Quick story about last Sunday’s Dolphins/Cowboys game: My wife and I flew from our home in San Antonio, Texas to her and her family’s hometown in New Jersey. The big family gathering of about three dozen people was taking place exactly during the game. When we got to my in-laws’ place, where the shindig was happening, right after I greet my mother-in-law (a huge Eagles fan) and wish her a Merry Christmas, she leans in and says, “I’ve got the Dolphins game on upstairs. Just sneak away whenever you need to.”
I married into the right kind of family.
After completely abandoning my wife and her family for chunks of the game and the entire fourth quarter, I finally rejoined the party with a big smile on my face. Even a couple of days later, I was still processing the fact that the Dolphins not only made the playoffs, but punched their ticket with a couple of weeks to spare - something I assume last happened in the early 2000s, if not earlier.
Whatever the case, here our Dolphins sit in the unfamiliar position of being 11-4, with a playoff spot guaranteed, and the ability to win their way to the AFC East crown and also the #1 seed. It’s surreal for a franchise whose best hope for nearly all of the last two decades was to stumble through December and drunkenly, backward roll their way into a Wildcard spot. Different story in 2023. My prediction was pretty close to what happened, if not exactly the way that I envisioned it:
driftinscotty’s Straight Up Predictions for 2023
|My Straight Up Season Record
|My Straight Up Season Record
The Fins cleared the first of the three-hurdle gamut to end the regular season, beating the Dallas Cowboys in gutsy, nail-biting fashion. Hurdle number two is probably the hardest of the set - this Sunday’s showdown in Baltimore against the Ravens.
Dolphins vs Ravens: A Brief History
If you’re reading this article, there’s around a 99.9% chance that you know most or all of the history between these two clubs. They’ve met a total of 18 times since the Ravens’ inception in 1996, including two playoff meetings. It’s far from the longest or deepest rivalry in the NFL, but it’s provided plenty of memorably outstanding games that ranged from euphoric to aneurysm-inducing.
In their first six meetings, between 1997 and 2005, the Dolphins had the upper hand, winning four of the six matchups. However, one of the two losses came in the 2001 Wildcard playoff game, a 20-3 loss to a famously bruising Baltimore defense. In the dozen games since those first six, there have been an inordinate number of highly memorable contests, though not always for reasons pleasing to us Dolphins fans:
- December 16, 2007: Cleo Lemon to Greg Camarillo. Enough said.
- January 4, 2009: AFC Wildcard game with the Tony Sparano “Wildcat” Dolphins. If any of you were like me and my two close, Dolphins-obsessed friends, we knew the Dolphins were fairly out-classed going into this one. The game bore this out, with the Ravens winning in convincing fashion, 27-9. Thus ended the Wildcat Era, for all intents and purposes.
- October 6, 2013: This one is more personal since me and my two buddies were at the game. We had sprung for sideline tickets (the ones where you are literally on the field, just to the side of the players), giving us a chance to see a great back-and-forth game. The Dolphins ultimately lost 26-23, but not before we saw a ton of great up-close action from the literal sideline. The highlight for me was seeing Reshad Jones intercept Joe Flacco, return it for a touchdown in the end zone right on our side of the field, and seeing Jared Odrick sprint about three feet from us, screaming “That’s right!! Let’s go!!!” All totally worth the money I spent but didn’t have at the time.
- October 26, 2017: The Thursday Night game smack in the middle of the weirdest, arguably most cursed Dolphins season I’ve yet seen. The Fins were actually 4-2 going into this game, having us wondering if Adam Gase were in the middle of working some sort of miracle season with Jay Cutler and Matt Moore at QB. Short answer: No. What happened on that night was perhaps the ugliest, most shocking and baffling loss I’ve seen the Dolphins take. Ineptitude on offense and defense. Moronic penalties, including Kiko Alonso’s forever-infamous dirty hit on a prone Joe Flacco. It was an implosion of epic proportions. That Miami team was never right again that year, losing that game 40-0 and going 2-7 the rest of the 2017 season.
- September 8, 2019: The opening game of the Brian Flores Era and the first look we all had at what was probably the greatest and most complete tear-down/rebuild in the modern NFL. Honestly, I knew the roster was completely depleted, but I couldn’t help but wonder, “Will they really be that bad?” The Ravens helped answer that question with a resounding, “Yes.” Lamar Jackson led a cheat-code performance and a 59-10 victory that told us Dolphins fans exactly where to place our expectations for 2019.
