First half of schedule will be critical for Dolphins

While the Dolphins may not be getting the national attention that, say, the Jets are getting, that doesn't mean their expectations are any lower. No, the Dolphins didn't make a playoff run like New York did. And yes, I'm aware that the Fins only won seven games in 2009. But I'm also aware that the Dolphins made some huge splashes this offseason, investing lots of money on guys who will be instant upgrades on both sides if the ball.

With this kind of spending, it's to understand why fans have high expectations for the 2010 season. After all, it is year three of this regime's reign and it's time for this team  to make the leap to perennial contenders. With the upgrades made this offseason coupled with Chad Henne's development as the starting quarterback and leader of this offense, making that huge jump isn't totally unrealistic.

To make that jump and get back to the postseason, though, the Dolphins must get off to a quick start and navigate the seemingly difficult first half of the schedule. If their first eight games, the Dolphins will face six teams who reached the playoffs last year. Those eight teams had a .594 winning percentage (76-52) in 2009.

Ouch.

Of course, the NFL is a league where you really can't judge how a team will play based on their previous season's performance. Too much changes in this league on a yearly basis. But still, the fact remains that following Miami's week one visit to Buffalo, six of their next seven games will be against '09 playoff teams - and the lone team that wasn't a playoff team last year happens to be the Steelers, winners of Super Bowl XLIII.

Making matters worse, the Dolphins haven't exactly been a good early season team during Tony Sparano's time in Miami. The Dolphins are just 6-8 in September and October over the past two years. They've started off 0-2 in each of those seasons. And even worse, the team just hasn't looked sharp in the early part of the season.

The Dolphins can't afford for history to repeat itself in 2010. Their first eight games are simply too unforgiving for that. A rough start this year could easily bury this team in a hole that they just can't climb out of.

So what's the key for navigating through this rough first half and coming out ahead on the other side? I believe it's those first four games before their week five bye. The Dolphins start with a winnable, albeit never easy, game in Buffalo. They then travel to Minnesota to take on the Vikings before finally coming home and hosting two division rivals in back-to-back prime time games - the Jets in week three and the Patriots in week four.

In a nut shell, the Dolphins really need to win all three of those early season meetings with their division opponents. Buffalo isn't a very good team and the Jets and Pats both have to come to Sun Life Stadium. On the flip side, that game in Minnesota is not going to be easy. It happens to be the Vikings' home opener and they will have additional preparation time following their season-opening Thursday night game in New Orleans.

But if you take those early division games and then split the next four (at GB, vs Pit, at Cin, at Bal) - no easy task either - we'd be looking at our Dolphins holding a 5-3 record heading into the second half of the year. If you were to ask me if I'd sign for 5-3 after eight games in 2010, you wouldn't be able to keep get your pen out quick enough for me to sign.

So here's my question for you: would you sign up for a 5-3 record right now if you had the chance? Or would you be willing to gamble and take your chances at the Dolphins stealing some more road wins against some vvery tough opponents?

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