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Dolphins hope steamy heat helps at home against Oakland Raiders
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MIAMI (AP) — Following a midday practice in steamy sunshine, Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Randy Starks sat at his locker peeling off sweat-soaked gear as beads of perspiration dripped from his nose and beard.

Someone asked if he likes playing in hot weather.

"No," Starks said. "Not at all."

After four years in Miami, Starks still finds uncomfortable the subtropical climate that makes football an especially sticky business. The forecast for the Dolphins' home opener Sunday against Oakland calls for temperatures approaching Starks' uniform number — 94 — and high humidity, too.

The Dolphins have practiced in such weather since training camp began, but as Starks noted, games are when the heat's really on.

"It takes its toll in the second half," he said. "With the adrenaline going, it's going to be much more intense than practice. You just have to deal with it, especially in the fourth quarter. We can't be the ones that fold. They've got to be the ones."

At home of late, the Dolphins have been the team to fade. Over the past three years they're 9-15 in Miami, which helps explain why they finished below .500 each of those seasons.

The Dolphins are eager to re-establish a home-field advantage, but they begin every season saying the same thing, and they haven't won a home opener since 2005.

"We're anticipating that we're going to have a great home-field advantage," new coach Joe Philbin said. "Hopefully our fans will embrace this team and what they're doing and help us create that advantage. I think it's on all of us to create that spirit, momentum and positive direction and build this thing back up."

More than the weather should work in the Dolphins' favor against Oakland. After losing to San Diego in the NFL's final season opener Monday night, the Raiders must fly 2,500 miles for a game that will start at 10 a.m. California time.

The Raiders might as well get used to it. They're scheduled to travel 28,692 air miles this season, the most in the NFL, and they'll play five games in the Eastern time zone, the most in franchise history.

Getting the necessary rest beforehand will be the most difficult challenge, quarterback Carson Palmer said.

"When you change time zones, you can't get to sleep when it's 11 o'clock there," he said. "It's 8 o'clock for your body."

But, Palmer added, the Raiders are ready for the road after their opening defeat.

"We're not thinking West to East, time-zone change, humidity," he said. "We're thinking about a chance to play football and get to 1-1 and get a bad taste out of our mouths."

Miami also seeks to rebound. The Dolphins' 30-10 loss at Houston was their most lopsided season-opening defeat since 1988.

But poor starts are nothing new for the Dolphins — last year they lost their first seven games en route to a 6-10 season. They're 0-7 in September at home since 2007, including a loss to Oakland five years ago.

"We haven't done a good enough job at home," Miami tackle Jake Long said. "That's where you've got to take your pride."

With the team's fortunes in decline, attendance has been, too. The Dolphins lately have played before thousands of empty seats at home, which makes the atmosphere less than hostile for the opposition.

Starks predicts the crowds will return when the Dolphins start doing a better job of blocking and tackling.

"This fan base is really into football," he said. "They're just waiting for us to take care of business and get a spark. That's why right now we don't have a packed house all the time. Once we start winning, I can see there being nothing but Dolphins fans in there."

Then the Dolphins could really turn up the heat.

There was a time when they were unbeatable in Miami early in the season. From 1993 to 2002, they won 17 straight home games in August and September.

Players on those teams embraced the sweltering late-summer weather as an advantage. But the Dolphins of recent years haven't played well enough to make the visitors wilt.

"If we're banking on it being hot to win the game, we're banking on the wrong thing," defensive end Jared Odrick said. "For all we know, the Raiders could be practicing inside a large sauna, or a heat-infused bubble. So let's not even think about an advantage with the weather."

The Raiders endured a 34-14 drubbing at Miami last season, but that was on a balmy December day.

"It felt like home to me," said Oakland linebacker Rolando McClain, an Alabama native. "It's just hot. It's not like you died or anything. It's just a little sun. Drink some water, you'll be fine."

Neutral observers agree. The weather may favor the Dolphins, but oddsmakers favor the Raiders.