And that’s that for the Patsies this year. Read that however you want: (1) the Dolphins are through playing the Patriots for the 2023 season, and/or (2) the Dolphins have dispatched the Pats twice, securing the season sweep over the division rivals, and/or (3) the Patriots, now sitting at 2-6, are in too deep a hole to climb back to even a Wildcard berth.
However you want to take it, our Dolphins put on a pretty dominant performance over New England, despite missing two key defensive backs in Xavien Howard and Jevon Holland and playing with 3.5 starting offensive linemen out. It continues the very welcome trend of Mike McDaniel’s teams beating inferior opponents in convincing fashion – something that was never a given with nearly any Dolphins regime during the previous 15 or so seasons. Miami now sits at 6-2, with a one-game lead in the AFC East and in 2nd place in the overall AFC standings. A nice place to be, no doubt. Also, it bumped my prediction record up another notch, as I once again got very close to predicting the final score:
driftinscotty’s Straight Up Game Results Predictions
|My Straight Up Season Record
|My Straight Up Season Record
Next up is another chance to prove that they have taken the next step beyond handily beating weak opponents: beating a legitimately good team. We’ve yet to see it in the young McDaniel Era, but the upcoming game against the Chiefs in Frankfurt, Germany is the perfect opportunity.
How do the teams look on paper?
Tale of the Tape
A look at the numbers for the two teams at roughly the halfway point of the season:
Dolphins vs Chiefs Team Stats
|Stat Per Game
|Stat Per Game
|Pass Yards Allowed
|Run Yards Allowed
|-4 (tie 25th)
|-4 (tie 25th)
|Against Penalty Yards
The Dolphins continue to rank #1 in the three main offensive categories. The run game wasn’t great against the Patriots this past week, due in no small part to not having three starting O linemen right from the jump and then losing a fourth mid-way through the game. Still, they did enough to hang onto the top spot in that category, while the passing numbers and overall scoring numbers are still impressive. The overall defensive rankings are still nothing great, but they have all been trending in the right direction the last three weeks. This suggests that Fangio’s complex defensive scheme may be starting to take root.
It’s flat-out weird to NOT see Kansas City in the top 3 in all three of the main offensive categories. The passing numbers are still there, thanks mostly to Travis Kelce’s reliable excellence and Patrick Mahomes’ extraterrestrial skills at the QB position. But 21st in rushing and 12th in points per game? That latter number is a far cry from the juggernaut offense we’ve seen in the Mahomes/Reid Era. Given that we’re now at the mid-way point of the season, we can safely say that the Chiefs offense has taken at least one step back. The defense, however, is almost the opposite. The last five years, the Chiefs defenses have typically been mediocre, which has always been good enough to pile up wins and a couple of Lombardi Trophies when the offense is forcing opponents to post at least 28 points just to have a chance. Now though, the defense ranks 2nd in both passing yards allowed per game AND in points allowed per game. Some of this can be chalked up to their playing several especially dysfunctional offenses like the Bears, Jets, and Broncos (twice), but they’ve also played a few legit offenses. They kept the explosive Lions to 21 points (but lost the game), Jacksonville to 9, and the Chargers to 17, so the numbers indicate that they are genuinely capable of keeping a lid on decent offenses.
What do we see when we watch the Chiefs’ last two games?
Kansas City’s Last Two Games: vs Chargers and at Broncos
Two weeks ago, the Chiefs went to LA to face their AFC West rivals. The first quarter was very much two offenses trying to get out of second gear against good defenses. Each team only managed to muster a field goal to put the score at 3-3 at the end of the first. The second quarter, though, saw both offenses get rolling. The Chiefs capped off a long drive with a TD to go up 10-3, with the Chargers hitting right back with a few big plays to quickly tie it at 10-10. Mahomes responded by leading a 2-minute TD drive to put KC up 17-10, only to have Justin Herbert return the favor with a 90-second TD drive to tie it up again at 17 all. Things slowed just a tad after that, but the Chiefs offense tacked on another methodical TD drive to head into the half with a 24-17 lead. The third quarter was a wonky one for both offenses. The Chiefs drove 56 yards, only to fumble the ball away. The Chargers, continuing their game of “anything you can do…” went on an 11-play, 73-yard drive that ended when Justin Herbert threw an ugly interception. Both teams spent the next 14 or so minutes exchanging short drives ending in punts, three from each squad. The problem for the Chargers was that their third punt was returned 50 yards by Chiefs return man Mecole Hardman, setting up the virtual knockout TD drive that put KC up 31-17 with only 3:30 left in the game. The final sliver of hope was sucked from the Chargers’ souls when they were at midfield on the ensuing drive and Justin Herbert threw a game-killing interception. Chiefs win and get to 6-1.
