.

Week 12: VS. San Francisco 49ers (11/27/16)

Now we will wrap up California month for the Miami Dolphins, this time hosting one of the Golden State’s teams in South Florida.

The San Francisco 49ers are expected to struggle in 2016, after hiring a coach who has difficulty sharing power to work in an organization that has one of the most dysfunctional power structures in the league. Seems like a strong equation.

This year, facing the 49ers at home, the Dolphins have a chance to notch another win in front of their home crowd. This game could be a much-needed boost in morale for a team that faces a series of difficult tasks on the horizon to close out the year.

Week 13: @ Baltimore Ravens (12/04/16)

The Ravens always play the Dolphins well and could be on their way to a blowout victory as Miami heads into M&T Bank Stadium.

Last season Baltimore was plagued by injuries, but with better luck in 2016 they should be back to their winning ways. The Ravens play their best football towards the end of each season, and they will be fighting for playoff positioning heading down the stretch in the tightly contested AFC North.

Week 14: VS. Arizona Cardinals (12/11/16)

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Everybody remembers the Ryan Tannehill/Brian Hartline explosion during the team’s 2012 game against the Cardinals. However, this is a very different Cardinals team with a much stronger roster in almost every regard.

Arizona has proven to be very beatable when they are on the road, so the Miami Dolphins actually could have a shot in this game. However, they likely will suffer from a lack of motivation compared to the Cardinals, who will be another team deep in the playoff hunt.

With Seattle in the division, and the NFC always tightly contested, Arizona could enter Miami in a must-win situation, while the Dolphins are simply fighting for their dignity. Fighting for dignity against a team with one of the league’s best coaching staffs and most impressive rosters doesn’t seem like a good recipe for success.

Week 15: @ New York Jets (12/17/16)

Dolphins fans will always show up for the MetLife takeover. No matter how bad the team is, they can always count on the fans in New York to bring support on the road.

This game will be another toss up, and I expect the Dolphins to at least put up a fight. The Jets are one of the league’s biggest question marks, but once again, it is very difficult to predict rivalry games, especially when you have Dolphins fans flocking in large numbers to the Jets’ home stadium.

Based on the schedule, this also could mark the beginning of the “Are the Dolphins going to get beaten by the snow?” portion of the season. 

Week 16: @ Buffalo Bills (12/24/16)

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(Harry Scull/Buffalo News)

Once again, this game will depend on the playoff situation. The Bills could have the added fire needed to put them over the edge when facing Miami, who might simply be looking to play the spoiler role.

With the AFC’s 5th and 6th seeds always a close race, can the Dolphins come into Ralph Wilson Stadium and spoil Buffalo’s season? It would make for a more bearable end to 2016, but the answer is probably no.

Week 17: VS. New England Patriots (1/1/17)

Yes folks, here it is. This is the annual game that could ruin the Dolphins’ draft positioning because they muster up the energy to beat New England late in the year.

In all seriousness, the Patriots should once again run away with the AFC East and could be resting starters by Week 17. If they do, who knows what could happen here.

It seems very possible that the Miami Dolphins win this game in typical “draft-wrecking” fashion against a skeleton crew for New England. Fans land all over the spectrum in the tanking debate, and this game should bring that discussion back into the forefront of Miami sports talk.

Five Toughest Games:

  1. @ Seattle Seahawks
  2. @ New England Patriots
  3. VS. Arizona Cardinals
  4. @ Cincinnati Bengals (TNF)
  5. @ Baltimore Ravens

Five Easiest Games:

  1. VS. Cleveland Browns
  2. VS. San Francisco
  3. @ San Diego Chargers
  4. VS. Tennessee Titans
  5. VS. New York Jets

Final Prediction for 2016: 5-11

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(Allen Eyestone/Palm Beach Post)

The Miami Dolphins are facing an incredibly difficult schedule in 2016. Unfortunately, this will make it tough to judge Adam Gase, as Miami enters the year with a subpar roster and a tough road ahead.

However, if Adam Gase can even salvage some semblance of success from next season (7-9 would be a huge showing), it will send a strong message. If he can rally the group based on the struggles the NFL schedule has placed in their future, he could show the leadership and motivational ability that many are looking for from the team’s head coach.

Overall, the Dolphins’ rebuilding year could not have come at a better time. The team struggled in terms of personnel, even facing a weak slate of opponents in 2015, and will in all likelihood have a very high draft pick in 2017 due to the combination of personnel struggles and tough schedule. If the Dolphins want to really rebuild, which it appears they do after passing on the “win now” approach this offseason, the team has the right schedule for it. The Dolphins face one of the league’s toughest slates next season, and could be in prime position to continue their rebuild with potentially valuable draft resources acquired after a poor year.

If you are onboard with the Dolphins’ plans to rebuild and put together a group that will compete in 2017, then this schedule could even be seen as a positive.

If you were looking for a winning season in 2016, I just have one word for you:

Sorry.

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