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Ranking the Most Interesting Games on the Dolphins’ 2016 Schedule

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Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Dolphins clearly face a tough road in 2016. The team starts out the season against two of the league’s best teams in their respective, but equally hostile, home stadiums. Fast forward to the end of the year, and the Dolphins are facing a two game road trip into the frigid cities of the AFC East rival Jets and Bills, concluding with a third consecutive divisional matchup, a Week 17 game against the Patriots.

As a whole, the schedule looks like a daunting task for a first year head coach taking over a team that has not had a winning season since 2008. Facing the AFC North and NFC West, two of the league’s toughest divisions, as well as long road trips to the West Coast and December games in potentially freezing weather, Adam Gase will be challenged in his inaugural season as a head coach.

However, NFL teams approach the season one game at a time. This cliché holds true for almost every team, as they really don’t put much thought into games outside of the one seven days (or less) ahead of them. We, on the other hand, have the luxury of looking at the full picture. Here are the most intriguing games on the docket for the Miami Dolphins in 2016.

5. Week 1: @ Seattle Seahawks

First impressions go a very long way. While this game will obviously be taken with a grain of salt due to the difficulties that go along with a trip to Century Link Field.

Opening weekend will always be a grand occasion. We don’t need to elaborate too much on why the debut for a first time head coach has plenty of significance for the team, or why the first meaningful game for Dolphins fans since January will be a highly anticipated event. Football will make its grand return, and a new chapter in Miami Dolphins history will begin.

Whether that new chapter is or is not enjoyable remains to be seen.

4. Week 5: VS. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Miami Dolphins’ defense looks to be a huge area of weakness heading into the 2016 season. The team bled talent throughout the offseason and created an impending depth crisis by selecting only two players on that side of the ball in this year’s draft.

So when the Pittsburgh Steelers roll into Miami with their high-powered offense, they should be able to have a field day. The Dolphins, however, also look to be a team that could ride their offense through the upcoming campaign. Miami will need to rely on their air and ground attacks to score enough points in 2016 to combat what looks like a defense that could be troublesome, highlighted by a barren secondary.

Adam Gase, an offensive minded coach, will enter this game with one objective: score early, score often and score through the air. The Steelers will be firing on all cylinders in all likelihood, and the Dolphins will have to keep pace with one of the league’s most gifted offenses if they want to have a chance.

Can Adam Gase assemble a game plan that allows the Dolphins’ offense to go toe-to-toe with the Steelers’? Fans should expect an interesting matchup between these two teams.

3. Week 11: @ Los Angeles Rams

Most don’t immediately jump to scheduling and travel implications when a team relocates. However, that is exactly what the Miami Dolphins focused on, as they realized that their schedule, which already featured trips to San Diego and Seattle, just added another cross country journey.

The Dolphins reportedly asked the league office for at least two of these three road games consecutively, which would allow the team to settle into the Pacific Time Zone and achieve some sense of normalcy on the road. They succeeded in their efforts, as they will be facing the Chargers and Rams in Weeks 10 and 11, allowing them to stay over in Southern California.

The task of organizing one of these long trips will be daunting for a first year head coach. Adam Gase will have 53 players who are all creatures of habit completely out of their normal routine, and it will be his job to establish a home-like environment thousands of miles from South Florida. The first game of this trip will be less interesting, but it will be key to keep a close eye on the team’s second matchup of their West Coast trip.

The team’s practice schedule, meetings, and workouts will all be affected in some way, and it will be critical for Adam Gase to work towards minimizing the effects of the road trip in an effort to help the team settle into a routine and maintain the normalcy that is key to the performance of high-level athletes.

2. Week 16: @ Buffalo Bills

Miami Dolphins fans have been frustrated for years, but no recent trends make blood boil like the string of losses under Joe Philbin to the Buffalo Bills and the constant late losses to knock the team out of contention in December.

The Dolphins missed multiple playoff opportunities in recent seasons by losing games that they had been in a good position to win. The team struggled to get the job done, and it cost Joe Philbin his first head coaching position. Why were the Dolphins always in a tough spot? Partially because Philbin could never get it done against teams like Buffalo.

However, Adam Gase has taken over, and previous trends should all be disregarded. The statements like "the Dolphins play the Bengals well," or "The Colts are usually a win for the team," can no longer be relied upon. The Dolphins will have a new set of trends, and this Week 16 matchup with the Bills will be an important way to establish two new sets of tendencies.

First, if Miami is in a position to prove their chances at a playoff spot, can they win a late season matchup in hostile territory to help set up a chance to head into the postseason?

Second, can the Dolphins manage to reestablish themselves against the Bills and stop the troublesome pattern of losing games to their upstate New York rivals?

A win in this game would be a strong statement towards the ability to accomplish both of these things. A loss would be a troubling start to a regime that most expect, at a minimum, to break some of the bad habits established by Joe Philbin that plagued the Miami Dolphins from 2012-2015.

1. Week 2: @ New England Patriots

As Steve Winwood once said, "While you see a chance…"

The NFL is a league of opportunity. The Miami Dolphins have been given one in the form of a four game suspension levied against Patriots QB Tom Brady. The future-Hall of Fame player’s involvement in the Deflate Gate scandal has cost him dearly in the form of ¼ of his 2016 season.

Brady is one of the greatest passers in NFL history. When a team loses a player of that caliber, regardless of their backup situation, there will certainly be a drop in offensive productivity. Both as a leader and a player, Tom Brady is ½ of the engine that drives the New England Patriots. Bill Belichick might be the man behind the wheel, but the operation doesn’t go without Tom Brady.

The Patriots’ coach will most likely tone down the QB’s responsibilities as Jimmy Garoppolo enters a starting role, meaning that there will inherently be less to account for in the offense, which will, in all likelihood, cause some level of reduced firepower.

The Dolphins could very well be coming off of a Week 1 loss and, with Brady at the helm, would surely be staring down the barrel of another decimation in Foxboro. However, this is a chance for Miami to snatch victory for the jaws of what previously looked like a certain defeat.

In a league that is entirely about taking advantages of opportunities, particularly one as substantial as the Brady suspension, this game will be a huge chance for the Miami Dolphins to steal a win and potentially enter a very favorable home stretch at 0.500 instead of in a 0-2 hole.