It’s pretty well known around the NFL that a team traveling from the West Coast to play on the East Coast faces a difficult challenge. For the past 15 years, it’s almost an automatic loss for West Coast teams having to face the Dolphins in South Florida.
The Dolphins will go into Sunday’s game against Seattle carrying a six-game winning streak when facing a West Coast at home. Since the start of the 1997 season, the Dolphins have played host to the Seahawks or any of the teams from California a total of 12 times. They have won 11 of those games.
The one loss came in the forgettable 2007 season when the Oakland Raiders and former Dolphins quarterback Daunte Culpepper recorded a 35-17 victory in a late Sunday afternoon contest in September.
Oakland, by far, has been the most frequent West Coast visitor to Miami in recent years. The Dolphins’ 35-13 victory over the Raiders back on Sept. 16 in this year’s home opener was their sixth against Oakland at home since 2001.
During their 11-1 run, the Dolphins also have beaten San Diego twice, Seattle twice and San Francisco once.
The Dolphins’ improbable run to the AFC East title in 2008 was made possible in large part because Miami was able to sweep its four home games against West Coast teams.
That year marked the last visit to Miami for the Seahawks, who gave the Dolphins a scare before the Dolphins prevailed 21-19.
In Seattle’s other visit to South Florida in the past 15 years, it was no contest, as the Dolphins cruised to a 23-0 victory in the Miami head-coaching debut of Dave Wannstedt and the team’s first game since the 1982 season without Dan Marino on the roster.
Perhaps it’s because they’ve been the most frequent visitors, but most of the truly memorable home games lately against West Coast teams have been against the Raiders.
The one that stands out, of course, was the Sept. 23, 2001 game on the day the NFL returned to action following the events of 9/11. All Dolphins fans surely remember the sight of Jay Fiedler raising his fist in triumph after he scored in the final minute to give the Dolphins an exhilarating 18-15 victory. The scene was so powerful that it made the cover of Sports Illustrated.
The following year, the Dolphins faced Oakland at home again, and this time the Raiders were in the middle of a season that would end with them facing Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl.
The Raiders came to South Florida with a 9-4 record, but the Dolphins pulled out a 23-17 victory thanks to three Jason Taylor sacks and a Patrick Surtain interception on the first play after the two-minute warning.
Earlier that season, the Dolphins had to face a San Diego team that was giving the Raiders a major challenge in the AFC West. The Chargers came to South Florida with a 7-3 record, but the Dolphins handled them to the tune of 30-3. San Diego, whose quarterback at the time was Drew Brees, never recovered and would go on to finish the season at 8-8.
Then there was last season when the Raiders appeared on their way to returning to the playoffs for the first time since their Super Bowl run and came to Sun Life Stadium with a 7-4 record. As they had done against San Diego in 2002, the Dolphins dismantled the Raiders, 34-14, and Oakland stumbled to an 8-8 finish.
Of course, things haven’t always been that easy for the Dolphins when playing at home against West Coast teams. Their all-time home record against the Rams, Raiders, 49ers, Chargers and Seahawks is 28-17-1, 27-14 if you don’t count the pre-Don Shula years (1966-69) before the AFL-NFL merger.
With the Rams now playing in St. Louis, there are four West Coast teams, and they haven’t exactly been tearing it up this year when they’ve had to travel to the Eastern time zone.
The Raiders are 0-3, with losses at Miami, Atlanta and Baltimore; the Chargers are 0-2, with losses at Cleveland and Tampa Bay; the 49ers are 1-0 after beating the Jets; and Seattle is 1-1, with a victory at Carolina and a loss at Detroit.
San Francisco has one game left against a team from the Eastern time zone, that being a game at New England. Oakland, Seattle and San Diego each have two remaining.
Based on the Dolphins’ recent history, it’s not a stretch to say that Sunday’s Seattle game might be the toughest of all.