Thursday, April 12, 2007

Schedule Analysis

Now that the schedule is out, let's take a look at the road Miami must travel. Before I begin, I must caution that any speculation regarding the schedule at this point in time is exactly that - speculation. There's no chance that the standings from last year will end up the same at the end of next season, meaning that some teams will be better than we think, and some teams will fall off. Having said that, I'm going to break the schedule down into quarters in order to see which portions of the season bring which challenges.

Weeks 1-4 (First Quarter)
@ Redskins, vs. Cowboys, @ Jets, vs. Oakland

The team begins its season on the road, but fortunately its against a mediocre team with a young QB under center (Jason Campbell). The first game of the season is always a crapshoot (anyone remember Denver in 2005?), since all the teams are just getting acclimated to real game speed, and it's the most likely week for an upset. It's hard to say which team winning would be the upset, however. Both teams seemed to be matched in mediocrity, so it will be important for Miami to get a win and gain some confidence heading into the much more difficult match against the Cowboys. I for one, am not looking forward to the circus that will inevitably follow Terrell Owens into this game. Obviously the most critical matchup in this first quarter is the division game versus the Jets. Unfortunately, it's an away game and the Jets proved last season that they are dangerous. Capping off the first four games is a home game against the lowly Raiders. Again, the Dolphins will be facing a team that most likely will have a youngster starting at QB. If that QB is a rookie, Miami's defense will have an excellent opportunity to cause havoc for him.

Worthless Prediction (2-2)

Weeks 5-9 (Second Quarter)
@ Texans, @ Browns, vs. Patriots, vs. Giants (in London), BYE week

By the second quarter of the season, Miami should be fully up to speed and settled in for the long haul. Luckily, the first two games are against average teams which are again led by inexperienced and young signal-callers (that makes 4 out of the first 6 games against young, green QBs). These two games also mark two Sundays away from Miami. The sign of any good team is that it beats the teams it is "supposed" to beat. Well, the three game stretch versus Oakland, Houston, and Cleveland seems like a stretch that Miami "should" sweep. But, as Dolphins fans have learned the past few years, these are exactly the kind of games that cannot be overlooked. Houston, in particular, has proved pesky and I can guarantee that Miami is looking to finally beat them, as well as to repent for their awful 22-0 loss to Cleveland in 2005. Then comes the first game of the matchup that I most look forward to every year - Dolphins vs. Patriots. As a Dolphins fan in New England, these games always bring the most excitement for me. If the pattern continues as it has in recent years, Miami plays a very strong game and wins its home game in the series. Unfortunately, while Tom Brady has struggled mightily in Miami, the Phins have had one hell of a time coming away from Foxboro victorious, but that game comes later on in the season. Miami finishes up the first half of its season playing a "home" game in London against the Giants. The Giants were a mess last year, but this game will be a toss-up. Going to London is going to throw each team out of its normal routine. Luckily, Miami has its BYE week following its overseas trip. By this time, it will be much needed.

Worthless prediction (3-1), (5-3 overall)

Weeks 10-13 (Third Quarter)
vs. Bills, @ Eagles, @ Steelers, vs. Jets

This is a tough section of the season. With an extra week to prepare, Miami will take on the division rival Bills at home. After that game, Miami faces both the Eagles and Steelers on the road. The Steelers game is Miami's lone chance to shine in the national spotlight. Hopefully, Joey Porter comes ready to wreak havoc against the team that let him go. Miami caps off this quarter with an divisional game against the Jets at home.

Worthless Prediction (2-2), (7-5 overall)

Weeks 14-17 (Fourth Quarter)
@ Bills, vs. Ravens, @ Patriots, vs. Bengals

This is another tough stretch of games. The second half of the season definitely seems tougher than the first half. If Miami is somehow still in the playoff hunt at this point, they will have to play extremely well to beat these teams. Playing both the Bills and Patriots on the road will be hellish (if hell was blanketed in snow) at this point in December. The Ravens will be tough, too. The Bengals game is hard to predict. Either team could be out of the playoff hunt or the Bengals could even be resting its starters if it has a good enough season. That one's a toss-up (just like they all are at this point).

Worthless Prediction (1-3), (8-8 overall)

Finishing 8-8 overall will be an improvement from last season, although a somewhat disappointing improvement. In reality, Miami's success depends so heavily on the quarterback play and the ability of the offense to establish an identity early. As for the general patterns in the schedule, Miami absolutely needs to capitalize on its opportunities against young QBs in the first half of the season. If they can establish momentum in the first six games, they can carry that into their important divisional games. Overall, the schedule is very fair. There are only two times that Miami has to go on the road two weeks in a row, and having the BYE week after the London game is perfect. Also, Miami is one of 8 teams who does not have to face an opposing team coming off its BYE week all season. That means that no team Miami faces will have two weeks to prepare for them.

And in the spirit of High Fidelity, here's my top 5 list of Miami games for the 2007 season:
  1. Both New England games (although seeing Wes Welker in a Pats jersey will be sickening)
  2. Monday Night Football vs. Steelers - hopefully Miami shines in the national spotlight and earns a flex schedule appearance
  3. Jets/Bills games (I know, that's four games, I'm greedy)
  4. Eagles - let's see how the team performs against top competition
  5. Cowboys - hopefully T.O. gets shut down, and Romo gets knocked down

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