In the same way we celebrated the start of training camp as the start of the new NFL season, we can celebrate the start of the new week as the beginning of Week 1. That only means it’s time to delve into previewing the Dolphins’ opener against the Bills.
When the 2010 schedule was fist released I’m sure many fans looked at Week 2 at the Vikings, or the two prime time games against the Jets and Patriots as defining games for the new look Dolphins. Those games may serve as our biggest indicator of how good this team can be, but if you, even for a minute, think Week 1 against the Bills isn’t a 10 on a one to ten scale of how important, you are of your mind.
Is it a sexy matchup? No way. But for the Dolphins, losing up at Orchard Park on Sunday could put them in a hole that becomes impossible to dig out of. Don’t kid yourself, losing to the Bills on the road is always a possibility, no matter how good or bad each team is.
You can throw records and power rankings out the window whenever the Dolphins and Bills face off. Look no further than last year. Miami traveled up to northern New York in Week 12, very much in the thick of the playoff race. They led 14-7 heading into the fourth quarter, before the wheels came off. Buffalo went on to trounce the Dolphins 24-0 in the fourth, and wound up winning 31-14.
The Dolphins realistically remained in the playoff race until Week 16 and held on to some slim hopes in Week 17, but I think most fans would point to that loss at the Bills as the game that really cost them.
Looking at the schedule in the following weeks, makes Week 1 ten times more crucial. How about at the NFC runner-up Vikings, at home against the Jets and Pats before the bye week, then at Lambeau Field to take on the Pack, back to Miami to take on the Ben Roethlisberger led Steelers, then back on the road to face off against the Bengals and Ravens in back-to-back weeks.
That’s got to be one of the toughest seven game stretches that I have ever seen. I don’t know if the Dolphins will be favored in any of those contest. Could they get a few upsets after dropping to 0-1 against a team they should beat? I think they can. But they will make it substantially easier on themselves if they win the games they’re supposed to.
Losing to Buffalo can’t be the type of momentum the Dolphins want kicking off a make or break seven game stretch. My theory is, if the Dolphins can stay right at .500 for those first eight games, they will have a great opportunity to put together a nice run as the schedule gets a bit softer.
Which is more realistic, 4-3 in those seven games, or 3-4? Regardless of how optimistic you are heading into this season, you should know the answer to that.
None of this is even taking into account how the Dolphins have started the last two seasons under Sparano. 0-2/2-4 in 08′ and 1-3 in 09′ put this team in playoff, win or go home mode at about midseason. Did they rebound nicely? You better believe it, but last year showed that eventually slow starts will catch up to you, as the Dolphins ran out of gas down the stretch of the season.
With this division possessing three legitament contenders this year, they simply can’t afford to start slow again, especially against an AFC East opponent.
The Dolphins have gone on record saying it starts in the division, that’s how they won it in 2008. And Buffalo, regardless of how bad the media says they will be, accounts for two of Miami’s six most important games just like the Jets and Pats do.
Are the Dolphins a better team than the Bills? On paper, absolutely. But as we all know, the games are played on the field, anything can happen. And looking at the games ahead and the team’s slow starts the past couple years, the Dolphins are going to be in a world of hurt if they approach this game as an easy win.