PREDICTING THE OUTCOME

After a very difficult offseason, the Dolphins finally get to open the regular season -- and even that didn't go according to plan as the game against Tennessee had to be moved from Sunday to Saturday because of the threat of Hurricane Ivan. Here's a look at how we think the game will unfold.

The general consensus among NFL observers is that this could be a very long year for the Dolphins, and there indeed are legitimate reasons for concern.

The way we see it, nothing is more troubling at this point than the offensive line, which starts a right tackle who was demoted in St. Louis, a right guard who wasn't good enough to be active in a single game as a rookie last year, and a left tackle who could be on the verge of losing his job.

Not very encouraging.

The quarterback situation also has to be troubling because the starter is the same guy the Dolphins wanted to replace after last season, which is why they traded a second-round pick to get a guy who wasn't deemed good enough to supplant him.

OK, having said that, here's the reality.

The Dolphins don't look like Super Bowl contenders, in the least. But they also won't be nearly as bad as many people seem to think.

With the offensive line, the thing to remember is that this group can't be that much worse than last year's unit, which really stunk.

At quarterback, Jay Fiedler is no Steve McNair, but he was good enough to help the Dolphins win 10 games just last season.

Yes, the Dolphins lost Ricky Williams, but they never made the playoffs with him, and their receiving corps is much better now than it has been in the last few years.

The Dolphins will come into Saturday's game as an underdog, which is a dangerous proposition considering Miami's record at home in September.

Also remember that before last year, the Dolphins had won 11 consecutive season openers.

Tennessee no doubt is a tremendous challenge for this Dolphins team, but the Titans have issues as well.

They will be missing wide receiver Tyrone Calico, who they're counting on heavily to step up in his second season. They will be without kicker Joe Nedney, who was placed on injured reserve. Craig Hentrich, the Titans' Pro Bowl punter, will do the placekicking against the Dolphins.

Of course, any talk of the Titans has to begin with Steve McNair, and stopping him will be the Dolphins' biggest concern.

The Dolphins didn't come close last season when they were shredded in a 31-7 loss at Nashville.

But the Dolphins have had success against McNair in the past. One glaring example was a 17-0 victory on a Sunday night in 1999 when Sam Madison had three interceptions.

The Dolphins need to get some pressure on McNair in this game.

The Tennessee game is without Eddie George, but the Titans are confident in Chris Brown after he led the AFC in rushing in the preseason. Of course, that was the preseason.

On the other side, look for newcomer Lamar Gordon to get some playing time at running back. But the Dolphins might have a hard time running against a Tennessee defense that traditionally is among the best against the run.

The Dolphins need to take some shots downfield, and the key there will be the line's ability to handle the many blitzes Tennessee will throw at the Dolphins.

Rest assured, the Dolphins defense will give a much better showing against McNair and Co. than it did last season.

And against a Tennessee defense that lost its best pass rusher (Jevon Kearse) in the offseason and its second-leading tackler (Peter Sirmon) to an injury this summer, the Dolphins should be able to get just enough done offensively to pull out a victory.

Remember, we're not suggesting a Super Bowl is in the works for the Dolphins. But those who count them out too quickly may be in for a surprise.

The call: Dolphins 20, Titans 17.


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