The Miami Dolphins brought in some intriguing free agents. But South Florida fans will have to wait awhile to see them play for keeps.
For just the second time since the start of the 1989 season, the Dolphins will play their first two regular-season games on the road. It was announced Thursday that Miami will start the season Sept. 8 at Cleveland followed by a Sept. 15 game at Indianapolis before the Dolphins have their home opener Sept. 22 against Atlanta.
It’s a tough early-season schedule for the Dolphins before they have a bye in the sixth week. With a game Sept. 30 at New Orleans and an Oct. 6 home date with defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore, it might be difficult for the Dolphins to start better than 2-3.
The end of the season won’t be easy either. In a four-week stretch in December, they will have three cold-weather games. They’re at the New York Jets on Dec. 1, at Pittsburgh on Dec. 8 and at Buffalo on Dec. 22.
When it comes to home and road games, the schedule is relatively balanced for the Dolphins, whose most notable free-agent signees were wide receiver Mike Wallace and linebacker Dannell Ellerbe. Miami doesn’t have more than two in a row at home or on the road.
The Dolphins will be home for nearly a month in October due to their bye week coming between home games. After the Sept. 30 game at New Orleans, their first of two Monday night games, they don’t go on the road again until Oct. 27 at New England.
Four days after that, Miami will play its only Thursday game of the season. That’s at home Oct. 31 to Cincinnati.
Miami’s other Monday night game is Nov. 11 at Tampa. The two Monday games will kick off at 8:40 p.m. and the Thursday game at 8:25 p.m..
Of Miami’s other 13 games, 12 will start at 1 p.m. The only exception is the home opener against the Falcons, which will kick off at 4:05 p.m.
Here’s a week-by-week look at the schedule for the Dolphins, who went 7-9 last season. Opponent records are in parenthesis:
Week 1: At Cleveland (5-11), Sunday, Sept. 8, 1 p.m.
The Dolphins open the season at Cleveland for just the second time in their history, the first being 1992.
The contest offers a clash of two rookie quarterbacks from 2012 who will looking to avoid the sophomore jinx. The Dolphins feature Ryan Tannehill and the Browns have Brandon Weeden.
The Dolphins don’t have good memories of when they last were in Cleveland. They were beaten 17-16 in September 2011 on a Colt McCoy touchdown pass with 43 seconds left.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 9-8. The Browns hold a 6-4 edge on the road. Last meeting: Browns 17, Dolphins 16 (at Cleveland, Sept. 25, 2011).
Week 2: At Indianapolis (11-5), Sunday, Sept 15, 1 p.m.
For a second straight week, Tannehill will run into another rookie quarterback from the rich 2012 class. The foe will be Andrew Luck, who surprisingly led the Colts to the playoffs.
A key win in Indianapolis’ playoff run last season was beating the Dolphins 23-20 on Nov. 4 at home. Luck threw for 433 yards to outduel Tannehill, who had 290.
The Dolphins have lost four straight to the Colts, two at home and two on the road.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 46-25. The Dolphins hold a 21-14 edge on the road. Last meeting: Colts 23, Dolphins 20 (at Indianapolis, Nov. 4, 2012).
Week 3: Vs. Atlanta (13-3), Sunday, Sept 22, 4:05 p.m.
Unlike last season, when the Dolphins played their home opener at 1 p.m., this one will start three hours later. Fans don’t figure to complain too much about the weather being slightly cooler.
Miami’s faithful would be even happier if the Dolphins could pull off a big upset. The Falcons would have been in the Super Bowl last season had they not blow a 17-0 lead to San Francisco in the NFC Championship before losing 28-24. Wide receiver Roddy White has said it’s “Super Bowl or bust’’ this season for the Falcons.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 7-4. The Dolphins hold a 5-2 edge at home. Last meeting: Falcons 19, Dolphins 7 (at Atlanta, Sept. 13, 2009).
Week 4: At New Orleans (7-9), Monday, Sept 30, 8:40 p.m.
The Dolphins are back on Monday night for the first time since the 2011 opener. That’s a tribute to Tannehill and to their offseason signees.
It might not be an easy night. The Saints will be determined in 2013 to get back to playoff form after the bounty scandal wrecked 2012, including resulting in coach Sean Payton being suspended for the entire year.
The teams also will play in the preseason finale. They don’t figure to show each other much then.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 6-4. The series is tied 3-3 on the road. Last meeting: Saints 46, Dolphins 34 (at Miami, Oct. 30, 2009).
Week 5: Vs. Baltimore (10-6), Sunday, Oct. 6, 1 p.m.
The Super Bowl champs come to Miami.
It’s the first time the Dolphins have faced a defending champion since losing to Pittsburgh 30-24 at home in the 2009 season finale. Miami hasn’t beaten a defending champion since topping New England 21-0 at home in 2006.
The game will mark Ellerbe facing his old team. But the Ravens helped fill his absence at linebacker and one also created by the retirement of Ray Lewis by signing Miami native Elvis Dumervil.
All-time series record: Series tied 5-5. The Dolphins hold a 4-3 edge at home. Last meeting: Ravens 26, Dolphins 10 (at Baltimore, Nov. 7, 2010),
Week 6: Bye
Week 7: Vs. Buffalo (6-10), Sunday, Oct. 20, 1 p.m.
The Dolphins have history of playing well against the Bills, including going 20-0 against them in the 1970s.
While they obviously haven’t approached that sort of success lately, they have won seven of their last 10 against Buffalo. That includes having won four of the past five in Miami.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 56-39-1. The Dolphins hold a 32-16-1 edge at home. Last meeting: Dolphins 24, Bills 10 (at Miami, Dec. 23, 2012).
Week 8: At New England (12-4), Sunday, Oct. 27, 1 p.m.
