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Miami Dolphins' 2021 schedule: A good start key for playoff hopes

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The Miami Dolphins' 2021 schedule was released along with the rest of the NFL slate on Wednesday.

The 2021 NFL season will kick off on Thursday, Sept. 9 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers hosting the Dallas Cowboys (8:20 p.m. ET). ESPN’s Monday Night Football opener on Sept. 13 will feature the Las Vegas Raiders hosting the Baltimore Ravens (8:15 p.m. ET).

The NFL will change its schedule for the first time in 44 years, expanding to 17 regular-season games. The final regular-season games will be played Jan. 9, 2022. The playoffs begin Jan. 15, 2022 and continue through Super Bowl LVI on Feb. 13, 2022 at Los Angeles' SoFi Stadium.

Here's what is in store for the Dolphins:

Schedule

Sept. 12: at New England

Sept. 19: vs. Buffalo

Sept. 26: at Las Vegas

Oct. 3: vs. Indianapolis

Oct. 10: at Tampa Bay

Oct. 17: vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in London)

Oct. 24: vs. Atlanta

Oct. 31: at Buffalo

Nov. 7: vs. Houston

Nov. 11: vs. Baltimore (TNF)

Nov. 21: at New York Jets

Nov. 28: vs. Carolina

Dec. 5: vs. New York Giants

Dec. 12: Bye

Dec. 18/19 (TBD): vs. New York Jets

Dec. 27: at New Orleans (MNF)

Jan. 2: at Tennessee

Jan. 9: vs. New England

Strength of schedule: T-27th .471

Biggest takeaway

If the Dolphins intend to make the playoffs in 2021, they will need to get off to a good start. And that is going to be really tough with a schedule that opens with games against the Patriots, Bills, Raiders and Buccaneers. They'll need to hit the ground running. If not, the final three games of the season don't offer much respite. They'll play consecutive road games in Weeks 16 and 17 at the Saints and Titans, two teams that should also be in playoff contention. (Even if the Saints are out of it, the Superdome with fans is a tough place for any opponent to win.) In Week 18, they'll host the Patriots.

One storyline to watch

The Dolphins apparently opted not to take their bye week after an Oct. 17 trip to London, and will instead return home to host the Falcons seven days later. The NFL usually grants teams a bye after international games if they want it, and most accept it. Instead, the Dolphins will wait until Week 14 before they get a week off. This isn't necessarily a mistake. A mid-October bye isn't always ideal. But it'll certainly be a decision that will impact the Dolphins' season, one way or the other.

What Vegas thinks

The oddsmakers have the Dolphins' win total at nine. They're certainly a talented enough team to win nine games, but they're playing in an AFC East division that should be stronger in 2021, thanks to what will likely be a revitalized Patriots team as well as a Bills team that is primed for a Super Bowl run. In that context, the under might be the best bet for the Dolphins.

Bold prediction

Despite the need to start strong, the Dolphins will be 1-3 after four games. That start will be too much to overcome, and the Dolphins will miss the playoffs.