You know what I see when I look at the Miami Dolphins' newly minted 2018 NFL regular-season schedule? I see an opportunity and a last chance. A chance for the regime of football operations boss Mike Tannenbaum, general manager Chris Grier and head coach Adam Gase to rescue the franchise and their own futures with it.
At least that's how they should see it. Like an opportunity they must seize. I do not see a schedule that is daunting. I see a schedule that affords a chance for a 6-10 team to improve by a few games and be in the playoff hunt.
This is the season of No More Excuses. Last year they had the big one. You lose your starting quarterback on the eve of the season and haul cigarette smokin' Jay Cutler out of retirement. What looked like trouble was.
Now Ryan Tannehill is back and healthy, and the front office better hope its faith in him is justified.
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Now that same front office has made offseason moves aimed at improving the locker room/attitude/culture, letting go of Jarvis Landry, Ndamukong Suh and Mike Pouncey and bringing in veterans such as Frank Gore, Danny Amendola and Josh Sitton. To me that's a talent drain. But bringing in older players suggests the bosses think their team is ready to win now.
So win now.
The schedule should not get in their way. It is not an available excuse.
After the season opener, the Fins play nine of their next 10 games against teams not in the playoffs last season. There is a real shot to be in solid postseason shape entering December — and they better be, because the schedule finishes tough. But that, too, is an opportunity for a club that has dubiously earned a reputation for fizzling at the end, such as last year's three straight losses to finish things.
Miami hasn't ended a regular season with at least two wins in a row since 2008. That's fairly outrageous. You want to put on your big boy pants and grow into a sustained winner, Dolphins? Be the team that finishes strong, not the one that whimpers when it matters most.
Our Dolphins' game-by-game synopsis:
▪ Game 1 vs. Tennessee Sept. 9 — Titans made playoffs at 9-7 last year but Dolphins beat them here (16-10) and get home-opener boost. Win likelihood solid.
▪ Game 2 at N.Y. Jets Sept. 16 — Rivals were 5-11 last year but teams split games. Always tough roadie for Miami. Win likelihood fair.
▪ Game 3 vs. Oakland Sept. 23 — Raiders were a disappointing 6-10 in '17 but edged Miami 27-24 here. Payback? Win likelihood solid.
▪ Game 4 at New England Sept. 30 — Big Daddy Pats were 13-3, reached Super Bowl. Assuming Tom Brady doesn't retire, the Danny Amendola Bowl might not go well. Miami last won in Foxborough in 2008. Win likelihood slim.
▪ Game 5 at Cincinnati Oct. 7 — Bengals were 7-9 and missed playoffs, but Fins lost last trip to Cincy in '16. Win likelihood fair.
▪ Game 6 vs. Chicago Oct. 14 — Bears were 5-11. If Miami has a playoff prayer, this one better be in the bank. Win likelihood solid.
▪ Game 7 vs. Detroit Oct. 21 — Lions were 9-7 but missed postseason. Another key game a playoff team must take. Win likelihood fair.
▪ Game 8 at Houston Oct. 25 — Texans were 4-12 but will have Deshaun Watson back, a huge difference. And, with every other game Sunday at 1 p.m., this is the Thursday night road game every traveling team hates. Win likelihood slim.
▪ Game 9 vs. N.Y. Jets Nov. 4 — If you can't beat the Stinkin' Jets at home, can you say you deserve the playoffs? Win likelihood solid.
▪ Game 10 at Green Bay Nov. 11 — Pack was 7-9 and missed playoffs. Aaron Rodgers, yeah, but what else? Tough venue, though. Win likelihood fair.
▪ Bye Week. Late, but well-timed for a big finish?
▪ Game 11 at Indianapolis Nov. 25 — Colts were 4-12 but should have Andrew Luck back for the Frank Gore Bowl. Win likelihood solid.
▪ Game 12 vs. Buffalo Dec. 2 — This begins the schedule's tough closing stretch. Bills were 9-7 and made playoffs, and swept Miami (both close) last year. Win likelihood fair.
▪ Game 13 vs. New England Dec. 9 — Well, Dolphins beat Pats at home last year, so why discount it? Win likelihood fair.
▪ Game 14 at Minnesota Dec. 16 — Vikings were 13-3. Tough roadie. Win likelihood slim.
▪ Game 15 vs. Jacksonville Dec. 23 — Jags were 10-6 and made playoffs, but it's here, and it's still Blake Bortles. Win likelihood fair.
▪ Game 16 at Buffalo Dec. 30 — Weather a likely big factor. Tough finish if this is all-or-nothing for playoffs. Win likelihood slim.
ESPN sees a two-game bump to 8-8 for Miami this coming season. My own game-by-game estimations break down to five "solid" wins, seven "fair" shots and four "slim" chances. Go 4-3 on those seven teetering games and you're 9-7 and a (likely) wild card.
That would save a bunch of jobs. And it might take that..
No More Excuses.