Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
A feel-good year means zilch in the NFL if you don't uphold it.
Now they need to prove it all over again, and their first step will be against each other.
The Dolphins will visit the Falcons at 1 p.m. ET Sunday in the Georgia Dome.
"We are just going on and trying to make sure that we start this season on the right note," Dolphins running back Ronnie Brown said Wednesday. "The only way to do that is to start off with a win.
"I think that we have the same goal in common, and now it just comes down to who works and who executes the best come Sunday.”
Miami and Atlanta each went 11-5 last year and reached the playoffs.
They combined for a 17-game improvement in the win column under rookie head coaches who finished first and second in virtually every coach-of-the-year poll.
All of it means nothing now.
"One of the things that we talked long and hard about to our football team was the ol' 'You don't start where you pick off in this business,'" Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "You have to go back to the beginning, start all over again and you have to do it better."
That will be a difficult chore for the Dolphins. They accomplished the greatest single-season turnaround in NFL history, going from one victory to the AFC East championship.
The Falcons' turnaround wasn't as impressive in terms of win differential, but it might have been more remarkable. The franchise, and to some degree the region, was devastated by the Michael Vick scandal. They won four games in 2007, but they bounced back to make the postseason as a wild card.
"We need to be really humble because we didn’t really accomplish anything last year," Falcons coach Mike Smith told reporters on a conference call to preview Sunday's game. "We made some progress, but we didn’t really accomplish anything in terms of what we really want to get accomplished."
The next step for both organizations would be returning to the playoffs and winning at least a game. Despite their rousing campaigns, they bowed in the first round of the postseason a year ago.
The Dolphins' road will be treacherous. They own the NFL's toughest schedule based on last year's records. Their first three opponents went to the playoffs.
"Regardless of strength of schedule or what people think about your schedule, getting off to a good start in our league is important," Dolphins quarterback Chad Pennington said. "Is it do or die? No, but it’s extremely important.
"We only have 16 chances, and you don't get those chances back. So it's very important that you are able to establish something early and be able to build on that."
For the Dolphins, the quest -- to further distance themselves from an awful 2007 and get back to the postseason -- resumes against a team with the same mission.
In June, Sparano quoted research that showed over the past decade, 49 percent of teams that made the playoffs returned the next winter.
"Nothing is owed to you," Sparano said at the time. "Nothing is guaranteed. You got to play in the now right now. Not worth reflecting about any of that other stuff."