- November 11, 2021: Brian Flores’ Dolphins had just broken a 7-game losing streak with an ugly win over an ugly Houston Texans team just four days prior. In Baltimore, we got to witness the power of Flores’ fully operational Zero Blitz battle station. The defense harassed Lamar Jackson into paralysis for a night, and the Fins won 22-10. It was an early win in an impressive 8-1 run to end the season, though it wasn’t enough to save Brian Flores’ position as head coach (a whole other Song of Ice and Fire series).
- September 18, 2022: This most recent meeting between the two teams featured the historic and furious 4th-quarter comeback for the ages. Down 35-14 heading into the final quarter, Tua and the offense went wild, outscoring the potent Ravens’ offense 28-3 over the final 15 minutes and coming away with a 42-38 victory. This was the earliest indication of the ceiling for the Tua/McDaniel/Tyreek Dolphins offense.
It’s been a wild ride in barely over 25 years for these teams. The game this Sunday looks to be another classic that is likely to be remembered for a long time. So what are the Fins dealing with in the 2023 version of the Baltimore Ravens?
Tale of the Tape: Key Team Stats
|Stat Per Game
|Stat Per Game
|Total Yards Allowed
|Pass Yards Allowed
|Run Yards Allowed
|3 (tie 11th)
|10 (tie 1st)
|Against Penalty Yards
Even more than this recent game against Dallas, this is an absolute heavyweight title fight. The only reason I can imagine the NFL didn’t flex this to the primetime game is that it will be New Year’s Eve, and the honchos have data that says that viewership decreases during the evening revelries. The stats shown here are of two teams that could very well meet again in the AFC playoffs, potentially for the Conference championship.
The Dolphins’ offensive rankings continue to stay way up top, with most of them still at #1 in the NFL. The rushing totals have slipped a few spots in recent weeks, due to the offensive line being incredibly banged up, but they still clock in at #5. The defense continues to make its case as perhaps a top-5 unit at this point, as they’ve been as stout a defense as there is over the last eight games or so.
The Ravens? What can I say that these stats don’t tell us already. They’re a great team, all around. The passing yards per game may look pedestrian, and there’s a little truth to it since Jackson isn’t an especially consistent deep passer and Baltimore doesn’t boast an elite receiving corps. But it really doesn’t matter much because they are the NFL’s best at running the ball, more than a little of which has to do with Jackson’s evasiveness and speed when the pocket breaks down. He’s a complete nightmare for defenses to deal with.
Really, the only stat that stands out as being wildly different is the penalty yards. Much like Dallas, Baltimore is a very heavily penalized squad, racking up the 3rd-most yards per game this season. This could be an area to keep an eye on.
In Miami’s last two games, the Dolphins put a beatdown of extraordinary magnitude onto the Jets (who incidentally had a weird win that went from ‘beatdown’ to ‘back-breaking choke’ then back to ‘last-minute win’ over the Commanders) and then won a massive game against the playoff-bound Cowboys on a last-second field goal by Jason $anders (he earned back the $).
How about the Ravens’ most recent two games?
Baltimore’s Last Two Weeks: at Jacksonville and at San Francisco
Week 15 at Jaguars: This was a weird Ravens victory in which the final score of 23-7 masks just how winnable this was for the Jaguars. The two teams jostled through the first quarter, with the Ravens staking a 3-0 lead. Lamar Jackson then threw an interception a few minutes into the second quarter, which Trevor Lawrence and the Jags offense looked to be taking advantage of by driving steadily down the field. Alas, Lawrence fumbled the ball in some sort of weird poltergeist moment where the ball simply fell out of his hand. Thus, a potential Jaguars touchdown drive ended in a lost fumble, which the Ravens gladly took the other way for a TD that put them up 10-0 at the half. Jacksonville made it interesting by scoring a TD midway through the 3rd quarter, putting the score at 10-7. The Ravens quickly counterpunched with a few chunk plays to get into the end zone again and increase their lead to 17-7. A Baltimore field goal later to get the score to 20-7, the Jags thrust another PVC pipe into their own bike spokes by losing another fumble on a sack of Lawrence. Baltimore converted this into another three points. In their final gasp, the Jags turned the ball over on downs, losing 23-7. The standout number here is the 251 rushing yards on 41 carries by the Ravens’ offense. They simply ground the Jags’ defense into dust and let the Jags offense bumble its way into a loss.
