The NFL released it’s full regular season schedule for 2012 tonight. The Miami Dolphins and first year coach Joe Philbin, should be pleased. As a whole, the schedule is about what you would expect. Luckily, the Dolphins avoided any prolonged road trips. Sure, there are some tough matchups, but Miami knew that before the dates and times were announced.
The schedule does open in an unenviable venue. Miami will travel to Houston to meet the talented Texans to kick off 2012. Houston will no doubt be healthier when they open the year. Despite closing last season with third string signal caller TJ Yates, the Texans persevered. Mario Williams and Andre Johnson also were absent down the stretch. Rather than waving the white flag, Houston kept winning. The winning feeling in Houston should continue this season. The Texans boast one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses. Behind premier rusher Arian Foster and a more healthy Andre Johnson, they should be AFC South favorites. Houston is 6-0 against Miami all-time. Joe Philbin wouldn’t mind opening his coaching tenure in Miami by earning win 1 against the Texans. Yet, Houston will be heavily favored to beat the Dolphins in Philbin’s debut.
After a week one trip to Houston, the schedule opens up a bit. By that, I mean the competition is more on Miami’s current level. The Dolphins home opener in week 2 will be against the Oakland Raiders. For a change, Miami and it’s opponents won’t have to run through the infield dirt in September. That’s perhaps the biggest of many perks of no longer having the Marlins as a co-tenant. Miami roared out to a 34-0 lead in early December against Oakland. Carson Palmer threw two late touchdowns to make the final look more respectable. The Dolphins 34-14 win was their 4th in 5 games at the time. Like Miami, Oakland will enter 2012 with a new head coach. Philbin and new Raiders coach Dennis Allen could each be battling for their first career win.
In week 3 Miami remains at home for the first of two against the rival Jets. Former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano will return to South Florida with his two quarterback attack. Joe Philbin and his staff know that divisional games will be paramount. Particularly clashes with the Jets and Bills. Lets face it, New England is still at a level that all three will have trouble matching in 2012. An early season win against the Jets would be huge.
Miami will then hit the road for two weeks. They’ll travel to the desert to face Arizona in week 4. Covering Larry Fitzgerald, and special teams coverage on electric return man Patrick Peterson, will be key. They then hit the midwest for a matchup in Cincinnati with the Bengals week 5. Andy Dalton and AJ Green were only rookies last season. That’s all that needs to be said about Cincinnati. They’re a team that will be tough to handle for the next decade. With two first round picks next week in the draft, they’ll likely add another weapon or two for Dalton to play with. A trip to the jungle is no longer like going on a laid-back safari. It’s now more like 1987, they just need a catchy dance like the Ickey Shuffle. On a side-note, new Dolphins defensive coordinator, Kevin Coyle will return to his old stomping grounds in this one. His defensive gameplan will be pivotal if Miami hopes to slow the Bengals.
In week 6 Miami returns home to face Jeff Fisher and the St. Louis Rams. Fisher used the Dolphins as leverage to get a better coaching deal in St. Louis, simple and plain. We’ll see which rebuilding program is at a more advanced stage when they meet. Miami then gets a breather with a week 7 BYE.
Miami will come off the BYE week to face the Jets for the second time. This time they’ll square off in New Jersey. What the Dolphins see in Week 8 could be far different to whatever they faced in Week 3. A Tim Tebow sighting as a starter could be in the cards for this one.
In week 9, Miami will travel to Indianapolis to get a glimpse of Andrew Luck. At this point last season the Dolphins were fully submerged in the “Suck For Luck” campaign. Miami instead fought hard down the stretch and reversed it’s fortunes. What exactly they reveresed their fortunes to could be on full display in this one. Luck will likely be starting by Week 9, if not from the first snap of 2012.
Miami returns home in week 10 to face the Tennessee Titans. The Titans may be rolling out a first round pick at QB as well. Second year man Jake Locker will likely supplant veteran Matt Hasselbeck at some point in 2012. One thing you can always bank on with Tennessee- they will always play hard in the trenches. The other thing is Chris Johnson. The Dolphins will have to keep the Titans speed demon under wraps.
Week 11 marks the first week Miami will see an AFC East opponent not named the Jets. It’s also the Dolphins only primetime game. Miami travels to Buffalo to meet the rival Bills in a Thursday night NFL Network clash. Buffalo was hot at the start of 2011, but they fizzled down the stretch. With a healthy Fred Jackson returning and a revamped defensive line, many have used the “sleeper” tag on this group of Bills. They have weapons on offense and could end up having one of the bust run stopping defenses in the game. A trip to Buffalo is never easy for the Phins, but in primetime, the fans in the stands at Orchard Park will be at a fever pitch.
In week 12 Miami will get a glimpse of Matt Flynn in a Seahawks uniform. Joe Philbin’s former back-up to Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay will no doubt want to prove something to his old coordinator. Luckily Flynn and the Seahawks will make the trip to Miami. A road trip to Seattle at this point of the season would’ve been a scheduling nightmare. Miami to Seattle is the longest trek in the league. It’s better to have Seattle fighting jet lag rather than Miami.
Week 13 brings Miami’s first clash with division bully, New England. Bottom line here is that if Tom Brady is healthy, then the Dolphins will be facing a Patriots team with only a loss or two. New England is again the class of the AFC East. We’ll see if Joe Philbin can pull a trick or two from his sleeve to make the Pats sweat a bit.
The jet lag that Miami avoided in it’s matchup with Seattle will rear it’s ugly head with a trip to San Francisco. In week 14 the Phins will face Jim Harbaugh and his NFC West Champion 49′ers by The Bay. It’s the first matchup between Harbaugh and the franchise that yearned for his services prior to last season. San Francisco will again be the team to beat in the West. Alex Smith, who visited Miami while Peyton Manning was rumored as his possible replacement with the Niners, should take another step forward in year 2 of Harbaugh’s tutelage.
Miami returns to South Florida for it’s last two home contests of 2012 in week 15 and 16. First up in week 15, the Phins will face the in-state Jacksonville Jaguars. Former Dolphins starter Chad Henne, slated to be the back up for the Jags, would love to get the nod against his former team. Blaine Gabbert didn’t exactly lock down the job in year one. A grudge match between Henne and Miami is bound to happen. The home schedule closes week 16 with the second matchup with Buffalo. The Bills and Phins could be fighting to stay out of the basement of the AFC East. They could also be fighting for second place and a playoff berth. We’ll see which scenario plays out.
The Dolphins close the regular season at New England. Getting a split with the Patriots in year one for Philbin would be huge.
In all, the schedule is one that could be navigated quite nicely by the Dolphins. While the Phins do face some up-hill battles on the docket this season, there are some winnable games. Furthermore, it’s only April 18th, A LOT can change by the time games actually kick off. A quick glance at the schedule and how Miami is currently constituted… the crystal ball is telling me 7 or 8 wins. In year one of a new regime, if the team is steadily improving, I call that a good year.