The start of the regular season is finally upon us; after all of the anticipation of the off-season, all the Twitter wars, and analyzing every tidbit of the front office’s decisions, Miami Dolphins fans can now put all their stored energy into cheering on their favorite team on the field when it counts.

This year there are huge expectations of this Miami Dolphins football team, hoping to build off of last year’s success. Though it didn’t end the way fans had hoped, the team overachieved with the amount of injuries that plagued this team. With the additions of Defensive guru Vic Fangio, David Long, Jalen Ramsey (who, despite his injury, should make a return just in time to help us get over our December woes), and the offense having another year to capitalize off last year’s success in Mike McDaniels system, this team is sure to improve from their 9-8 record. While Miami dragged its carcass into the playoffs and almost pulled off an upset against the Buffalo Bills with rookie third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson at the helm, you have to believe that the expectation in the locker room is to go beyond just “making the playoff.”

Of course, this team’s success is determined by its health by Week 17, not just the health of polarizing figure Tua Tagovailoa. With all the talent on this roster on paper, this is a possible Super Bowl team. But there’s a road ahead, and I’m sure it’ll come with its challenges. This team has shown that they do not back down from adversity and see it as an opportunity. But every good team knows that while you have the end goal in mind, you must take one game at a time.

The first challenge on the Miami Dolphins’ schedule is against the Los Angeles Chargers. The Dolphin’s first game against the Los Angeles Chargers is either poetic justice or smart scheduling by the NFL. For dramatic effect, I’m going to go with the former. If you watched the Miami Dolphins closely last season, you’ll know that the Chargers game was a turning point. After starting the season 3-0, including the historic 6 Touchdown comeback performance by Tua Tagovailoa against the Baltimore Ravens, Miami and its high-powered offense looked unstoppable. Then tragedy struck when Tagovailoa went down with a concussion against the Cincinnati Bengals in a Thursday Night Football game after many speculated he suffered one prior in a Week 3 game against the Buffalo Bills. The image of Tagovailoa being carted off the field left a bleak cloud over the team, and they would go on to lose the next three games.

Tua returned in week six and strung together a five-game performance with the Hard Rock Stadium chanting  “MVP!” going into Miami’s bye week. It seemed like the Dolphins would ride the momentum into the postseason. Until… we traveled to the West Coast and played the San Francisco 49ers. It seemed for the first time that Mike Mcdaniel’s genius offense and Tua Tagovailoa’s magic had hit a stone wall in the 49er’s defense. That game could have easily been called a fluke; after all, it was right after the bye, and many believed that the 49ers just punched Miami in the mouth and Miami simply was not ready. The expectation was for Miami to return to form and prove itself once again vs. the Los Angeles Chargers.

But…that is not what happened. The Chargers defense embarrassed the Miami Dolphins and made them look mortal. Mike McDaniel looked like less of a genius, and Tua looked less than elite. The offense had not adjusted as fans had expected after the 49ers game. It was in this game that we realized that there was a problem with Miami’s offense.

The 49ers & Chargers crowded the middle of the field and dared Miami to check down or throw outside the numbers, which Miami was not adept at. This was a turning point in Miami’s season. While a huge part of the slowing down of their momentum was injuries, Week 14 seemed to halt all possible momentum.

This Week 1 matchup against the Chargers is a statement game and an opportunity for Miami to show the rest of the league that it is not the same team from last year. Knocking off the LA Chargers in the first game would be “poetic justice” and a representation of picking up where they left off and the challenges of last year being stepping stones for this year. It is important to note that the LA Chargers weren’t at full strength in Week 14, missing Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, & Derwin James. This team will be a great measure of where this Miami Dolphins football stacks up against the elite teams in the AFC. Not only will the Chargers be at full strength, but they’ve also added talent in rookie wideout from TCU, Quentin Johnston. The Miami Dolphins defense has its work cut out for them against Justin Herbert and this explosive offense.

Luckily for the Dolphins, they have Vic Fangio on their side, who has had success shutting down Justin Herbert and this offense. Mike McDaniel and Tua Tagovailoa both have an opportunity to right the wrongs of Week 14. McDaniel can prove that his offense isn’t one-dimensional or predictable. Tagovailoa can prove he can’t be shut down by crowding the middle of the field and throwing outside the numbers.

This game might just showcase that the addition of Defensive Coordinator Vic Fangio might be the most important addition to this team this off-season. The defense used in LA is a branch of the defense created by Vic Fangio, and if anyone can figure out how to execute against it, it’s the creator of it. Tua Tagovailoa and Mike McDaniel having access to the mind of Fangio all offseason is sure to pay dividends and give them the edge against the Chargers and the similar defenses they struggled against last season. Having gone against a variation of the defense all off-season, there shouldn’t be much thrown their way that they haven’t seen. Adding Fangio will prove to be a move that will improve both sides of the ball.

Will Miami step up to the plate after all the talk during the offseason?

Will they use this game to notify the league, or will the Chargers expose Miami’s weaknesses again?

Will this game be Tua’s & Mike McDaniel’s redemption arc?

All of these questions are sure to be answered in 4 days.

Stay tuned and FinsUp!