With the unveiling of the 2013 NFL schedule and the draft less than a week away (HURRY UP), the 2013 NFL season feels so close, yet is so far away. However, that does not mean we as fans can not analyze every little detail leading up to the season, as we like to do. Based on the recently released schedule for the Fins, here are my five key games for the newly charged Dolphins in the upcoming season. They are in no particular order!
1. Week 3 (09/22/13) VS. Atlanta Falcons: The first home game of the season for the Dolphins could be their toughest task. The Falcons have consistently been one of the best regular season teams in the league, and it will be interesting to see how CB Brent Grimes does against his old QB Matt Ryan. An opening home win against a stout team could give the Fins the confidence they need to take on the Pats later in the year (possibly for the AFC crown).
2. Week 5 (10/06/13) VS. Baltimore Ravens: The Dolphins will be heavy underdogs against the reigning Super Bowl Champions, but the game will feel much closer due to the Ravens’ inability to retain some of their counted on starters. One of the players the Ravens were counting on will be playing against them, and LB Dannell Ellerbe will get his first look against his old team. This game is relatively on in the season, but it comes right before Miami’s bye week, and will show them what they need to do to compete with the best of the best.
3. Week 9 (10/31/13) VS. Cincinnati Bengals: An intriguing game for the Dolphins for three reasons: it falls on Halloween night, it’s one of their three Prime-time games (yes, we actually are getting some attention this year), and it’s against one of the most underrated teams in the AFC. Miami struggled in a close win over the Bengals last year, and yet it was the Bengals who found themselves playing in January last year. They are resilient, can run the football, and have a smart QB. The question is: will Miami’s firepower prove too much this year? This game may decide a tiebreaker late in the season between two possible contenders.
4. Week 14 (12/08/13) AT Pittsburgh Steelers: Mike Wallace returns to the Steel City and faces the Steel Curtain for the first time in his career. The Steelers always somehow find themselves in the playoff mix come late December no matter what their record is, and this game very well may decide a Wildcard spot (banking the Fins don’t win the division). The main story line will be Mike Wallace’s return to Pitt.
5. Week 15 (12/15/13) VS. New England Patriots: The last big test for the Fins and a game that could decide the AFC East. I don’t see Miami beating the Pats the first time earlier in the year in Foxborough, but back home in the South Florida sunshine, I would almost favor the Fins in this one. Then again, we’ll have to see how both teams are playing. Regardless, Miami can finally compete on paper with the high octane Tom Brady’s and his twin tower TE’s. This game will be Tannehill’s biggest test of his young career.
The most fun part about trying to analyze a team’s schedule before the season starts is the wild unpredictability of the NFL. These 5 games may end up being the least important of the season. Miami could be playing the Bills for the AFC East in week 16, or competing with the Jets for the number one overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft in Week 17 (I think the Jet’s have that wrapped up). What’s fun is that nobody can know before it happens. I am just hoping for a teal and orange January!