I got a phone caller on my Fins Unfiltered show Thursday night who was legitimately angry at me for having picked the Dolphins to go 10-6 last year and having been wrong.
He didn't seem to understand, as many of you don't understand, that was a prediction, not a statement of fact. Making a predictions requires zero skills, only an opinion. And as many of you would argue, that suits me great as I have no skills but plenty of blowhard opinions.
So to celebrate that angry dude's call, to celebrate my lack of skills and blowhard predictions, I'm going to break down Sunday's season-opener and make ... you guessed it, a prediction.
Things to look for between Dolphins and Jets:
Quarterbacks: Much has been made of Brett Favre's arrival in New York, which caused Chad Pennington's departure and godsend acquisition for the Dolphins. The reasons the Jets got Favre is a little curious because they weren't all about football. Sure, Favre has a more live arm than Pennington. Sure he has better career statistics. But this was as much a PR move to sell seat licenses for the new stadium as anything else. To this day Favre doesn't have full grasp of the New York playbook, which will lead coaches to trim the game plan to some essential parts that they've been able to work on and practice the past two weeks. While this will get the Jets through the game, it may not be enough to win the game, considering the Miami defense should adjust to whatever the Jets are doing within the span of a couple of series. The Jets won't have an Act. II on offense because, again, the game plan will be limited for Favre's sake. This applies somewhat to the Dolphins also, but I have been told by a couple of players I've talked to on the phone this week that coaches have a handful of "gotcha" plays for the Jets. The coaches apparently feel the Jets will have to scramble to adjust to those plays and, apparently, once they do, Miami will continue mixing its bread and butter plays with the next "gotcha" play. I've never heard of such an approach before, but obviously Pennington is on board with the plays. Moreover, I think he's more of a thinking man's QB than Favre and so he has a better grasp of the Miami offense than perhaps Favre has of the Jets offense. My concern with Pennington is adjusting to his receivers. He places a high value on knowing and anticipating those guys -- moreso than most QBs because he has to make up for some arm-strength issues. But how did Pennington get to know his receivers when Derek Hagan hasn't been all that impressive lately, Greg Camarillo has come from nowhere to merit playing time, and Ted Ginn Jr.'s conditioning will be tested as he also returns punts and kickoffs? Look for a lot of passes to the TEs and RBs, people. Regardless of this, in the heat, in the stillness of Dolphin Stadium, Pennington's smarts gets a slight advantage over Favre's slingshot arm. This completely goes the other way if it a thunderstorm rolls in and the winds start to swirl. Then Pennington could have problems as he sometimes did in the Meadowlands. ADVANTAGE: DOLPHINS.
Miami Offensive line vs. Jets defensive line: Much has been made of the Miami OL's improvement this preseason. And there is no arguing that the group is better. But I have concerns that this group is not yet cohesive. I have concerns that rookie Donald Thomas, while a fine story, still is a work in progress. I have concerns that Justin Smiley at times this preseason got blown up on a couple of plays and I wonder if that will continue? In total, I have concerns that we're expecting Little, Langer, Evans, Kuechenberg and Crusan and won't get anywhere near that early in the season. I also think the Jets' defensive line has made great strides in picking up Kris Jenkins to occupy two blockers. My point is I think we all know the Dolphins NEED to run the ball effectively to win. I have serious doubts this line has had enough time and is battle tried enough to make that happen. ADVANTAGE: JETS.
Jets offensive line vs. Dolphins defensive line: I have written on several occasions that Bill Parcells believes his DL to be Miami's strength. Gotta agree as it provides a wonderful mix of youthful potential and enthusiasm (read Kendall Langford and Phillip Merling) along with veteran leadership and experience (read Vonnie Holliday and Jason Ferguson). But the Jets counter with pretty much the same formula. I am a HUGE fan of the Alan Faneca addition. Journalists in New York tell me he has become the anchor of that line, the leader of that line, the solidifying force on that line. And Nick Mangold and D'Brickashaw Ferguson are good players also. So basically it is strength against strength. It promises to be a great battle of wills and muscle and technique. ADVANTAGE: EVEN.
Running backs: Let me make this simple. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown are better ball possession guys than Thomas Jones and Leon Washington. But Washington brings a dimension neither Williams nor Brown have and that is quickness on the edge. I don't see Ricky and Ronnie breaking off too many 50 yard runs this year. Jones probably won't either, but Washington is very capable. Nonetheless, slower and steady wins here. ADVANTAGE: DOLPHINS.
