Early schedule huge for Dolphins

I'm on record saying the Miami Dolphins won't better their 6-10 mark from last season. But if Miami has any chance of proving me wrong and contending for a playoff spot, the team cannot have a repeat of 2011 and get off to a slow start.

Miami must win its early games to establish momentum. The Dolphins have the 18th-rated strength of schedule in the NFL. It’s not too tough, but the schedule isn’t filled with cupcakes, either.

Here is a look at Miami's key stretch to start the season before the bye:

The Dolphins have a chance to be competitive in most of these games. Week 1 in Houston and maybe Week 5 in Cincinnati are the two games I would chalk up as losses. Both the Texans and Bengals were playoff teams and Miami will be on the road.

But Oakland, New York, Arizona and St. Louis is not a very tough stretch to start the season. Miami is a rebuilding team trying to find its way under rookie head coach Joe Philbin. But a few good performances could lead to some early wins.

If Miami can win three games going into the bye week, that would be deemed a success and keeps the team in the playoff hunt. Last year the Dolphins started 0-7, and the season was over before it ever got the chance to begin.