Week 16 at San Fransisco: If Baltimore winning this game wasn’t a great surprise, the final score and how it unfolded was somewhat shocking. A cursory glance at the box score shows you the predictable yardage totals of 429 for the Niners to 343 for Baltimore. What those basic numbers don’t tell you is how this was easily the worst game of Niners’ QB Brock Purdy’s young but impressive NFL career. On the Niners’ first offensive possession, Purdy led the charge down the field for 74 yards before throwing an ugly interception. It was bad, but hey - it happens. Then it happened again in the final minute of the first quarter. Then it happened again halfway through the second quarter. The Ravens weren’t exactly killing it on offense, but they were certainly doing enough to capitalize on three turnovers and turn them into a 13-5 lead. Purdy, the offense, and the rest of San Fransisco did pull themselves together in the final minutes of the first half, getting the score to a manageable 16-12 deficit to Baltimore. The Niners started the second half by going 3-and-out, with the Ravens then quickly moving down the field for a touchdown after a good punt return. Now down 23-12, Brock Purdy threw yet another ugly interception on the very next offensive play, allowing Baltimore to score another TD on a very short field and go up 30-12. The game got grindy for the next several series and into the 4th quarter, with a Ravens field goal being the only score over the next 22-odd minutes of game time. San Francisco scored a TD with 6:19 left in the game (off the hand of backup QB Sam Darnold, nonetheless) to keep it mildly interesting for a couple of minutes, but a Darnold INT on the Ravens goal line put a stop to that. Ravens come away with the 33-19 win to raise their record to 12-3.
My takeaways from watching these two games:
- Lamar Jackson is every bit a problem as he’s ever been, and quite probably more of one than in the past. Though he doesn’t have a reliable cannon arm like a Mahomes or Allen, he can sling it well enough to all parts of the field, especially on short and intermediate routes. He’s also become much wiser about when and how to scramble when the pocket starts to break down, showing a good sense of exactly where to slide and when to simply take off and run.
- Aside from Jackson, the Ravens offense is very solid but not terrifying. They can actually be prevented from going completely berserk on a defense, if that defense plays a disciplined brand of ball and has a few really talented players. Though Jackson is probably the only “elite” level offensive player, Baltimore has several guys who are well above average, making them a pretty dynamic group to keep track of.
- The Ravens defense is sort of a classic “whole is greater than the sum of their parts” kind of crew. They have a few legit Pro Bowl talents in Roquon Smith, Marlon Humphrey, and Kyle Hamilton, but even the rest of this group is, to a man, smart about their assignments, and they know how to limit what an opposing offense is trying to do to them. Against the Jags and Niners, you rarely saw an opponent wide open, and the Ravens D rallied to the ball as well as any team I’ve seen.
In short, I saw a Ravens team that is every bit as good as their 12-3 record suggests. How can the Dolphins stack up to them?
Dolphins vs Ravens Unit Matchups
Dolphins Offense vs Ravens Defense: Injuries to both teams alter this little breakdown (I’ll cover these a little further down), but suffice it to say that the Dolphins will likely be without a key weapon in Jalen Waddle. Fortunately, The Penguin is far from the only weapon the Fins have in their arsenal. And while Baltimore’s defense is very good, they become a lot more “bend don’t break” against top-level offenses. With a more intact O line out there, Tyreek Hill, and the impressive stable of running backs, I think Tua can oversee an offensive attack that moves the ball well enough to give the team a chance to win. The Ravens’ last two opponents, the Jags and Niners, moved the ball well enough but shot themselves in the feet with goofy turnovers. Miami has been excellent in that department lately, with only one turnover in their last four games. And Baltimore’s opponent before those two, the Rams, put up 31 points and over 400 total yards on them. Slight Advantage: Dolphins.
