The NFL will release its 2009 schedule on Tuesday and what that means for the Dolphins is we'll know the order in which they will take on the NFL's most difficult schedule.
As you will see on linked NFL.com chart, the Dolphins are scheduled to face opponents with a combined .594 winning percentage from a year ago. That combined record of 152-104 is the toughest any team will face.
Methinks the schedule is one reason so many Dolphins fans believe their team might take a step back in 2009 after posting an 11-6 record in 2008.
But take heart. There are reasons not to fear the difficulty of the schedule to come.
While the Dolphins may have the toughest schedule, the New England Patriots (.590 opponent winning percentage) have the third-toughest. The Buffalo Bills have the sixth-toughest (.570) and the New York Jets have the seventh-toughest (.568).
So some team might just have to limp to the AFC East title.
The Dolphins, meanwhile are scheduled to face 13 games in which the opponent had a .500 or better record in 2008 while New England and Buffalo face the same number. The Jets will have nine games against teams with a .500 or better record.
The Dolphins play only three games against teams that had a losing record in 2008 -- two of those against Buffalo and against Jacksonville.
Of course, all this can go out the window if the teams that played well in 2008 don't pose similar difficulties in 2009. It also would throw the difficulty of the schedule off if terrible 2008 teams play surprisingly well in 2009 -- as the terrible 2007 Dolphins played well in 2008.
But the fact Miami does have the toughest road back to the playoffs of any team -- for the moment at least -- is a steep mountain to climb.
[Update: The Dolphins are expecting to be on prime time at least once and perhaps more than that early in the season, before the string of late-season games that can be flexed on and off prime time kicks in. The Dolphins surprised a lot of people by winning the AFC East last year and team officials believe the networks will take note and give them some prime time (Sunday night, Monday night) coverage. The Dolphins had no prime time games last season.]
Miami's 2009 opponents:
HOME: Buffalo (7-9), Houston (8-8), Indianapolis (12-4), New England (11-5), New Orleans (8-8), Jets (9-7), Pittsburgh (12-4) and Tampa Bay (9-7).
ROAD: Atlanta (11-5), Buffalo (7-9), Carolina (12-4), Jacksonville (5-11), New England (11-5), Jets (9-7), San Diego (8-8), Tennessee (13-3).
[BLOG NOTE: Check in often Tuesday as I will post the schedule as soon as I have it, along with analysis an reaction.]