Game-by-game analysis of the Miami Dolphins' 2021 schedule: Which one are you circling?

Hal Habib
Palm Beach Post

After a daylong drama — we all know the NFL loves drama — the full NFL schedule is out and we now know the Dolphins open against New England and close against ... New England.

Here's a game-by-game breakdown of what to look forward to as the 2021 Dolphins season unfolds:

Joe Schad:Dolphins face demanding start, but schedule is workable for playoff run

At New England (Sept. 12, 4:25 p.m.)

Nothing like starting off the season with a gathering of old, uh, friends. There are 13 players on these two teams who used to wear the uniforms of The Other Guys. So you can count on Devon Godchaux and Kyle Van Noy (now of the Patriots) and Jason McCourty and Elandon Roberts (now of the Dolphins) being fired up for this one. Will the Dolphins be facing rookie quarterback Mac Jones or will it be Cam Newton, who didn't seem to fit in during that first year with the Pats? We'll find out soon enough how Miami's defense can handle tight ends because the Patriots poured serious cash into the tight end combination of Hunter Henry (ex-Charger signed for three years and $37.5 million) and Jonnu Smith (ex-Titan, four years and $50 million).

Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who made the Pro Bowl last year, is pressured by safety Brandon Jones (29) and defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.

vs. Buffalo (Sept. 19, 1 p.m.)

Josh Allen has been a problem for the Dolphins, but he hasn't had to elude Jaelan Phillips before, so that's a chess match to look forward to. It has been a few years since the Bills came to Hard Rock as the defending AFC East champs. Back then, their coach was Marv Levy, their backfield had Jim Kelly and Thurman Thomas and they sicced Bruce Smith on Dan Marino. (The Bills last won the division in 1995.)

At Las Vegas (Sept. 26, 4:05 p.m.)

Tua vs. Aaron Rodgers! Well, probably not, although if Green Bay does decide to ship the MVP anywhere, quarterback-loving Jon Gruden will be out front, offering one of the sweetest deals of anybody. Chucky has gone a frown-worthy 4-12, 7-9 and 8-8 since leaving the "Monday Night Football" booth. Everyone seems eager to put QB Derek Carr on the hot seat, but all he did last year was throw for 4,103 yards, 27 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.

vs. Indianapolis (Oct. 3, 1 p.m.)

Jacoby Brissett’s old team visits with a new look on offense and defense. Carson Wentz slides over from Philadelphia as QB and the Colts have high hopes for edge rusher Kwity Paye, the former Michigan Wolverine. The Dolphins’ most recent playoff win came at Indy's expense way back on Dec. 20, 2000.

At Tampa Bay (Oct. 10, 1 p.m.)

It's not often that organizations are as successful as the Bucs at keeping a Super Bowl-winning team together. It required tagging receiver Chris Godwin and re-signing linebacker Lavonte David, edge rusher Shaquil Barrett and tight end Rob Gronkowski. Gators QB Kyle Trask was brought aboard to learn from Tom Brady, whose first lesson, we understand, involved the proper technique for tossing a trophy from one boat to another. The Dolphins have never won at Raymond James Stadium. Their last win in Tampa was on Oct. 30, 1988, at the old Tampa Stadium.

At Jacksonville in London (Oct. 17, 9:30 a.m.)

It’s DUUUVAL, with threee Us stuuuck in the midddle, OK? The Jaguars deserve some respect for taking the wise route toward respectability by becoming Clemson South under Urban Meyer (hey, Dabo apparently wasn’t available). Once the offense starts clicking, QB Trevor Lawrence and running back Travis Etienne should be a fun duo to watch. This will mark the Dolphins' fifth game in London but first in Tottenham's stadium. The Dolphins are 1-3 in the UK, with the most recent appearance being a 2017 loss to the Saints.

vs. Atlanta (Oct. 24, 1 p.m.)

Revenge alert! Not only did the Falcons snatch tight end Kyle Pitts from under Miami’s nose in the draft, but in Round 2 they made a trade with Denver to allow the Broncos to take running back Javonte Williams. Denver figured the Dolphins were going to take Williams with the very next pick. Falcons QB Matt Ryan will be the first of three ex-MVPs to visit this season, joining Baltimore's Lamar Jackson and New England's Cam Newton.

At Buffalo (Oct. 31, 1 p.m.)

The Dolphins had their choice of edge rushers in the first round of the draft. They went with Phillips, which meant passing on another ex-Hurricane, Greg Rousseau. For this game, Phillips and Rousseau get their chance at showing which team may have gotten the better of it.

vs. Houston (Nov. 7, 1 p.m.)

