For months now, we’ve been under the assumption there won’t be fans in the stands when sports return. While we all miss attending games and cheering on our favorite teams in person, many of us would gladly accept empty stadiums as long as we get actual games to watch and bet on.

But what if we don’t have to?

On Tuesday, Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said on CNBC, “I think there definitely will be a football season this year. Real question is, will there be fans in the stadium? Right now — today — we’re planning to have fans in the stadium.”

The number of fans remains unknown. Maybe instead of 100 percent capacity, we have 25 percent or 50 percent capacity. Either way, it’s good to hear an owner express optimism about a return to normalcy.

The Dolphins are looking to take the next step in the rebuilding process in 2020. Last season, Miami went a respectable 5-11 under first-year head coach Brian Flores. But it was how they finished, not how they started, that gives Dolphins fans hope for the future. Miami opened the season 0-7 and looked so bad that many talking heads entertained an 0-16 season. But then the ‘Fins turned it around and went 5-4, including an impressive 27-24 come-from-behind road victory over the division-rival Patriots in Week 17.

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Miami has been arguably the most active team this offseason. The Dolphins entered free agency with roughly $100 million to spend and used it to bolster their defense by adding linebacker Kyle Van Noy and cornerback Byron Jones. Miami also signed running back Jordan Howard, defensive ends Emmanuel Ogbah and Shaq Lawson, plus offensive lineman Ereck Flowers.

The Dolphins also made 11 picks in the draft, including five in the first two rounds. Miami selected Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa 5th overall along with USC tackle Austin Jackson 18th overall and Auburn cornerback Noah Igbinoghene 30th overall. Tagovailoa already has the number one top-selling jersey in the NFL. But he is expected to be eased into the lineup and backup Ryan Fitzpatrick to start the season.

Miami’s win total is 6.5 across the market, which would represent a slight improvement over their five-win campaign last season. However, oddsmakers are juicing up the under. At Circa Sports, the under 6.5 is -130 (over +110). DraftKings is under 6.5 at -134 (over +110). PointsBet is under 6.5 at -130 (over +105). FanDuel is actually a half-game below the market, hanging a win total of 6 with -120 over juice and +100 under juice.

Reading between the lines, the heavy under juice signals a combination of smart money and house liability on a 6-10 or worse season for Miami.

One reason the Dolphins may struggle: their schedule. Miami’s 2020 opponents went a combined 135-120-1 last season (.529), which gives the ‘Fins the 3rd-toughest schedule overall. Only the Patriots (.537) and the Jets (.533) have a harder schedule.

Here’s Miami’s gauntlet of a schedule in 2020.

Week 1: at Patriots
Week 2: vs Bills
Week 3: at Jags
Week 4: vs Seahawks
Week 5: at 49ers
Week 6: at Broncos
Week 7: vs Chargers
Week 8: vs Rams
Week 9: at Cardinals
Week 10: vs Jets
Week 11: Bye
Week 12: at Jets
Week 13: vs Bengals
Week 14: vs Chiefs
Week 15: vs Patriots
Week 16: at Raiders
Week 17: at Bills

Miami isn’t expected to make the postseason. The Dolphins are -500 to miss the playoffs at DraftKings and +365 to make the playoffs. Miami is tied with the Jets at +700 to win the AFC East. The Bills are the favorite to win the division at +130 followed by the Patriots at +140.

If you believe in miracles, the Dolphins are +3300 to win the AFC. Only the Bengals (+5000) and Jaguars (+7000) have worse odds. Miami is +7000 to win the Super Bowl.

One interesting prop bet to monitor: At DraftKings Ryan Fitzpatrick is a -400 favorite to start Week 1 against the Patriots. Tua is a +350 dog followed by Josh Rosen +2000.

Tua is +1000 to be named Offensive Rookie of the Year, trailing only Joe Burrow (+250), Clyde Edwards-Helaire (+600) and Jonathan Taylor (+800).

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Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images