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  Dolphins 2009 Schedule Analysis
    | Home | News Wire | Roster | Depth Chart | Schedule |  

by Chris Shashaty, Phins.com Columnist

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Howard Katz is the NFL’s schedule maker. Following a pre-determined formula, he and his team begin their work by deriving a final list of opponents for each team, home and away. This is the easy part of his job.


The hard part comes in determining when those games will be played. Each team states their preferences to him quite clearly, as do the various networks that pay billions to the NFL for the right to broadcast those games. In the end, how those games fall on a team’s respective schedule can add to (or relieve) the difficulty of their season.


We’ve known for some time that the Miami Dolphins were going to draw the league’s most difficult schedule on paper. That’s the prize they receive for winning the AFC East. It’s also a necessary step on their journey towards a championship.


Their 2009 opponents had a combined .594 winning percentage in 2008. Half of them were playoff teams or playoff caliber teams (Patriots). That’s a tall stack of mail to deal with, no matter how one approaches it.


Looking over the schedule that Katz and friends have come up with, I’ve made the following observations:


1) A fast start is critical

The first five games will likely set the tone for the season, with each carrying major playoff implications for the Dolphins. Games 1 through 3 are against playoff teams (Falcons, Colts, Chargers), two of which are from the AFC (think divisional and conference tiebreaker ramifications). Unfortunately, only one of these games will be played at Dolphin Stadium (Colts). Games 4 and 5 will be at home versus divisional rivals (Bills and Jets).


"There certainly are some challenges”, noted coach Tony Sparano. “The schedule has several playoff teams from last year and conference opponents right at the top, so we need to be ready to go right from start, underlining the importance of our off-season program and training camp.”


2) The ‘bye’ week comes at a good time

No doubt the Dolphins will need to catch their collective breath after running that opening gauntlet. Fortunately, Katz sandwiched their ‘bye’ week in the middle of a stretch of home games (Bills and Jets before, Saints afterwards). This means that the Dolphins will be sleeping in their own beds for a month straight, a big help in keeping the team as fresh as possible early on before they face the teeth of their schedule.


3) The road warrior mentality must carry over to this season

A big key to the team’s 2008 success was their ability to win on the road (6-2) in all sorts of conditions. That penchant must continue in 2009 if they are to qualify for the playoffs. After their October 25 game at home (Saints), the Dolphins will be on the road for six of the next eight weeks. They’ll start out with back-to-back games at divisional rivals Jets and Patriots. That’s a tough patch on its own, though the good news is that it happens in early November, when the chances of brutally cold weather will be low. After a home game against in-state rival Tampa Bay, Miami will hit the road again for another two weeks against a tough Carolina team (12-4) and a Thanksgiving weekend contest at Orchard Park versus the Bills, who figure to be improved in 2009. These two games will set the stage for the critical December playoff run. That stern test begins at home against the Patriots, followed by the final two roadies of the season, at Jacksonville and at Tennessee.


4) Strong finish at home could determine playoff fate

Given that the Dolphins are in the playoff hunt come mid-December, their final two games could decide their postseason fate. Both are against AFC opponents (again, think tiebreakers), both are at home, and both are tough draws. The first is against the Texans, the only NFL team they have never defeated (one of only five teams the Dolphins have a losing record against). The last game of the season should be a barnburner as the Dolphins will face the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers.


5) Only two cold weather games possible

Katz did the Dolphins a huge favor in scheduling the away games versus the Jets and Pats in early November. This means that only the Bills (November 29) and perhaps the Titans (December 20) games could be contested in adverse conditions.


Then again, after the way the Dolphins handled themselves in Kansas City last season, the coldest game in team history, maybe winter weather isn’t an issue for them anymore.


6) Prime time a stamp of legitimacy

Only the better teams in the NFL deserve prime time exposure, and the Dolphins have clearly convinced the networks that they have returned to their historical stature in the NFL. Four games are currently scheduled to be aired in prime time, and that number could go up with the NFL’s flexible scheduling policy in play.


"With the NFL scheduling us for four prime time games this season, it reflects the national following the Dolphins have built over time and it's indicative of the progress we’ve made in the last year," said Sparano.


7) Degree of difficulty could change

As is the case every season, the fortunes of all teams are changing. Last season, the Dolphins caught a huge break with their 2008 schedule; originally having .465 opponent winning percentage strength, it turned out to be much easier (.352).


How will the loss of coach Tony Dungy and WR Marvin Harrison affect the 12-4 Colts? Will Tennessee’s Kerry Collins continue his high level of play, or was 2008 a fluke? How much will the Bills improve, or is Terrell Owens an implosion waiting to happen? Will Tom Brady return to his normal self? How will the Jets fare under new coach Rex Ryan, sans Brett Favre and Laveranues Coles?


I’m sure we could think up many other questions, but you get the idea. The shifting sands of power in the league could make the Dolphins’ 2009 road easier, or more difficult.


2009 Regular Season Schedule    (home games in CAPS)

  Sept. 13  at Atlanta Falcons  1:00 p.m.  CBS    


  Sept. 27  at San Diego Chargers  4:15 p.m.  CBS    

  OCT. 4  BUFFALO BILLS  4:05 P.M.  CBS    

  OCT. 12  NEW YORK JETS  8:30 P.M.  ESPN    

  Oct. 18  Bye Weekend          

  OCT. 25  NEW ORLEANS SAINTS  4:15 P.M.  FOX    

  Nov. 1  at New York Jets  1:00 p.m.  CBS    

  Nov. 8  at New England Patriots  1:00 p.m.  CBS    


  Nov. 19  at Carolina Panthers  8:20 p.m.  NFLN    

  Nov. 29  at Buffalo Bills#  1:00 p.m.  CBS    


  Dec. 13  at Jacksonville Jaguars#  1:00 p.m.  CBS    

  Dec. 20  at Tennessee Titans#  1:00 p.m.  CBS    

  DEC. 27  HOUSTON TEXANS#  1:00 P.M.  CBS    



* All games are Eastern Time.

# Sunday games in weeks 11-17 subject to change as part of NFL Flex scheduling.

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