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Top Storylines & "Prove It" Moments for the Dolphins in 2016

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Each year, certain games take on more meaning than others. In 2016, things will be no different. There is a healthy dose of interesting storylines in the Dolphins’ slate for next season, and here I will take you through some of the most captivating ones.

Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Show Us What You’ve Got, Coach Gase:

The Miami Dolphins will play their two hardest games of 2016 in the first two weeks of the season. If you’re familiar with the term "baptism by fire," then you surely understand why it applies here.

Adam Gase’s head coaching debut will be against the 12th Man in Seattle, followed by the incredibly difficult task of preparing a team to face Bill Belichick in Foxborough. So, expectations are fairly low for the Dolphins’ opening stretch of games.

However, if Adam Gase could even pull off one win from this trip, or manage to play these teams close, it could be a huge show of strength. Dolphins fans will be looking for any signs of progress, and if the team can challenge two of the league’s best franchises on their home turf, it would be a major stripe earned by Coach Gase.

Ending the Suffering Against the Bills:

Since Joe Philbin became the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, the Buffalo Bills have been a massive thorn in the team’s side. Even when the Bills were not in contention, they managed to give the Dolphins fits.

Under a new regime, situations change entirely in terms of teams that are regularly more or less challenging. For example, under Coach Philbin fans felt comfortable when facing the Bengals or going into Met Life Stadium. Now, these past expectations should be wiped away completely.

One of the most important trends for Coach Gase to end will be the Dolphins’ struggles against the Buffalo Bills. If the Miami is going to turn the corner as a franchise, they cannot continue to drop games against a beatable team. Losing in Gillette Stadium consistently is understandable, but being unable to even put up a fight in Ralph Wilson Stadium is embarrassing.

In 2016, the Dolphins’ games against the Bills will be very interesting. Can the team finally break the streak of poor performances against their upstate New York rivals?

Tannehill and Gase Take on Personal Challenges Against the Browns?

Ryan Tannehill could play against Robert Griffin III for the first time in his career. If he does, this could be another chance for Tannehill to emerge victorious over his fellow QBs of the 2012 NFL Draft. Currently, Tannehill is 4-1 against others in his same class, but he has not faced RGIII. Kirk Cousins started for the Redskins in Week 1 of 2015, but could Tannehill have a chance to out-duel another first round QB in RGIII after already besting Weeden, Luck, and later-round picks like Russell Wilson and Kirk Cousins?

This game will also be interesting because it is Hue Jackson’s first trip to South Florida as the Bengals’ head coach. Many Dolphins fans felt that the team made a major mistake by not hiring Jackson, opting to bring in Adam Gase instead. Now, could Gase be able to give the fans a boost in confidence that their team made the right decision in hiring him?

The Dolphins’ front office did not heavily pursue Hue Jackson, as he was given much more personnel control in Cleveland than they were willing to allocate in Miami. However, this logical reasoning behind not pursuing Jackson will not satisfy most fans until Gase is able to out-coach him fairly consistently. In Week 3 of the 2016 season, he will have his first chance to do just that.

Can Gase Manage a Long Road Trip?

When the Rams officially moved back to Los Angeles, it meant that the Dolphins would be adding a third long distance trip to their schedule. So, the team put in a request to have two of their three west coast games back to back, most likely so they can stay there and not disrupt their schedule a third time.

The Dolphins will be able to stay in Southern California during Weeks 10-11 for their games against the Rams and Chargers. This period will be very telling for the Dolphins’ first-time head coach.

Managing a team away from their home can be very difficult, and maintaining some semblance of routine during a two-week road trip is going to be tough. However, the great coaches always make it work. Dolphins fans do not want excuses; they want a coach who can take the circumstances he is faced with and turn them into positives. There is a famous story of a Dolphins’ trip to play the Raiders under Don Shula, who had gone several years without a win in Southern California. Shula wanted to do an extra walk through, and so he did in a concrete parking garage at the airport hotel. The team won their game later that week.

The question is whether or not Adam Gase will be able to manage a team during a road trip like this and help them stick to their routines. Athletes are creatures of habit, and it is the staff’s job to help put them in a position to maintain their usual flow when on the road.

If Adam Gase can help keep the team on track during that stretch, it will be another check in the right column for Gase’s first year tally.

Taking Advantage of a Home Streak:

There are very few positives to draw from the Dolphins’ schedule. However, one major upside is the five-week stretch at home for the team. They will face the Titans, Steelers, Bills, and then go into the bye week before another home game against the Jets.

Realistically, the Dolphins could very well be 1-3 heading into that batch of games. If the team wants to be able to salvage their season, it could be their only chance.

If the Dolphins win three of their four home games, they could end up 4-4 before heading out for two winnable games in California. After those winnable games in California, the team faces the 49ers at home. So, if the Dolphins can escape that stretch by winning one road game and beating the 49ers at home, they could be 6-5.

This is very optimistic, but it shows the importance of the Dolphins’ month-long gap of home games. Instead of making predictions far too early about the team’s win-loss record, we can simply gauge the importance of each stretch of games.

If the Dolphins want to salvage the 2016 season, after what will likely be a slow start, they will have no choice but to do it during their generous streak of home games during the middle of their schedule.

Finishing Down the Stretch:

Hypothetically, let’s say that Miami is in the hunt for the playoffs for 2016. If they are, they will be forced to face a gauntlet of divisional games at the end of the season. The Dolphins end 2016 with road games against the Bills and Jets, then a home game against the Patriots.

Under Joe Philbin, the team collapsed at the end of every single season. Without fail, they would lose must-win games and give up the chance to control their own destiny heading into playoff-deciding matchups. Even when they did control their own fate, they often would lose those games.

If Miami enters Weeks 15-17 with a shot at the playoffs, it will be a good chance for the team to show that things will be different under a new regime.

If the 2012-2015 Dolphins were in that situation, we all know what the final outcome would be. However, the new coaching staff could have an opportunity to show fans why things will be different.

It is very unlikely that the Dolphins are in the position to complete a run for the wildcard berth. That is not the argument I am attempting to make. If they are in contention, I believe this will be the perfect opportunity for Adam Gase and his coaching staff to display the ability to prepare their team to compete in important mist-win situations.

The Skinny:

Plenty of these storylines for the 2016 season are situational. If the team is noncompetitive, the only storyline will be the 2017 NFL Draft. However, much of the year will revolve around Adam Gase’s attempts to show the fan base and front office that he is capable of leading this team. The Dolphins do not appear to be ready to compete during the upcoming season; most have accepted that. Despite this, fans will want to see flashes of what their coach could turn the team into.

If the Dolphins are able to salvage any semblance of success from this season, it will be a near-miracle. The schedule is incredibly difficult, and the roster is far from complete as the team enters a mini two-season rebuild. While this is true, fans should still be looking ahead to the upcoming season in hopes that we can learn something about our new coaches, new players, and whether or not the Miami Dolphins have set themselves on the right track to succeed in the coming years.