Some believe the Dolphins could throw at least a minor scare this season into the Patriots, who have won a share of the AFC East 12 straight years.
The problem in facing New England for the Dolphins often has been Tom Brady, who has carved them up. It remains to be seen if Miami will have improved its secondary enough to make a difference.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 50-45. The Patriots hold a 17-30 edge on the road. Last meeting: Patriots 28, Dolphins 0 (at New England, Dec. 30, 2012).
Week 9: Vs. Cincinnati (10-6), Thursday, Oct. 31, 8:25 p.m.
It’s tough to take the field on Thursday after having played the Sunday before. At least the Dolphins will have an advantage of being at home.
Miami had one of its better wins of the season last October, winning 17-13 at Cincinnati. However, while the Bengals would go on to make the playoffs, the Dolphins ended up staying home yet again.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 15-5. The Dolphins hold a 6-2 edge at home. Last meeting: Dolphins 17, Bengals 13 (at Cincinnati, Oct. 7, 2012).
Week 10: At Tampa Bay (7-9), Monday, Nov. 11, 8:40 p.m.
This will be just the 10th meeting between the Florida teams.
No one can deny the games haven’t been exciting. Five of the previous nine meetings have been decided by three points and another was decided by six.
Like New Orleans, the Dolphins will face the Buccaneers after already having played them in the preseason.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 5-4. The Buccaneers hold a 2-3 edge on the road. Last meeting: Dolphins 25, Buccaneers 23 (at Miami, Nov. 15, 2009).
Week 11: Vs. San Diego (7-9), Sunday, Nov. 17, 1 p.m.
Whenever the Chargers visit Miami, it brings back memories of the dramatic overtime playoff battle between the teams following the 1981 season.
San Diego won the game 41-38. Since then, though, the Dolphins are 6-0 against the Chargers in Miami.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 14-4. The Dolphins hold an 8-4 edge at home. Last meeting: Chargers 26, Dolphins 16 (at San Diego, Oct. 2, 2011).
Week 12: Vs. Carolina (7-9), Sunday, Nov. 24, 1 p.m.
Although they’ve only met four times, the Panthers are the only NFL team that never has beaten the Dolphins. They’ll get another shot three days the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
It could be an intriguing battle between young quarterbacks. Tannehill will face off against Carolina third-year man Cam Newton.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 4-0. The Dolphins hold a 2-0 edge at home. Last meeting: Dolphins 24, Panthers 17 (at Miami, Nov. 19, 2009).
Week 13: At New York Jets (6-10), Sunday, Dec. 1, 1 p.m.
It’s surprising the Dolphins won’t play their first of two meetings against the rival Jets until December.
The Jets will be seeking revenge for what happened the last time they played host to Miami. They got drilled 30-9 last October.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 49-45-1. The Jets hold a 27-20 edge on the road. Last meeting: Dolphins 30, Jets 9 (at New York, Oct. 23, 2012).
Week 14: At Pittsburgh (8-8), Sunday, Dec. 8, 1 p.m.
This marks the return to Pittsburgh by Wallace, who bolted to the Dolphins as a free agent after four seasons with the Steelers.
The Dolphins have had plenty of problems with the Steelers. They haven’t beaten them since 1998 and have dropped five straight in the series.
The weather was miserable on Miami’s last visit to Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 3-0 in November 2007 on a rain-soaked field.
All-time series record: Steelers lead 13-11. The Steelers hold a 7-3 edge on the road. Last meeting: Steelers 23, Dolphins 22 (at Miami, Oct. 24, 2010).
Week 15: Vs. New England, (12-4), Sunday, Dec. 15, 1 p.m.
If Miami really can stay with the Patiots in the AFC East race, this could be a big game.
It could benefit the Dolphins getting the Patriots to come to Miami in December. Then again, the Patriots were able to beat them last December at Sun Life Stadium.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 50-45. The Dolphins hold a 33-15 edge at home. Last meeting: Patriots 28, Dolphins 0 (at New England, Dec. 30, 2012).
Week 16: At Buffalo (6-10), Sunday, Dec. 22, 1 p.m.
The Dolphins usually prefer to go to Buffalo earlier in the season. No such luck this time.
Nobody can predict the weather this far in advance, but it doesn’t figure to be too nice. So Tannehill could have some problems throwing.
All-time series record: Dolphins lead 56-39-1. The Dolphins hold a 25-24 edge on the road. Last meeting: Dolphins 24, Bills 10 (at Miami, Dec. 23, 2012).
Week 17: Vs. New York Jets (6-10), Sunday, Dec. 29, 1 p.m.
The NFL is making each game during the final week of the season a divisional match-up. If a playoff berth is on the line for either team, this could be a fun game.
The teams, of course, are rivals. Each would love to ruin the other’s season.
All-time series record: Jets lead lead 49-45-1. The Dolphins hold a 25-22-1 edge at home. Last meeting: Dolphins 30, Jets 9 (at New York, Oct. 23, 2012)
Best non-division rival home game
The Ravens might not be as good as they were last season. Still, there’s something special about playing a team that is coming off a Super Bowl win, especially when you’ve got the game at home.
Best non-division rival road game
There was a lot of hubbub when rookie quarterbacks Tannehill and Luck met last season. When they do it again, the excitement should continue.
Most dangerous opponent
Once again, it’s New England. The Patriots have won a share of 12 straight AFC East titles, although two of those times they lost a tiebreaker and stayed home from the playoffs. The Dolphins will try to see this season how much they’ve closed the gap with New England.
The start of the season is tough and so is the end. The Dolphins will have to do some damage in the middle in order to make the playoffs. They’ll likely need to win at least four of their six games between the bye week and the start of December.