The series between the Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns is a long and storied rivalry, dating all the way back to 1970. As of the end of the 2004 season, Miami was 9-4 against Cleveland, but is today just 10-8, after having lost four of their last five against the Browns. The Dolphins stopped the skid with a 23-10 victory in the 2013 season opener, at Cleveland.
When we look back at this series, two games, in particular, stand out: the November 18th, 1979 tilt, at Cleveland and the January 4th, 1986 playoff game in Miami. Bob Griese suffered torn knee ligaments during the '79 preseason, in an exhibition game at Tampa Bay, causing Miami coach Don Shula to have to bring in grizzled warhorse Don Strock, to handle the Dolphins' quarterbacking duties that year. Strock played extremely well that day, and had Miami positioned to win the game, with a 24-17 lead, late in the fourth quarter. Cleveland quarterback Brian Sipe had other ideas, however, and responded with a 34 yard touchdown pass to tight end Ozzie Newsome, in the game's final minutes, then fired a 39 yard bomb that WR Reggie Rucker took over his shoulder in overtime, to win the game, 30-24.
Although the Dolphins, on that day, lost a game they arguably should have won, six years later, they won another one they absolutely should have lost, in the aforementioned '86 playoff game. Miami didn't belong on the same field with Cleveland for most of the contest, and the Browns' three pronged rushing attack of Kevin Mack, Earnest Byner and Curtis Dickey accounted for a whopping 245 yards on the ground for Cleveland. Any time your team gives up more than 200 rushing yards, they don't deserve to win the game, much less a playoff game. Accordingly, Cleveland took a 14-3 halftime lead, and the game wasn't even that close. When Byner rumbled for a 66 yard touchdown, on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, the Browns led 21-3, and it looked like Miami's season was finished.
Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, as he did on so many other occasions, saved the day for Miami, however, throwing touchdown passes to WR Nat Moore and fullback Ron Davenport, and with mere minutes remaining, Davenport's three yard TD run pulled the game out for the Dolphins, 24-21. They would lose the AFC Championship Game to New England the following week, and in the more than three decades since then, have reached the conference championship only once, falling to the Buffalo Bills, in January, 1993.
Mediocre though the Dolphins have been in recent years, the Browns have fared even worse, becoming one of the AFC's perennial bottom dwellers the past few seasons. On Sunday, in the home opener at newly revamped Hard Rock Stadium, Clevelend will become only the second NFL team since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, to start five different quarterbacks in five consecutive games. With veteran journeyman quarterback Josh McCown out with a shoulder injury, third round rookie Cody Kessler (Southern Cal) will start under center for the Browns.
Although the Las Vegas line has Miami favored by seven points, we look for a margin of victory considerably larger than that. Expect the Dolphins to win going away, possibly by as many three touchdowns or more. After having faced two of the NFL's best teams, in Seattle and New England, on the road, to start the season, Miami will be only too happy to take out their frustrations with gusto on the team from Northeastern Ohio. Although Cleveland has a fairly strong running game, and run defense has been a problem for Miami, the Browns, with Josh Gordon suspended and with their top two QB's injured, will almost certainly be reduced to a one dimensional offense, so expect Miami to crowd the line of scrimmage and dare Kessler to try and throw against them. We expect a final score of somewhere in the neighborhood of 28-14, 35-21, etc.