Big Opener? Sure. But a Must-Win Game?

In light of the Dolphins' difficult four-game stretch that follows the opener at Cleveland, the question has been raised whether Sunday's matchup is a must-win game. The suggestion, of course, is that a loss Sunday could leave the Dolphins in bad shape if operating under the assumption wins will be difficult to come by over the next month. But is that overstating things?

In a nutshell, yes.

Coach Joe Philbin certainly refused to take the bait Friday when he was asked about the Cleveland game being a must-win affair for his team. His response was that it was just one of 16 games and the Dolphins would worry about the rest of the schedule as each week arrives.

Here's the other thing to note: Even if the Dolphins get off a slow start, say 2-4 after six games, that doesn't the season is shot.

Just remember the 2008 season when the Dolphins just so happened to be exactly that, 2-4 after six games. Pretty sure we all remember what happened that season.

That said, it's obvious the Dolphins would like to start the season 1-0, something that hasn't happened very often in recent years.

The Dolphins, in fact, have won only one of their last seven season openers, that coming against Buffalo in 2010.

Here's the rundown of those last seven openers:

2012, lost 30-10 at Houston

2011, lost 38-24 vs. New England

2010, won 15-10 at Buffalo

2009, lost 19-7 at Atlanta

2008, lost 20-14 vs. N.Y. Jets

2007, lost 16-13 in overtime at Washington

2006, lost 28-17 at Pittsburgh

But here's the good news: The Browns have been even worse on opening day. They carry the longest current losing streak in openers at eight games and can tie the dubious NFL record of nine consecutive opening-day losses currently held by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Furthermore, since they returned to the NFL in 1999, the Browns have a whopping 1-13 record on opening day, the lone victory coming in 2004 against the Baltimore Ravens.

Clearly, something is going to have to give on Sunday.

Philbin said Friday that the team will be staying at the same hotel where the team stayed when it traveled to Ohio for the Hall of Fame Game. The Dolphins, in fact, will keep the same routine except for changing the time of a team meeting.

Philbin also is hoping the change in the normal weekly schedule, working on Tuesday and giving the players Thursday off instead, will pay off with the players being better rested come game time.

For the Dolphins, Sunday's game represents a much easier starting assignment than they had the past two years at Houston and against New England.

This actually is more comparable to the 2010 opener on the road at Buffalo when the Dolphins faced a team with a similar pedigree as the current Browns.

Miami won that matchup in 2010 behind a dominant defensive performance, and one would think there's a pretty good chance Sunday's game could play out the same way.

No, the season doesn't depend on it, but it would be a great way to start nonetheless.

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