2017 Miami Dolphins game-by-game predictions

The Miami Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs in back-to-back years since 2000-01. In order to accomplish that feat again, Miami must navigate the NFL’s sixth-toughest schedule after finishing 10-6 last season.

Miami has a good, young nucleus of players and a bright head coach entering his second season. Here are my game-by-game predictions:

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 10, vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 1 p.m. ET

The Dolphins haven’t opened the regular season at home since the 2014 season, so this is a welcome sight. The Dolphins’ physical rushing attack, led by Pro Bowl tailback Jay Ajayi, matches up well against Tampa Bay’s 22nd-ranked run defense, and that will be the difference. Record: 1-0

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 17, at Los Angeles Chargers, 4 p.m. ET

These teams will meet for the third consecutive year on the West Coast. Miami won last season with big plays from receivers DeVante Parker, Kenny Stills and Jarvis Landry. Look for this group to cause matchup problems for San Diego once again. Record: 2-0

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 24, at New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

The Dolphins pulled off the season sweep of the Jets last year by pressuring and rattling New York’s rotating door of quarterbacks. Add in the fact that Ajayi had success against New York last season, and this should be another road win for the Dolphins. Record: 3-0

Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 1, vs. New Orleans Saints (in London), 9:30 a.m. ET

It’s hard to predict which Dolphins team will show up in London. They usually put on a really good performance (2014 vs. Oakland) or a really bad performance (2015 vs. Jets). The Saints' talented passing attack led by quarterback Drew Brees will be too much for Miami’s inconsistent cornerback group. Record: 3-1

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 8, vs. Tennessee Titans, 1 p.m. ET

The Titans and their power running game proved last year with their win over Miami that they are a tough matchup. The Dolphins were 30th against the run last season, and this won’t be fixed overnight. Also, Miami will be tired from its long trip the previous week. Record: 3-2

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 15, at Atlanta Falcons, 1 p.m. ET

Similar to the Saints, the Dolphins will struggle this season against teams with elite passing attacks. Miami simply doesn’t have the depth in the secondary to keep up with Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Julio Jones & Co., especially on the road against the reigning NFC champions. Record: 3-3

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 22, vs. New York Jets, 1 p.m. ET

If the Dolphins aim to make the playoffs, they have to pull off the season sweep of the Jets for the second year in a row. Miami has only seven games at home and cannot afford to lose this one against a rebuilding New York team. Record: 4-3

Week 8: Thursday, Oct. 26, at Baltimore Ravens, 8:25 p.m. ET

These teams know each other extremely well and are meeting for the fifth consecutive season. The Dolphins usually haven’t found a way to match the Ravens’ physicality at the line of scrimmage on either side of the ball, and that trend repeats this season on the road and on a short week. Record: 4-4

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 5, vs. Oakland Raiders, 8:30 p.m. ET

The Dolphins will have 10 days to prepare for this game, and they will need it. Miami’s 30th-ranked run defense will have trouble stopping Oakland’s power rushing attack. The Raiders also can exploit Miami’s secondary if the Dolphins stack the box. Record: 4-5

Week 10: Monday, Nov. 13, at Carolina Panthers, 8:30 p.m. ET

This is the third consecutive prime-time game for the Dolphins. Miami actually matches up well against the Panthers. The Dolphins’ three-receiver sets should give Carolina plenty of issues. Record: 5-5

Week 11: Bye

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 26 at New England Patriots, 1 p.m. ET

Gillette Stadium has been a house of horrors for the Dolphins, who haven’t won there since the “Wildcat” game in 2008. Miami has a bye week to prepare, which will make it more competitive. But the Dolphins don’t have enough defense to slow down New England’s firepower. Record: 5-6

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 3, vs. Denver Broncos, 1 p.m. ET

This will be a homecoming of sorts for former Dolphins defensive coordinator Vance Joseph, who was hired this offseason to be Denver’s new head coach. Miami knows Joseph’s scheme well and practiced against it every day last year, which plays to the Dolphins’ advantage. Record: 6-6

Week 14: Monday, Dec. 11, vs. New England Patriots, 8:30 p.m. ET

This is a pivotal home game for Miami, and the Dolphins are fortunate it comes late in the year. The South Florida humidity often makes it tough for the Patriots to adjust and has led to some Dolphins upsets late in the season. This will be another thanks to another big rushing game from Ajayi. Record: 7-6

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 17, at Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET

Here is an example of the reverse effect when it comes to weather. The Dolphins often struggle in late-season road games due to the temperature difference, especially in frigid Buffalo. This is another game in which Miami’s inconsistent run defense will be an issue. Record: 7-7

Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 24, at Kansas City, 1 p.m. ET

This is a must-win game for the Dolphins in order to finish with a winning record and potentially a playoff spot. Miami finds a way to win this tough road game by getting to the quarterback with Pro Bowl defensive linemen Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. Record: 8-7

Week 17: Sunday, Dec. 31, vs. Buffalo Bills, 1 p.m. ET

The Dolphins avoid the season sweep by winning at home against the Bills, who often are a tough matchup. Miami finds a way to stop the run in the regular-season finale as it makes one last push for the playoffs. Record: 9-7