Dolphins Defense vs Ravens Offense: The Ravens offense is extremely potent. They boast the #1 rushing offense, though it’s hardly traditional in that Lamar Jackson is their top rusher. All this means is that they get most of their ample ground yards from Jackson scrambling out of the pocket. Give him a clean pocket, and he’ll patiently pick apart your secondary if they lose track of pass catchers like Zay Flowers, Odell Beckam Jr. Isaiah Likely, or Nelson Aghalor. Get pressure on him but don’t bring him down? He’ll take off for anywhere from two to 75 yards. It’s a riddle that only the very best defenses can hope to (sort of) solve. Guess what? For the last two months, the Dolphins have had one of the best defenses in the NFL. Jalen Ramsey’s return to the field in week 8 seemed to coincide with the rest of the defense truly internalizing DC Vic Fangio’s complex schemes. Since then, the defense has kept nearly every opponent well under their season averages for points, total yards, or both (the only significant blip being those final five minutes against the Titans a few weeks ago). And unlike the offense, the defense is pretty healthy and getting healthier. I think this crew has the talent and the scheme to keep the Ravens at or slightly below their season averages. Advantage: NONE
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: As they nearly always do, the Ravens boast one of the best special teams units in the game. Future Hall of Fame kicker Justin Tucker hasn’t been quite as automatic as usual, but he’s still highly reliable on kicks under 50 yards (curiously, his 20% success rate on kicks 50 yards or over is the worst of his career right now). Baltimore is also solid on punts and coverages. Miami was consistently hovering in the bottom third of the NFL in special teams through the first half of the season or so, but they’ve improved in this area of late. Last week highlighted this improvement with solid kick and punt returns and coverage and Jason Sanders looking like his 2020 All-Pro version, nailing all five field goals, including three from over 50 yards. Slight advantage: Ravens
Coaching: I’m loving what this Dolphins coaching staff is doing these days. Vic Fangio has the defense playing great, and Mike McDaniel continues to improve little areas and overcome obstacles to gradually mold this group into a legit Superbowl contender. That said, John Harbaugh and his coaching staff are among the best in the NFL. Harbaugh has had his fumbles in recent history, putting together good regular season records but going 1-4 in the playoffs in the last six years. But he’s been in a ton of high-pressure games, including winning the Superbowl in 2012. Even though he’s not one to be intimidated by an impressive resume, Mike McDaniel only just got his first big late-season win over a playoff-caliber opponent. Slight Advantage: Ravens
Locale: Honestly, we Dolphins fans could hardly ask for better from a road game in Baltimore in late December. The forecast is for a mostly sunny day with temperatures in the low 50s and a light breeze. Climate-wise, no “north” advantage conveyed here. The home crowd, though? They’re going to be out of their minds with excitement, and they will definitely be letting Tua and the Dolphins offense know about it. Fins have been OK on the road this year, going 4-3 with the three losses being to (probable) playoff teams: at Buffalo, Philadelphia, and in Germany for a “road” game against the Chiefs. In each game, they got closer to a victory, and the defense has only improved since the most recent road loss back in early November. Defense tends to travel better than offense, so the home-field advantage is mitigated a bit here. Slight Advantage: Ravens
Injuries: Both teams are dealing with injuries to several key players. Miami has a slew of offensive starters who have been limited or DNP all week, but it’s looking like Jalen Waddle may be the only one kept out on Sunday. The Fins’ defense is in much better shape, especially if Jevon Holland is able to return after a few games off to nurse an ailing pair of knees. The Ravens don’t have the quantity of players out that Miami does, but there are some big names who have missed some or all of practice this week. The two biggies are #1 receiver Zay Flowers and ace safety Kyle Hamilton. Though he missed Wednesday practice, I have to think that the 22-year-old Hamilton will be on the field. Flowers, though, missed the first two days of practice entirely. That would end up matching the Dolphins’ loss of Jalen Waddle.
Potential X-Factors: There’s a lot at stake here for a game in which both teams have already clinched a playoff spot. The #1 seed in the AFC is still very much up for grabs, with only one more regular season game left after this contest. The Ravens have the Browns breathing right down their necks for the AFC North crown, while the Dolphins have the bipolar Bills in their rearview mirror. Both teams are also surely salivating over the chance to make a serious statement to the rest of the league that they are primed and ready for a deep playoff run against top-flight opponents. The only area where I can see an advantage is that for the very first time since week 4 in Buffalo, the Dolphins will be facing a really good team that is not coming off a bad loss and looking to re-establish itself. Harbaugh is unlikely to let his team relax mentally, but maybe there a little bit of mental resting on the laurels for a few Ravens players. Maybe.
Prediction: Dolphins 27, Ravens 24
This one is going to be dicey. A loss will not surprise me, but I think this Fins crew is locked in enough to win a close one that may be a classic. Reports from practices this week is that the Dolphins are not high on their win over Dallas, and that they’ve been hyper-focused on the Ravens game since Wednesday. I think the defense turns in another strong performance that keeps Baltimore’s offense looking mortal and giving the offense one or two short fields to work with. From that, the Miami offense churns out a workman-like showing, and the team gets the win to nail down the AFC East crown.
How are you all feeling about this monumental regular season bout? Do the Fins pull it off? Take one on the chin? Drop a comment or two down below.