Last week, the Chiefs took their AFC-best record into Denver, where Sean Payton’s Broncos were coming off only their second win of the season, over the now-rebuilding Packers. Just about everything in the universe pointed to a cakewalk win for Kansas City, a team that was on a 17-game winning streak against division rival Denver. Glue factory representatives were lining up to lay claim to the Bronco corpses that were sure to litter the field after the final whistle. Not so fast, sports fans. The Denver Broncos came out fighting in this one, while the Chiefs looked afflicted with Mount Everest-grade altitude sickness (we would learn later that Mahomes had the flu, for real). Relying heavily on their running game, the Broncos jabbed their way along to a TD drive in the first quarter, while the Chiefs could only respond with a field goal. Score after quarter 1: 7-3 Denver. Then began what was the Broncos’ other most valuable asset in this game: the Chiefs’ toggling to “Turnover Mode.” A fumble early in the second quarter soon led to another Broncos TD. The rest of the first half vacillated between Russell Wilson getting sacked and the Broncos’ defense keeping a lid on the KC offense to the tune of only 2 field goals. This, despite Travis “Mr. Taylor Swift” Kelce catching for infinite yards. Halftime score: 14-9. The third quarter was just a dud for both offenses, with more KC turnovers and Russell Wilson getting sacked. In the fourth quarter, the Chiefs muffed a punt return, setting up an easy TD for Denver. Kansas City’s offensive line wilted, Mahomes actually threw a few errant passes, and their receivers dropped a few balls over the remainder of the game. This allowed Denver to apply enough heat to prevent any further scores while the offense tacked on a final field goal. Chiefs lose ugly, 24-9 and drop to 6-2.
My takeaways from these two games:
- The KC defense’s ranking of #2 in passing yards allowed is not much of a mirage. Their DBs are quite good and made better when Chris Jones and the D line are getting to the QB, something they do with regularity against weaker O lines and QBs with penchants for holding onto the ball too long. Hence the ample time Justin Herbert and Russell Wilson found themselves picking turf out of their teeth.
- The KC run defense is vulnerable, as their #21 ranking suggests. As long as the play is executed quickly and cleanly, good O lines can create running lanes for solid RBs to exploit.
- The Mahomes to Kelce combo will kill a defense if given any sort of chance, though it’s not completely unstoppable. Denver showed this by doubling Kelce in the 2nd half of their game, greatly minimizing the impact he had had in the first half.
- Aside from Kelce, Kansas City has a problem with their receiving corps. At least in these two recent games, multiple WRs dropped passes and killed drives.
- Patrick Mahomes is still an absolute warlock of a QB. The only reason they continued to have a chance in the Denver loss was Mahomes’ sixth sense for when the pocket is dissolving, exactly where to slide out and shift to, and pull off insanely accurate throws on the run. That said, he looked completely exhausted about halfway through the Denver game. Part of this was surely the altitude and the flu he was fighting, but also…
- The KC O line is not very good. It’s the reason the team is only ranked 21st in rushing yards per game, and it’s only Patrick Mahomes’ improvisational genius that prevents him from getting sacked more often.
That’s what the defending Super Bowl champs have done the last two weeks. How does this struggling titan currently match up against our Dolphins?
Miami vs Kansas City Unit Matchups
Dolphins Offense vs Chiefs Defense: The Dolphins showed last week that they can function just fine against a decent defense while missing nearly the entire starting offensive line. With the tea leaves suggesting a return of Connor Williams at center and maybe stud left tackle Terron Armstead, I have to believe that the offense will move the ball just fine against KC. With the Chiefs’ formidable secondary, the Fins will probably have to rely more on the run game than fireworks from Hill, Waddle, and the receiving corps, but that is very, very doable against a suspect Kansas City run defense. Advantage: Dolphins.
Dolphins Defense vs. Chiefs Offense: This will possibly be the most fascinating unit matchup in the entire NFL in week 9. The light seemed to come on a bit for Vic Fangio’s Miami defense two weeks ago in Philadelphia, and it looked quite strong against New England last week, even without Jevon Holland and Xavien Howard. With Holland almost certain to return, Howard probably returning, and the recent addition of top-flight CB Jalen Ramsey, there’s an excellent chance that we see the defense take another big step towards looking like the top-10 unit we hope they can become under Fangio. That said, this is still Andy Reid, Patrick Mahomes, and Travis Kelce. Those three guys alone put immense stress on a defense, as long as they get any kind of meaningful contributions from the O line, one or two other pass catchers, and the running backs. They got enough of it to beat a really flakey Chargers team two weeks ago but very little of it last week in Denver. As much as I like the Fins’ defense to put on a good showing, the Chiefs key offensive names have too long a resume of high-level success for me to think that they won’t bounce back from last week. Advantage: Chiefs.
