Looking Ahead: Five Most Intriguing Matchups for the Dolphins in 2017

The 2017 NFL Draft has come and gone. That means the only thing standing between us and Week 1 is about four months. We have officially reached the slowest part of the off-season. With that in mind, it is a perfect time to look ahead to some of the most intriguing match-ups because, well, there really isn’t much else we can do.

The Dolphins surprised everyone last season by finishing 9-2 after a horrendous 1-4 start. The team had a great first season under Head Coach Adam Gase, and fans expect the team to build on that. Of course, there are already the built in excuses of “overachieving” and “schedule difficulty,” but in all reality, the Dolphins should set the bar relatively high for themselves.

There are a handful of challenging match-ups for the Dolphins in 2017, but they are games the team needs to win if they want to consider themselves a good football team. Earlier this offseason, Jarvis Landry told reporters that he doesn’t consider the Patriots their big brother anymore. The team has built confidence and that is half the battle.

Of course, the games against the Patriots are going to be interesting (like they always are) but for the sake of this list I am going to leave them out. Over the last four seasons the Dolphins have split the series with the Patriots three times. Ironically, the one time the Patriots swept the Dolphins, they made the playoffs. With that in mind, let’s jump in.

#5) Vs. Saints:

(Getty Images)

(Getty Images)

Did you know that Nick Saban passed on Drew Brees? Did you know that was easily the biggest mistake the Dolphins have made as an organization in the last 20 years? Of course, this is the talking point every time these two teams face off.

The Saints lead the league in yards per game last season while the Dolphins gave up the most yards per game in 2016. Strangely enough, the Dolphins made the playoffs while the Saints finished the season 7-9. This is a prime example of how a few plays define a season.

Miami’s young corners, combined with a healthy Reshad Jones the Dolphins “should” bounce back from their worst defense in franchise history. The Saints aren’t much better than the Dolphins on defense, meaning that Miami’s offense should keep up with New Orleans.

As I mentioned before, these are the winnable games the Dolphins need to take if they want to return to the playoffs. It would also be a great story if the Ryan Tannehill-led Dolphins took down the best offense in the NFL. It is possible that this may even put an end to the nonstop mentioning of the Brees/Dolphins blunder.

P.S. Since the game is in London it will be a 9:30am kick-off. Nothing better than waking up to some football.

#4) @ Ravens:

Jeff Haynes / Reuters

Jeff Haynes / Reuters

This game has a 9-6 final score written all over it. Miami cannot beat Baltimore. To make matters worse, it is a Thursday night game in Baltimore. If the Dolphins want the fans to believe that this is the new Miami, they have to beat the Ravens in primetime.

Baltimore has a suffocating defense, but still finished 8-8. They scored less than 20 points in seven games last season, and they often looked lost on offense. Like always, they will be competing for one of the two wild-card spots with the Steelers being the favorite to win the AFC North.

A Week 8 primetime matchup is a game the old Dolphins would lose. Vegas has the Dolphins winning 7.5 games in 2017. Those 7.5 are likely the ‘bad’ teams that the Dolphins should beat. To make it back to the playoffs they have to beat good teams. It is important to keep in mind that the “Mike Wallace revenge game” is also lingering.

#3) @ Chiefs:

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AP Photo/Matt Rourke

Outside of the Patriots winning the Super Bowl almost every year, there is plenty of parity in the NFL. There are two-or-three elite teams and four-or-five bad teams, but outside of that every other team is about equal.

The Chiefs are ahead of the pack because of their ability to take advantage of opposing team’s mistakes. Like Baltimore, they don’t have a quarterback that is too threatening. Instead, Kansas City uses big plays, especially on special teams to win games. Tyreek Hill is one of the most dynamic players in the league and a horrible match-up for the Dolphins, who struggled with tackling at times last season.

While the Dolphins may not catch the Patriots this season, they can prove their worth by taking care of business against other division leaders. The Chiefs looked lost in the playoffs last season, mostly because they know how to beat up on bad teams. When they face a good team, they struggle to put together a complete game without the opportunity to take advantage of mistakes.

The Dolphins had a hard time playing a clean game last season. If they can limit their mistakes, they have an opportunity to win this late-season matchup during the playoff push on Christmas Eve against a Chiefs team that looked lost at times in 2016.

#2) vs. Buccaneers:

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(Getty Images)

The Bucs remind me a lot of the Dolphins in 2013. Tampa bay finished 9-7 last season and put together a quality campaign, but missed the playoffs. In 2012 the Dolphins missed the playoffs.

Both teams followed up with a great offseason, winning in the draft and in free agency. Following the Dolphins, we know how far winning the offseason gets a team. The Dolphins did the same thing in the summer of 2013, but the team struggled to find consistency.

The Bucs are loaded with talent, but it may take some time for the team to gel. Luckily for the Dolphins, the battle of Florida takes place Week 1. The Bucs will still be a tough match-up for the Dolphins and can give us a good idea of what type of team the Dolphins will be in 2017. Of course, Week 1 isn’t a must-win for any team.

This game will go a long way in seeing if 2016 was a fluke or not. Gase talks about how the team was still learning a new system last season and it took a few games for the players to find the right way of doing things. With the entire core of the team returning, this isn’t an excuse the Dolphins can use. If they get blown out by the Bucs in Week 1 it won’t be surprising to hear the Tony Sparano whispers start up.

#1) @ Chargers:

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(USATSI)

The Dolphins have beaten the Chargers twice in the last three years. When we look at how the season unfolded for these two teams, they were a lot alike. The difference is that the Chargers lost all their games in the fourth quarter while the Dolphins won all their games in the fourth quarter.

These two teams not only have talent on their rosters, but also have a handful of glaring holes they struggle to cover up. Last season, Miami neededa a last-minute pick-six by Kiko Alonso to beat the Chargers; it is impossible for a team to rely on plays like that.

When the Dolphins travel to Los Angeles to play in front of a crowd of 30,000, it will be their only 4 o’clock game of the season and has the potential to haunt them long-term. When teams start looking at tiebreakers, this game is going to stand out. It is never too early to start thinking about tiebreakers.

The reason this game is the most interesting is because both of these teams have a lot to prove in 2017.

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