Go ahead, take a look.
Pull up the Dolphins’ 2014 schedule.
And if you’re a fan, it’s OK to wince.
Because beginning Sunday, your team embarks on a 10-game gauntlet that will either derail the season or slingshot Miami into the playoffs for the first time in six years.
First Green Bay. Then at Chicago. Trips to Detroit and Denver beckon. Home dates with Baltimore and San Diego loom. Plus matchups with all three division rivals.
Most every week could feel like a playoff game. The only soft spot over the next two months: a road trip to Jacksonville.
And because of Miami’s uneven start — splitting its first four games — there’s very little margin for error. The Dolphins likely need to go 5-4 over this stretch to have a reasonable chance to qualify for the postseason.
“We have a big stretch in front of us that will determine how far we go,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill said.
There’s a quiet confidence within the Dolphins locker room that they have what it takes to extend their season into January.
They know they can play well; they have done so twice already. But unless they play at that level on a game-in, game-out basis, they’re destined to repeat their history of mediocrity.
Other than their 2007 debacle, the Dolphins haven’t been awful over the past decade. But they haven’t been great, either. Way too many 6-10s and 7-9s for Stephen Ross’ liking.
“It seems like that happens here every year,” defensive back Jimmy Wilson said. “[But] this has a different feel.”
Why? For one, they’re finally healthy. Six projected starters who missed the Raiders game could be back Sunday: Mike Pouncey, Knowshon Moreno, Shelley Smith, Randy Starks, Reshad Jones and Koa Misi.
But, more importantly, Miami’s offense is finally operating at a competitive level. The Dolphins are averaging 24 points per game and are on pace for their highest-scoring season in nearly two decades.
The necessary caveat: This is through four games, which is too small a sample size to just assume it’s going to continue.
That hasn’t stopped Dolphins players from believing it will.
And it better, with Aaron Rodgers and the high-octane Packers in town. Green Bay has scored 80 points in its past two games, and Rodgers has been as good as ever this year: 12 touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 114.8.
“Even if we win — probably not going to happen — but even if we win 49-0, we need all the points we can get against these guys, because I feel like at any time they have the best quarterback in the game, and they can reel off points at any second,” Dolphins receiver Mike Wallace said. “Teams like this who are a high-powered offense, you don’t want to hang around them, give them a chance. You want to continue to run the score up.”
Wallace added: “We have to continue to try to pour it on. We have to try to embarrass them, because if they get the chance, they’re definitely going to try to do it to us. We have to try to beat them to it.”
Wallace has done his part. He has had touchdowns in four of the past five games and leads the team in catches (20) and receiving yards (246).
The Dolphins paid big money for that type of production, and they’re getting it.
But they also signed Wallace to help put them over their decade-long hump.
He is one of very few people in the Dolphins’ locker room that has been to the playoffs — let alone the Super Bowl. Wallace was on the Steelers’ team that lost to Rodgers’ (and Joe Philbin’s) Packers in the 2010 title game.
Wallace knows what it takes to get to the playoffs. And mediocrity won’t cut it.
“You need to think of it like it’s going to take 14,” Wallace said, when asked how many wins would be needed to win the AFC East this year. “I’m always going to think to the highest level. I don’t know what it’s going to take, but the Patriots, I don’t know the last time they won less than 10, 11 games. They can get it going and win 10 straight. We need to win 14 games.”