It was easy to think the Texans were a disaster when they finished 4-12 last season and generously handed all their draft picks over to the Dolphins. Then the Deshaun Watson accusations exploded and everybody saw what a real mess looks like. No telling if Watson is the QB when the Texans come to town or whether it might fall on the shoulders of Davis Mills, the ex-Stanford man. He was taken in the third round, which actually was Houston’s top selection. Side note: Will offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil get his wish and see his statue as he enters Hard Rock Stadium as a visitor?

vs. Baltimore (Nov. 11, 8:20 p.m.)

Former MVP Lamar Jackson returns to South Florida with added weapons joining Hollywood Brown. The Ravens signed Sammy Watkins and drafted Rashod Bateman in the first round. Meaning the team that gives the Dolphins headaches will offer one of the best tests of the home schedule. This will be Miami’s first home Thursday Night Football game since defeating Buffalo on Nov. 13, 2014.

At New York Jets (Nov. 21, 1 p.m.)

Nothing like kicking off Thanksgiving week like feasting on the Jets, right? The next man up in the Jets’ search for a legit quarterback is BYU’s Zach Wilson, whom they landed second overall as a lovely parting gift for failing in the Trevor Lawrence sweepstakes. At least personality-wise, it may be tough to dislike the kid, but given that he’ll be in Jets green, Dolphins fans will figure out a way.

vs. Carolina (Nov. 28, 1 p.m.)

That guy playing quarterback — he sure looks familiar, doesn’t he? Quarterback Sam Darnold in Carolina blue will take some getting used to. Then again, so will seeing the Panthers and Dolphins on the same field. These teams have played only six times.

vs. New York Giants (Dec. 5, 1 p.m.)

The newly created 17th game features the G-men at Hard Rock. A PR man try to sell this one as a Giants team that came an eyelash away from winning its division last season, but facts get in the way — they were 6-10 and the NFC East was horrible. Anyway, the Giants added some talent for QB Daniel Jones in ex-Gators receiver Kadarius Toney and ex-Lions receiver Kenny Golladay, which might make this interesting. With only nine all-time matchups, the Giants are Miami’s least-played franchise of any team that existed at the time of the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

Bye week: Dec. 12

vs. New York Jets (Dec. 18 or 19, time TBA)

The pandemic of 2020 and the reduced crowd size robbed Dolphins fans of a chance to laugh at the Jets at their worst. Now, Robert Saleh has come over from the San Francisco 49ers to clean up Adam Gase's mess. At the very least, expect an aggressive defense coming after Tua Tagovailoa.

At New Orleans (Dec. 27, 8:15 p.m.)

Who dat no longer around to haunt Dolphins fans? It's Drew Brees. Retired. That could mean Jameis Winston vs. the Dolphins. We know Sean Payton is never shy about flinging it around. The last time Winston was a starting QB was 2019 in Tampa, when he threw for 5,109 yards and 33 touchdowns. So he's capable of launching 'em and making Payton happy. He's also capable of throwing 30 interceptions, which he also did in 2019. Can Payton summon Good Jameis while ditching Careless Jameis? The Dolphins, by the way, have lost three straight in the loud Superdome. It's doubly hard to play there at night, after fans have had all day to get properly hydrated.

At Tennessee (Jan. 2, 1 p.m.)

Wild guess. The guy playing quarterback for the Titans will be the storyline this week. Ryan Tannehill reportedly is his name. Of course, the real problem for the Dolphins will be whether their run D can slow Derrick Henry, who managed only 2,027 rushing yards, 17 touchdowns and a 5.4 average last season. Meanwhile, the Titans added Steelers DE Bud Dupree, who has had 19.5 sacks over the past two seasons. The tab for him: five years, $82.5 million. This game will mark the second of only two occasions this season that the Dolphins play back-to-back road games. Miami hasn't visited Nashville since 2015, when Cameron Wake’s four first-half sacks helped Dan Campbell win his first game as interim head coach.

vs. New England (Jan. 9, 1 p.m.)

Here's a stat you wouldn't have seen coming: If the Dolphins win this one, it would mark five straight wins over the Patriots in season rematches. The span that includes one game at Gillette and, of course, The Miami Miracle in 2018. Imagine the buildup for this one if the Dolphins are jockeying for playoff seeding. Bonus: This marks the first time in team history the Dolphins play nine regular-season home games because of the 17-game schedule.