The 2017 schedule for the Miami Dolphins is very unforgiving. If they want to prove that 2016 wasn’t a fluke they’ll need to step up and win some big games. There isn’t a game on their schedule that will be easy. Even against division rivals the Dolphins never really put teams away. They’ll face plenty of teams this year who made playoff pushes last season. So who will be their most challenging opponents?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Like Miami, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trending upward. The team stunned a few opponents last year and at times looked like they were gelling with the best of them. Coming out of the gates swinging will be the biggest challenge facing the Dolphins this season. In order to wash the bad taste out of their mouth of last year’s break down, they need to come out fast. The Buccaneers aren’t a team to be taken lightly. The Dolphins will get their first test on defense against an offense with plenty of weapons. Expect this game to be close, and Miami to bring everything but the kitchen sink.
Oakland Raiders: The Oakland Raiders looked to be the team to beat last season before quarterback David Carr went down. Then somehow this offseason they got even better coaxing retired running back Marshawn Lynch out of retirement. On paper, if there was any team to challenge the Patriots dominance this season it will be the Raiders. With few games left to play in Oakland, look for them to make an impression on their last remaining years. The Raiders will put together one of the more-complete teams in the NFL and ought to give teams every bit of what they’ve got in the tank.
New England Patriots: The Dolphins and Patriots have a habit of splitting games each season. While every once in a while the Pats will sweep the Fins like they did last season, more often than not both teams walk away with a win each year. Miami has to find a way to go to Foxboro and win football games. Away against the Pats has been the team’s Achilles heal on their road to success. No greater challenge faces the Miami Dolphins than winning games against the division rival if they want to be taken seriously. They need to go into New England and make a statement game this season.
Atlanta Falcons: Atlanta was one of the hottest teams in football last season. Making it all the way to the Super Bowl only to blow a commanding lead against the Pats will be fresh in their mind. The Falcons had a strong defense last year and will test Miami’s new look offensive line. On top of that, they’ll look to assert their dominance on offense should any opponent slip throughout the season. There are too many question marks regarding the Dolphins defense going into this season. If they’re not leaps and bounds above where they were last year, look for the Falcons to be a handful.
Buffalo Bills: Buffalo is another one of those teams who the Dolphins just can’t figure out consistently. One year they’ll sweep them, the next year they’d get swept. They won’t even face the Bills until week 15 in Buffalo. Cold weather games are not the Dolphins strong suit and by then injuries usually set in. The Dolphins close the season with 6 AFC games on their schedule and 4 are divisional matchups. That late in the season, they’ll need to take 3 of those 4 in order to push a playoff spot. Two games against the Bills is possible but 2 against the Pats will be unheard of. Miami needs to find a way to go into Buffalo and put out late season heroics. Can they duplicate last year’s success that almost got away from them? It’ll be a challenge for sure.
2017 is the Miami Dolphins’ “put up, or shut up” year. Last year they proved the culture in Miami has changed. This year they need to prove that teams weren’t sleeping on them. In order to be considered a turnaround, Gase needs to take the team one step further this year, push their boundaries and make a statement. Will it pay off in the end? Maybe not, but if they can pull it off, no one can say it was a fluke.