Kelly: Dolphins need to avoid snow games, and late-season collapses

Ever been to Buffalo in December, or early January?

If you haven’t then consider yourself fortunate.

There’s a valid reason some people call Buffalo the armpit of America, and on a semiannual basis we’re provided images of town folk shoveling the stadium out before, during, or after a snowstorm, which from time to time complicates the NFL schedule.

Buffalo’s the reason I know the term “Lake Effect snow,” which is when warmth and moisture from the Great Lakes are transferred into the lowest portion of the atmosphere, and clouds form and produce 2 to 3 inches of snow per hour.

My snow trauma, which Buffalo has induced, is the reason the Miami Dolphins’ road game at Buffalo sits atop the list of things I look for when the NFL releases its schedule, which happens on Wednesday at 8 p.m.

Buffalo’s already a miserable place to visit, so I would prefer doing it in September, or October, months where the trees have leaves, and I know I won’t have to shovel a rental car out of the snow.

Unfortunately, it seems as though Miami might not escape a snow game in Buffalo this season because an early leak of the NFL schedule revealed that Miami’s hosting the Bills in Week 2 for a nationally televised Thursday night game.

That likely means the rematch of these two playoff teams will probably be on the other end of the schedule, and maybe in the season’s final quarter. Hopefully it isn’t the final regular-season game like last year, but Miami has finished the season with an AFC East opponent every year since 2010.

The Dolphins have played the Bills in the season’s final quarter six times in the past 10 years, and four of those games have been in Buffalo.

But Buffalo isn’t the only cold-weather city that has me fearing I will need my thermals, scarf, and an overcoat.

When it comes to the NFL schedule, there’s four factors I become obsessed about, determining if the schedule makers screwed Miami.

The first is whether Miami avoids games in the Northeast, Midwest, or Pacific Northwest in months where the weather, primarily snow, could potentially be in the forecast.

Nobody wants a repeat of last year’s Kansas City playoff game, but only mother nature determines that.

With road games in Buffalo, New York, New England, Seattle, Cleveland, Indianapolis and Green Bay on the docket it seems as if its inevitable that Miami will be breaking out the heated seats a couple of times this season.

At least the Colts play in a dome.

Then there’s the polar opposite climate obsession, which is how many IV games are on the schedule?

Those are the 1 p.m. kickoffs inside Hard Rock Stadium, where the opponents annually acknowledge — or complain — that South Florida’s heat and humidity gives the Dolphins an unfair home-field advantage.

In 2022, Bill Belichick got so tired of the New England Patriots losing in Miami — New England has lost four in a row and counting — he brought his team to South Florida to practice for an entire week so the Patriots could adjusted Florida’s sauna-like climate.

The Bills, Jets and Patriots have to endure South Florida’s heat and humidity annually, so they know to hydrate for an entire week or visit the IV dispensary. And this year the Jaguars, Cardinals and Raiders, Miami’s opponents for three of the eight home games, have their own hot climates, so it seems as if the Dolphins’ built-in advantage will be watered down a bit in 2024.

I also focus on how many nationally televised games the Dolphins have on the schedule, which indicates the league’s opinion on Miami’s national appeal. The Dolphins possess the No. 1-ranked offense in 2023, and were one of the NFL’s most intriguing teams last season.

The addition of Odell Beckham Jr. should encourage the national networks to double down on the Dolphins eyeballs, inspiring at least four nationally televised games.

And for my final schedule obsession, I focus on how does Miami finish the closing quarter of the season?

Are the Dolphins at home more than they are on the road? How many of those games feature AFC East division opponents, and will those contests determine who sits on the AFC East throne?

Last year the Dolphins had the season’s final month set up perfectly. Miami hosted four of the season’s final five games. Problem is, Mike McDaniel’s team lost three of those contests, and it cost the Dolphins the AFC East division, and the opportunity to host the first few rounds of the playoffs.

There should be a lesson learned from that experience, and the hope is that the Dolphins find an answer to the team’s late season struggles in 2024, which along with producing a playoff win is the only thing that will silence McDaniel and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s critics, even if it’s just temporarily.