The Miami Dolphins will have a busy and difficult schedule as they try to reach for the playoffs for a second straight season.
After Hurricane Irma postponed Miami's season opener, the team was left with one of the more challenging schedules in the league. The Dolphins will play games for at least 16 straight weeks and will also make a stop in London along the way.
The busy schedule will come after a preseason that already saw the Dolphins bring Jay Cutler come out of retirement. Miami's roster has suffered multiple injuries already and the depth on the team has taken a hit. Without a week to rest during the season, nagging injuries could become more serious issues as well.
In this league however, other teams will not feel sorry for the Dolphins. The competition will be fierce and Miami will need to find play makers in surprise spots. Head coach Adam Gase and the rest of the coaching staff, will likely try and rest some of the starters anytime it is possible.
The season will begin for the Dolphins in Los Angeles against the Chargers and will continue with another road game in New York. The Dolphins will not take the field at home until October 1st against the New Orleans Saints. Miami will then have three of four at home and this could end up being a critical part of the schedule.
Cutler only worked in parts of two preseason games, but he had plenty of time to practice with his new offense. The veteran quarterback also has a familiarity with Gase which should come in handy. Finding a rhythm with wide receivers such as Jarvis Landry, is the biggest task at this point. Cutler is not a QB who is afraid to throw deep and Landry could be the recipient of several of those this season.
Cutler's game differs from that of Ryan Tannehill and it could take some time for the offense to become accustomed to the change. Tannehill had been Miami's starting QB for every season dating back to 2012 and amassed a 37-40 record along the way. Barring setbacks, Tannehill is expected to return to the roster in 2018 and slide right back in as the starting quarterback. Cutler could go back to retirement at that point, or move on to another organization.
Miami's running game will also be something to keep an eye on as the season gets underway. Jay Ajayi etched his name into record books last season, but missed a lot of practice time this time around. Ajayi was in the league's concussion protocol program and was sidelined due to that. The RB did get into some exhibition action, but did not take many handoffs from Cutler on the field of play.
The defense for Miami remains mostly the same as 2016, but some special attention should be paid to Rey Maualuga. The veteran was unable to play in Miami's exhibition games, due to being considered out of shape. Maualuga has the ability to be a big contributor for the Dolphins, but it remains to be seen if he'll take the field in the first game of the season. Raekwon McMillan was set to be Miami's starting middle linebacker, but he suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason.
Miami's third game of the year will be the aforementioned game in London and it will be against the New Orleans Saints. After their first game was postponed, team owner Stephen Ross tried without success to have the game moved back to Miami. Unlike previous seasons, there is no bye surrounding the game and jet lag could become an issue for the Dolphins.
If the Dolphins can stay competitive, they will have a difficult three week three-week stretch during the second half. On November 27th and December 11th, the Dolphins will take on the New England Patriots. Weather could be a factor in the November game at Foxboro Stadium. In addition to possible cold temperatures and snow, the Dolphins will be playing for an 11th straight week at the time.
Weather will likely be a bigger problem for the Dolphins on December 17th, when the Dolphins head to Buffalo for a game with the Bills. The Dolphins will also finish out the season against Buffalo on December 31st. While Buffalo may not contend for a playoff spot, it has been known to give Miami fits in some previous seasons.
After a long playoff drought, the Dolphins surprised some with their success in 2016. With the injuries and scheduling, a return to the playoffs could be an even bigger surprise this time around.
The season will begin on Sunday in Los Angeles against the Chargers at 4:05 p.m.