Wide receivers: Um, Laveranues Coles has killed the Dolphins in recent years, scoring an NFL receiver high 10 TDs on Miami. Jericho Cotchery is the most under-the-radar 1,000-yard receiver in a long time, especially considering the fact he plays in New York. The Miami receivers? Outside of Ted Ginn Jr., they are a huge question mark. And that is being kind to Ginn. This remains, in my opinion, Miami's area of greatest concern. ADVANTAGE: JETS.
Secondaries: I have a theory about Miami's secondary: It wasn't tested for most of 2007. Teams found running on the defense so easy, they just shut it down and ran the ball and killed the clock and tried to stay away from mistakes in the passing game. With the same secondary returning -- with the exception of Chris Crocker -- the Dolphins have stability back there. But I will completely believe in these guys when I see it. They are experienced and confident, but it's been a while since they've been tested and Coles has been a Dolphins killer. The Jets secondary, meanwhile, is under-rated. Darrelle Revis is a star in the making. Kerry Rhodes is the best safety in the AFC East. Eric Smith, to me, is the question mark out there at the other safety spot. The difference is the Jets have legit WRs to attack the Miami secondary. The Dolphins? We'll have to see. ADVANTAGE: JETS.
Linebackers: The Dolphins seem deep that the ILB spot but the OLBs worry me. Is Joey Porter healthy? For this game, post pain-killer? Sure. Beyond that? We'll see. Can Matt Roth keep from getting used in coverage? We'll see. Is Charlie Anderson a legit pass-rush threat in obvious passing situations? We'll see. Question marks, question marks, question marks. The Jets got Calvin Pace when the Dolphins backed away from paying him $22 million in guaranteed money. Regardless of the price, the Dolphins nonetheless thought highly of Pace so you should also. Bryan Thomas is not spectacular on the other side, but he is proven and steady. Inside the Jets are nowhere near as deep as Miami -- with former Miami DE David Bowens actually listed as a backup there. But Eric Barton is steady and David Harris has the potential to be a very good player. ADVANTAGE: EVEN.
Kickers/Returners: Mike Nugent proven. Dan Carpenter unproven. Leon Washington and Justin Miller consistent. Ted Ginn Jr. still inconsistent. ADVANTAGE: JETS.
Coaching: Make no mistake the Dolphins have put together a good staff this year. Know what? Outside of the head coach, they had an good coaching staff last year. And they went 1-15. I will be interested to see how this Miami staff tries to highlight Miami's strengths and masks the weaknesses, particularly on offense. How are they going to run the ball when New York's primary job on defense will be stopping the run? I have great respect and admiration for how Eric Mangini brought to New York the New England idea you can revamp from game to game, showing things you haven't shown all season and discarding things you've shown before to confuse the opponent. Make no mistake, the Jets coaching staff is excellent and now moreso since the addition of Mike Westhoff on special teams. I have no reason to question whether Tony Sparano will be fine Sunday. Parcells believes in him. That's good enough for me, and I suspect, you. But experience at the very top of the coaching staff? That edge is on the other sideline. ADVANTAGE: JETS.
WEATHER: Remember when the Dolphins used to have a legit home field advantage in September because of how hot South Florida still is this time of year? Well it remains hot although the past four seasons the Dolphins are 3-5 at home in September. The forecast for Sunday calls for the temps to be in the low 90s. The problem is there is a 30 percent chance of showers which would cool things off a bit if they hit Dolphin Stadium. If there is no rain, you should begin counting the number of Jets players throwing up and looking winded around the middle of the third quarter. It should be a definite Dolphin advantage given the fact Miami has practiced -- sometimes twice a day -- in the brick oven that is Davie, FL. the past few months. ADVANTAGE: DOLPHINS.
Intangibles: The worry here is that if ,and when, things go poorly on Sunday, will the Dolphins begin to doubt themselves? This team is interesting in that it has a lot of players who have NOT won a lot of games in the NFL lately. The rookies haven't ever won in the NFL and they'll be more concerned with surviving. The vets like Holliday and Will Allen and Vernon Carey and Channing Crowder and Justin Smiley have lately played for losing teams. When it is late and one drive may clinch victory for one team or the other, can the Dolphins remember how to win? You might argue the Jets might not remember, either. Except that doesn't apply to guys like Faneca and Favre and Jenkins and Jones who have all played in Super Bowls. The Dolphins in that difficult hour would have to draw from Ferguson and some of the Dallas guys who won a lot last year. Not too sure that is a good matchup for Miami. ADVANTAGE: JETS.
UNSKILLED BLOWHARD PREDICTION: Jets 16, Dolphins 14.