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: This is still a weak spot for the Dolphins. It hasn’t been tragic in recent weeks, just very bland. On the other side, Kansas City boasts very good special teams, with good kick and punt return numbers and one of the better field goal kickers in the league. Major Advantage: Chiefs.
Coaching: I consider Miami head coach Mike McDaniel as an Andy Reid type. Both great offensive minds. Players’ coaches. Both have fun. Both make some questionable decisions that manifest in an over-reliance on the passing game and a tendency to get too cute with offensive complexity at times. They also have some blind spots when it comes to defenses, but they also bring in solid defensive coaches to pick up their slack. Currently, the Chiefs have Steve Spagnulo while the Dolphins have Vic Fangio – both defensive coordinators with plenty of bona fides. Clearly, though, Andy Reid has over two decades of experience on McDaniel – experience which includes bucketloads of big games won, including dozens of playoff Ws and two Super Bowl rings. I love my young head coach, but Advantage: Chiefs.
Injuries: As far as the Fins go, this one is still a bit touch and go. Only two players have been officially ruled out: right guard Rob Hunt and safety Brandon Jones. The absence of Hunt is the greater concern, for while the backups did fine against the Patriots, Hunt has been one of the best and most consistent blockers for Miami the last few seasons. When added to the fact that starting left guard Isaiah Wynn is still on IR and All-Pro left tackle Terron Armstead and center Connor Williams are still questionable, the Dolphins’ O line will certainly not be close to full strength. What may take the edge off this loss is that Kansas City has similar concerns with their linebackers, with Nick Bolton on IR and Willie Gay fighting through a back injury. It’s a rare case where injuries might add up to a zero-sum in terms of advantage for either team.
Location: I had to look this up, but Deutsche Bank Stadium in Frankfurt is a retractable roof venue that seats a little over 40,000 people. The weather there looks to be a chilly-not-cold 50-something degrees, and that part of the world sits at just under 400 feet up. In short, no altitude or weird weather stuff will impact this game. The aspect that probably helps the Fins the most here, in a sideways fashion, is that this is technically a “home” game for the Chiefs. In other words, were it not being played overseas, the Dolphins offense would have to contend with the Queens of the Stone Age concert-level volume at Arrowhead Stadium in KC. Not an issue this week. I’m sure Chiefs fans will be there and make noise, but it will be a far cry from what they’d be getting back in Missouri. Advantage: None.
X-Factors: A few possibilities here: (1) This one smells a bit like heading into the Eagles game, where the Fins were going to face an excellent team coming off a very ugly loss. Never a great scenario. However, I’m reasonably sure that the Chiefs will not be getting the wildly lopsided officiating that Philadelphia did. Maybe a bit, but nothing will be as extreme as that travesty. (2) Tyreek Hill’s first game against his old team. Tyreek never takes a game off, even a little bit, but if there’s ever a game where he manages to squeeze a tiny bit more out of himself, this will be it. (3) The Chiefs will likely be dealing with a bit more travel fatigue than Miami. Miami played a home game Sunday and was able to fly straight to Germany early the next day. The Chiefs, on the other hand, had to fly home from the elevation in Denver first, and then fly the rest of the way from Kansas City the next day. It may not add to much, but there may be just a smidge more fatigue. (4) Last but not least is the fact that if Taylor Swift shows up, I will absolutely not care since it doesn’t matter and I wish so badly that this whole story would go away. Slight Advantage: Dolphins.
Prediction: Dolphins 27, Chiefs 24
No prediction I made here was going to make me comfortable, but I’m fighting off my Dolphins fan PTSD and calling for a tight win. It will definitely not surprise me if the Chiefs, with their history of snapping out of weeks-long doldrums for big games, show their more typical form and win. Still, when I factor in the dynamic nature of the Fins offense with Tua’s quick release, the upward trend the defense has been showing in terms of health and execution, and the slight regression of the Chiefs offense to looking merely “good” rather than otherworldly, I like our guys to finally bag their first 2023 win over a Super Bowl contender.
What do you think out there? Will our Dolphins reward us all getting up at the crack of dawn to pre-game with a momentous, mid-season win? Drop a comment down below and let’s get ready.