The Dolphins officially know their path to a postseason appearance after the NFL’s release of the 2022 regular-season schedule Thursday night. It includes an opening month that features three matchups against 2021 playoff appearance, consecutive games on the West Coast and a daunting late-season stretch with three of four against division opponents to finish the season.
The games naturally have built-in storylines that are sure to develop and change between now, the start of training camp in late July and then the beginning of the season on Sunday, Sept. 11, when the Dolphins host the New England Patriots.
Here are superlatives from the Dolphins’ schedule:
Toughest Stretch: December Slate
If the Dolphins want to break their drought of five seasons without a playoff appearance, they’re going to have to earn it late in the season. Their December schedule begins with a pair of games on the West Coast, facing the San Francisco 49ers and Los Angeles Chargers. The Dolphins return to the East Coast but head to New York to face the Buffalo Bills, a divisional opponent that has given them trouble over the last four seasons. When they finally return to Miami, the Dolphins host reigning Most Valuable Player Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Christmas. How the Dolphins fare during this stretch could very well determine whether they make the playoffs or not.
Easiest Stretch: October Slate
There are very few pushovers on the Dolphins’ schedule. Three of their four opponents to open the season made the playoffs last season and the other — the Baltimore Ravens — may be a trendy pick in the AFC after an injury-marred season. However, if there’s any time for the Dolphins to gain some momentum in the first half of the season, it could be in October. The team has games against the New York Jets, Minnesota Vikings, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions. Of this group, only the Steelers, who may be starting a rookie quarterback in 2022, made the playoffs. The teams’ combined record in 2021 was 24-40-2.
Best Reunion: Flores returns to Miami
Brian Flores’ firing as Dolphins head coach in January went from a surprising dismissal to a historic legal conundrum for the NFL after he filed a racial discrimination lawsuit against the league and listed the Dolphins among multiple teams. Flores alleges that, among other things, race played a role in his firing and that team owner Stephen Ross offered $100,000 per loss during the 2019 season, his first as coach. The NFL and Dolphins have denied those allegations and the suit is currently making its way through the legal process.
Flores has since been hired as a defensive assistant for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who travel to Miami for “Sunday Night Football” in Week 7. While Flores won’t be leading Pittsburgh against the Dolphins as a head coach, his tenure in Miami and pending lawsuit are sure to be revisited throughout the week and game.
Most Anticipated Game: Week 14 at Chargers
Since Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert were selected with the No. 5 and no. 6 overall picks, respectively, in the 2020 Draft, their careers have been dissected side by side. Neither signal-caller has led his team to the postseason yet but while Herbert has won Rookie of the Year honors and anointed one of the league’s future stars at quarterback, Tagovailoa has stumbled with injuries and inconsistencies, both within and around him.
The Dolphins’ Week 14 matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers falls right in the middle of the playoff race and pits two AFC teams who have had active offseasons against each other. The outcome of this game could have significant postseason implications and won’t lack in postgame discourse from those who have questioned — and defended the decision to take Tagovailoa over Herbert.
Most Important Game: Week 15 at Bills
This game isn’t so pivotal just because it’s a late-season divisional matchup but because of the context surrounding it the season series between the Dolphins and Bills in recent years. The Dolphins haven’t beat the Bills since Dec. 2, 2018, and Tagovailoa has particularly struggled against Buffalo, completing 56.4 percent of his passes with one touchdown and four interceptions. With this matchup, Tagovailoa could take steps toward putting to bed a number of labels, whether fair or unfair, placed on him — struggles against the Bills, in cold-weather atmospheres and in late-season games that have postseason ramifications. If any game can be considered a barometer for Tagovailoa in Year, it’s this one.