As long as it’s June and everyone is in an absurdly optimistic mood, let me be the first to predict a great start to the Miami Dolphins’ season. Heck, put me down for 4-1, the exact opposite of Adam Gase’s 1-4 debut as an NFL head coach in 2016.
The schedule is so much kinder, or at least as gentle as any string of Sundays can be in this league.
Tampa Bay at home, the Chargers and Jets on the road, New Orleans in London and Tennessee back home at Hard Rock.
How much better is that than Gase’s opening challenge of road trips to Seattle and New England last year? Let me count the ways.
- The Dolphins finished 10-6 last year. Each of their first five opponents had lesser regular-season records in 2016, though the Bucs and Titans come close at 9-7.
- Miami made the playoffs last season. None of their first five opponents did.
- One of those crazy Thursday night road games was on last year’s September schedule, and it came against Cincinnati, a team accustomed to making the playoffs. This year the only quirk in the early schedule is Oct. 1 in London against the Saints, a game which offers no particular advantage to either team.
- Early in the 2016 season Miami hadn’t figured out how to win close games. That changed down the stretch, and two of the Dolphins’ September 2017 opponents know that. Miami scored a comeback win over the Chargers last year on an Andrew Franks field goal and a Kiko Alonso interception return. They also passed the Jets in the fourth quarter on a 96-yard kickoff return by Kenyan Drake.
- Three of Miami’s first five opponents in 2016 were playoff teams, which was enough to make the Dolphins seem inferior right off the bat. Now that Gase has gotten his guys back into the postseason party for the first time in forever, there is no psychological hill to climb.
There will be a loss somewhere along the line, maybe even in the opener if Jameis Winston gets hot, but at least Gase is getting a fair shake in his second season. If the Dolphins keep improving and get a few breaks, they will win more of the inevitable fourth-quarter slugfests than they lose against this early list of opponents.
That hole had to dig out of last year was so different, so ridiculous, and you could see it coming as soon as the schedule was announced.