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Which will be Miami’s “prove it” game in 2017?

When will the Dolphins show the rest of the NFL that they are not a team to be taken lightly?

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

For every playoff team in the NFL, there’s a specific game during the regular season where that team shows the rest of the league that they’re the real deal. For last year’s Miami Dolphins, that game came in Week 16 against the Buffalo Bills, when the Dolphins proved that even without their starting quarterback, they could go into a division rival’s home in frigid temperatures and secure a playoff berth. After years of falling just short at the end of a season, the 2016 Dolphins pulled through. Jay Ajayi paved the way in that match by rushing on Rex Ryan’s defense for over 200 yards for a second time in one season. With a performance like that, others knew to be cautious of the squad in aqua and orange, and that’s been made clear with many pundits (although not all) predicting a bright future for the Dolphins.

When looking at Miami’s schedule for 2017, it’s clear that the road to the playoffs will be tougher than last season’s, as the Dolphins will not only be playing two of the toughest divisions in the league (AFC West and NFC South), but will also have to play two teams that soundly beat the Dolphins last season, the Titans and Ravens. And let’s not forget that the Dolphins compete against the defending Super Bowl champions twice in the span of three weeks.

When looking for a possible “prove it” game, a few options stick out. The Week 5 rematch against the Titans, a Week 8 Thursday night game in Baltimore, and a Week 14 primetime home game against the Patriots are all viable candidates. However, another game is where I think the Dolphins will have the chance to make their mark, and it’s coming earlier than you might think.

Week 1 of the 2017 season will be Miami’s shot at proving to the rest of the NFL that they are a force to be reckoned with. To open the season, the Dolphins will host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, a trendy playoff pick for the 2017 season. There are many similarities between the Dolphins and Bucs, including both teams having improving quarterbacks, offenses stacked with skill position talent, and defenses that project to be quite strong heading into this season. Both teams’ head coaches also impressed in their first year at the helm of an NFL team, and will look to build on their successes this year.

If the Dolphins really are the playoff team that so many fans are hoping to see, this is a game where they need to be competitive. After numerous seasons of starting the year cold over the past decade, coming out of the gate with a strong showing against a rising team would do wonders not only for cementing the respect of writers, fans, and opponents, but also for getting the team on a roll early, making it easier to vie for a postseason slot come January.

Thus far, we’ve heard almost exclusively positive feedback about a whole host of players during OTAs and minicamp. This game is an opportunity for the Dolphins to show that so much of the hype centered around them this offseason is justified.

Dolphins players know that they can be competitive, as evidenced by Ndamukong Suh’s declaration that the team isn’t scared of the all powerful New England Patriots and Jarvis Landry’s proclamation that Miami can sweep its big brothers in the north. However, saying one thing in the spring and summer is very different from executing it in the autumn and winter.

It’s not fair to state that the Dolphins need to beat the Patriots to be a great team, as many great teams fall to New England. That being said, a win against the Bucs to start the season would go a long way towards proving Suh and Landry right and any doubters wrong.