Examining Dolphins' schedule: Games 1-4

The Miami Dolphins will enter 2014 with playoff expectations after last year’s 8-8 finish. It could be now or never for key members in the organization such as head coach Joe Philbin and starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Both are 15-17 in Miami after two years, and it’s still unknown if they are the long-term solutions.

Getting off to a fast start will be key for the Dolphins. Here is a deeper look at Miami’s first four games:

Week 1: New England Patriots

Analysis: As I mentioned last week when Miami’s schedule was released, this is a tough draw to open the season. The Patriots are not the kind of team you want to face right away. Getting the year off on a good note is very important for the Dolphins, especially with the way they ended 2013. New England is a legit Super Bowl contender and a preseason favorite to win the AFC East. But Miami beat New England at Sun Life Stadium last year, so it’s not a guaranteed loss. But the Dolphins will be underdogs against Tom Brady and Co.

Degree of difficulty (1 is easy, 10 is difficult): 9

Week 2: at Buffalo Bills

Analysis: We will find out right away if the Dolphins will have any success this year in the AFC East. Miami will play two consecutive division opponents to start the season, and playing the Bills in their home opener will not be easy. Buffalo is a tough matchup for Miami. The Bills swept the Dolphins last year with their third-string quarterback, and Buffalo has won three of the past four meetings. The Dolphins are 4-8 against division opponents the past two years. That must change if Miami aims to make the playoffs.

Degree of difficulty: 7.5

Week 3: Kansas City Chiefs

Analysis: Kansas City made the playoffs last season in the first year under head coach Andy Reid. One of the reasons the Chiefs made the postseason was due to their impressive 6-2 road record, which was tied for the best in the NFL. Kansas City is a ball-control team that doesn’t turn over the football. That’s usually a formula for success to win on the road. However, these are the kind of early games at home Miami should win if the Dolphins want to be taken seriously as a legitimate playoff contender.

Degree of difficulty: 7

Week 4: Oakland Raiders (in London)

Analysis: Oakland is the easiest of the four opponents on Miami’s early schedule. But this comes after three tough games for the Dolphins, and you cannot overlook the unpredictability of how players will respond traveling to another country. The Dolphins are a better team, but this game could be more about who best handles the logistics issues of playing in England in Week 4.

Degree of difficulty: 5

The Dolphins have a challenging first month of the season. It’s no surprise considering Miami has the NFL’s 12th-toughest strength of schedule.

Miami got off to a 3-1 start in 2013. Can the Dolphins do the same in 2014?