THE CRYSTAL BALL

The Dolphins open the 2003 season Sunday with a game against Houston that, on paper, would appear to offer little challenge. But is it really going to be this easy? We offer our take on our how think the game is going to unfold.

The Texans were fairly competitive for an expansion team last season because their defense played pretty well despite being put in unfavorable situations by their pathetic offense time and time again.

Houston's defense again should be the strength of the team this season, while the offense should be a little better, if for no other reason than it can't possibly be as bad.

But how much better will it be?

The Texans still don't have much of an offensive line, and while Stacey Mack was a good backup in Jacksonville, is he really starting halfback material?

It simply doesn't figure that Houston will do much damage running the ball against a Dolphins defense that is built to sotp the run.

The Dolphins will need to keep an eye on Houston's talented young receivers, but the pass rush might get to quarterback David Carr before he ever has a chance to throw downfield.

On the other side, Houston's problem last season was stopping the run, which means good news for Ricky Williams.

You know the Texans have devised some sort of game plan to slow him down, but that only will keep them so far.

In pass protection, the key will be keeping Houston's blitzing linebackers off of Jay Fiedler.

Look for him to make tight end Randy McMichael his favorite target on Sunday.

The Dolphins have won 11 consecutive openers and only a total breakdown will keep them from making it 12 in a row.

We just don't see it happening. The Dolphins simply have too much firepower on both sides of the ball of a Houston team that will get better with time.

On this day, though, it will be all Dolphins. Make it: Miami 31, Houston 10.


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