After Hurricane Irma postponed their Week 1 matchup against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Miami Dolphins will finally hit the field for the first time in 2017 on Sunday as they will take on the Los Angeles Chargers out on the west coast.
In their first game of the year on Monday night, the Chargers lost to the Denver Broncos 24-21 on a last-second field goal attempt that was blocked after Los Angeles came back from a 24-7 deficit entering the fourth quarter.
Miami holds a 15-13 all-time series advantage over Los Angeles. In their matchup last year, the Dolphins defeated the Chargers 31-24 as linebacker Kiko Alonso intercepted Philip Rivers’ pass and returned it 60 yards for a touchdown with 1:01 left to give Miami the win.
Miami at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 17 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Los Angeles -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Jay Cutler’s debut
Sunday will be the long-awaited debut of Miami’s new starting quarterback. After coming out of retirement on Aug. 6 to replace an injured Ryan Tannehill, Cutler played sparingly in two preseason games for the Dolphins. He has practiced plenty and his familiarity with head coach Adam Gase from their time together in Chicago should help with the transition as Cutler looks to find a rhythm early with his new team.
Cutler will have to be wary of the Chargers’ pass rush, which is led by Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. After combining for 18.5 sacks a year ago, the duo teamed up for three more on Monday night against Denver. So not only will Cutler have his work cut out for him, needing to get rid of the ball quickly, but his offensive line also will need to do its part.
2. Melvin Gordon
Last week against Denver, Gordon finished with 54 rushing yards on 18 carries. He added five catches for 25 yards and a touchdown as a receiver, but may be able to do more damage on the ground Sunday against a Miami defense that struggled against the run last season.
The Dolphins were 30th in the NFL In 2016 in rushing defense at 140.4 yards per game. In last year’s meeting, Gordon had 70 yards on the ground, but once again was effective as a receiver, finishing with 132 yards from scrimmage on 29 touches. He will be focal point of the game plan and someone Miami’s defense must account for whenever he’s on the field.
3. Dolphins’ defensive line
Defensive ends Cameron Wake and Andre Branch will be huge factors on Sunday if they can find a way to apply pressure on Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. Wake and Branch, along with Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh will try and get into the backfield early and often to disrupt the running game but also force Rivers to throw the ball before he wants to.
Last week against Denver’s aggressive pass rush and stout secondary, Rivers threw three touchdown passes but had just 192 yards through the air while completing 22 of his 33 attempts. He was sacked just once, but threw a costly interception on the opening drive of the second half that led to a Broncos touchdown and gave them a 21-7 lead.
It’s hard to know what to expect from the Dolphins this weekend. The team’s starters haven’t played any meaningful snaps since the third week of the preseason, which was almost a month ago. The biggest key for the Dolphins will be if they can slow down the Chargers’ pass-rushing tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Miami’s offensive line didn’t look particularly good during the preseason as Ja’Wuan James and Laremy Tunsil both struggled at times. If the Dolphins can’t protect Jay Cutler, it will be a long day for their offense.
Just like last season, this should be a close game that could come down to the final minutes.
Prediction: Chargers 27, Dolphins 24
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.