Injuries, rugged schedule will keep Miami Dolphins out of playoffs

Jay Cutler replaces the injured Ryan Tannehill as the Dolphins' quarterback, and it will be tough for him to lead Miami back to the playoffs. AP Photo/Lynne Sladky

It has been an injury-riddled summer for the Miami Dolphins.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill (knee) is out for the season, replaced by mercurial veteran Jay Cutler. Middle linebacker Raekwon McMillan (knee) and cornerback and 2016 team interceptions leader Tony Lippett (Achilles) also are done for the season, and starting left guard Ted Larsen (bicep) is expected to miss most the season.

Nine wins was my prediction for the Dolphins in April, but obviously, circumstances have changed. Add the fact that Miami has the fifth-toughest schedule in the NFL, and it could be a tough year.

Here are the latest game-by-game predictions for Miami:

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

This is an intriguing regular-season opener involving two young teams considered to be on the rise. Miami’s running game, led by Pro Bowl tailback Jay Ajayi, gives the Dolphins a blueprint to victory. But the Buccaneers will be smart enough to force Cutler to win the opener through the air, and it is too early to expect that of the new quarterback. Record: 0-1

Week 2: 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday, Sept. 17, at Los Angeles Chargers

This is a familiar setting for the Dolphins, who will play the Chargers on the road for the third straight year. West Coast games can be tricky because you’re not sure which road team will show up. But Miami should pull out a close victory against the rebuilding Chargers. Record: 1-1

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

Second place in the AFC East is wide open, as the Dolphins, Jets and Buffalo Bills all have their issues. However, New York is projected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season, with its rag-tag group of quarterbacks. Miami’s defense isn’t elite, but it is good enough to rattle whomever is under center for the Jets. Record: 2-1

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

Miami’s secondary has some questions. Along with Lippett's injury, there are some coverage issues at safety. Saints quarterback Drew Brees is an awful matchup for Miami in that regard, and he should be able to exploit the Dolphins. Don’t expect Cutler to win a shootout against Brees. Record: 2-2

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

The Dolphins asked the NFL not to give them a bye week following their London trip because they wanted a break later in the season. That makes this game very tough to bounce back for, considering the long trip and short week. The Titans also beat Miami handily last year with their stellar running game. Record: 2-3

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

The reigning NFC champion Falcons are one of the most talented teams Miami will face all season, especially on the road. Atlanta’s multiple offense and overall team speed will overwhelm the Dolphins. Record: 2-4

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

The Dolphins swept the Jets last season and should do so again. Miami must take advantage of these weak division opponents to pad its record and keep it respectable. Record: 3-4

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

The Dolphins and Ravens are playing for the fifth consecutive season. They also met in the preseason and are very familiar with each other. The most physical team usually wins in this series, and Baltimore has that advantage this season. The ultra-physical Ravens are not the kind of team you want to face in a short week. Record: 3-5

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

Miami gets its second straight prime-time game against another quality AFC team. The extra prep time for Miami, combined with a long road trip for the Raiders, suggests the makings of an upset. But Oakland’s better overall talent will be enough to pull off a close win. Record: 3-6

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

The Dolphins held joint practices against the Panthers two years ago and mostly dominated those sessions. Although some things have changed, this is still a good matchup for Miami. Record: 4-6

Week 11: Bye

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

The defending Super Bowl champion Patriots have been the juggernaut in the AFC East for most of the past 16 years. That won’t change this season. Cutler is 0-3 against New England in his career, with an average margin of defeat of 30.3 points. Record: 4-7

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

Former Dolphins defensive coordinator and current Broncos head coach Vance Joseph makes his return to Miami. He knows Miami’s roster and scheme well. But this is the time of year when Miami’s home-field advantage really kicks in, especially against cold-weather teams. Record: 5-7

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

The Patriots are usually clicking on all cylinders by this time of year. This game could get ugly for the Dolphins on Monday Night Football. Miami Pro Bowl receiver Jarvis Landry said a few months ago that Miami will sweep the Patriots, but the result will be the opposite. Record: 5-8

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

Ralph Wilson Stadium historically is a tough place for the Dolphins to play, especially in the frigid December weather in Buffalo. The Bills’ rushing attack will be tough. But Miami’s defense forces enough turnovers to pull off a close win on the road. Record: 6-8

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

The Chiefs are legitimate Super Bowl contenders with a talented roster on offense and defense. Kansas City also has one of the best home-field advantages in the NFL, and by this point, the Dolphins will have logged plenty of miles through their ninth game outside of South Florida. Record: 6-9

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

The Dolphins end a rough season on a strong note by sweeping the Bills. Gase will have his team ready to finish despite no playoff implications. The Dolphins fail to make the playoffs but still have things to build on in 2018. Record: 7-9