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Can Dolphins protect home this season?

9/12/2011

MIAMI, Fla. -- Here's a trivia question: Which team had the worst home record in the NFL last season?

The answer may surprise you.

The obvious choices of the Carolina Panthers (2-14), Buffalo Bills (4-12), Denver Broncos (4-12) and Cincinnati Bengals (4-12) are all incorrect. It was the 7-9 Miami Dolphins.

Miami was the NFL's most schizophrenic team in 2010. The Dolphins were 1-7 at home and 6-2 on the road. Miami has a chance for a fresh start at home in its regular-season opener against the New England Patriots on "Monday Night Football."

The Dolphins have lost four in a row at home, dating back to last season. A potential Week 1 upset over a Super Bowl contender and division rival would put some life back into Sun Life Stadium.

"They want to play well for one another. They want to play well for the fans and it’s a home game," Dolphins coach Tony Sparano said. "The way we drew it this year we’re at home in Week 1 and Week 2 and certainly no bigger week than this week.

"We want to win, and I think with that comes excitement, enthusiasm and all those good things. That's a way to help win the fans."

Monday's game is a sellout. But South Florida's inconsistent turnout for its pro teams is well-documented (see the Florida Marlins). A large portion of Miami residents are transplants and have allegiances to other teams. Miami's economy also has been hit hard. And Dolphins fans, in general, appear cautious about this year's team.

Those factors have made Sun Life Stadium a place where visiting fans can often get tickets. Crowds can be mixed, especially if the opposing team's fans travel well. Miami's poor performance at home last year also doesn't help.

"It's true anytime you go into your place, your crowd, there should be an advantage there," Sparano said. "Now I'm not na├»ve; I know there’s gonna be a lot of other, New England fans there as well. But I think our fans will be louder."

Miami has to protect home if it wants to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008. The Dolphins' 6-2 road record was impressive, but they can't count on that every year.

The Dolphins were in the playoff hunt last year until the final couple weeks of the season. Their two biggest mistakes were losing too many home games and struggling to win in the AFC East (2-4).

Miami has a chance to improve in both areas Monday night.