What’s this strange feeling I feel? Something that I haven’t felt since the late 1990s. Oh, that’s right! It’s the joyous feeling of being a fan of a football team that is not only really good but actually, consistently crushes bad teams. I’d almost forgotten what it was like.
Last Sunday was the latest in a nice little run of Miami Dolphins dominance over a team that is floundering its way to a top draft pick in 2024 (and will probably fire its head coach). The balanced, impressive 45-15 win over the Washington Commanders puts our Dolphins at 9-3 for the first time since the 2001 season. Not only that, but they now have a legitimately excellent chance at securing the AFC East title in the next couple of weeks. The guac on top of this nacho platter is that it kept my straight-up predictions right in line with the Fins’ season record at 9-3:
driftinscotty’s 2023 Straight Up Picks
|My Straight Up Season Record
|My Straight Up Season Record
I underestimated how well the offense would do in this game, though I’ll chalk some of that up to thinking that they would be contending with some rain, which never actually showed up.
The next step towards the playoffs involves hosting the 4-8 Tennessee Titans, another Dolphins opponent that is clinging to a Wildcard playoff hope in mathematical terms only.
Let’s take a look at how these two squads stack up.
Tale of the Tape
Key Team Stats for Miami & Washington
|Stat Per Game
|Stat Per Game
|Pass Yards Allowed
|Run Yards Allowed
|21.3 (tie 17th)
|-4 (tie 22nd)
|-4 (tie 22nd)
|Against Penalty Yards
The deja vu is really setting in with these numbers, after looking at these stats against the Commanders last week and the Jets the week prior. But whereas the Jets at least had some impressive defensive numbers and the Commanders at least had some respectable passing numbers, the Titans don’t show much of anything. The only area where they rate even slightly above average is in run yards allowed (13th). Everything else is 17th or lower, with four areas being 22nd or lower. It’s the profile of a team that simply hasn’t been good at anything and is downright bad at a few things. A glance at the box scores of their last five games doesn’t suggest that anything is trending in a better direction, either.
The Dolphins, on the other hand, maintained their impressive numbers and even improved on a few of them this past week. The offense looked even better than it did against New York last week, and far better than it did against the Raiders two weeks ago. Even more pleasantly surprising was how dominant the defense was, given the heartbreaking loss of top-flight defensive end Jaelen Phillips against the Jets. The dry, numerical result of this was that the team’s defensive rankings went up another notch or two, which has been the trend over the last several games.
So for the third consecutive week, the Fins are the clearly superior team on paper. Is there anything that the Titans possess that is a threat to the Dolphins and might now show up in their stats?
Tennessee’s Last Two Games:
Week 12: vs Carolina Panthers: If you just groaned seeing those two names, then you had the proper reaction. The Titans went into this game at 3-7, looking for anything to get back on track. As they’ve done with all but one opponent this year, the Panthers obliged. After a dull start, the Titans got moving and trudged down the field for a nine-minute, 36-second TD drive right at the end of the first quarter. After a Carolina field goal early in the second, the Titans went on another sustained drive for another touchdown, followed shortly after by a field goal as time expired on the first half to be up 17-3. Carolina opened the second half with a six-plus minute TD drive of their own to get the score to 17-10. What followed for the remaining 22 minutes of the game can only be described as a punt-a-thon. No joke - the teams combined for seven punts and zero points over that span, before the game mercifully ended. Also mercifully ended was the Frank Reich Era in Carolina, as Reich was summarily fired the next day. Tennessee was happy to gather the windfall and get to 4-7.
Week 13: vs Indianapolis Colts: Unlike the sedative that was their previous game, the Titans played a fer-real exciting one against Indy, who came into the contest at 6-5 and realistically vying for a playoff spot. The game certainly had a lot of action and wild turns, not unlike a game of Calvinball. Tennessee opened the scoring with a TD not long into the game, and the rest of the first half was a solid back-and-forth affair that resulted in a halftime score of 17-13, Titans. In the second half, though, was when things got Division-III college ball nuts. Gardner Minshew started doing Minshewy things - the good and the bad. The Colts blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown, only to have the 2-point conversion attempt intercepted and returned by the Titans for two points (first time I’d seen that in the NFL, actually). Not long after, the Colts block another Tennessee punt and convert that into a field goal. The Titans responded by riding their running game, mostly without Derrick Henry who was removed and placed into concussion protocols. They punched in the game-tying touchdown to tie the game at 25-25, but tragicomically missed the PAT that would have given them the lead, instead sending the game into overtime. In OT, the Titans won the toss, came up short on the potential game-winning TD, but managed a field goal to go ahead, 28-25. The Colts responded quickly, with Minshew hitting wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. twice: once on a 55-yard bomb to get them to Tennessee’s 4-yard line, and the second for the game-winning touchdown. Titans lose, 31-28 and drop to 4-8 on the season.
My takeaways about the Titans from watching these two games:
- New starter Will Levis is a typical rookie NFL QB who got nudged into the starting role: he’ll make some nice throws and does have a few tools (the main one being a strong arm), but he’ll make a ton of mistakes. I lost count of how many times he threw passes into pass rushers’ hands to be tipped, threw into double or triple coverage, or held onto the ball too long.
- Uber power runner Derrick Henry still has juice - just not as much as in his prime. The power still seems to be there, but the speed has slipped a bit.
- Their O-line run blocks fairly well, but they have some real issues with pass blocking. They’ve given up the fifth most sacks in the NFL this season, including six last Sunday against the Colts.
- The defense does have a solid run defense thanks to some strong interior D line play, though they wore down a bit by the latter stages of the Colts game, and they were impacted by losing stud lineman Jeffery Simmons.
- Their pass defense isn’t quite horrible, but it has some very serious lapses at times. They seem to do a decent job for stretches, only to lapse and get blasted for big gains several times a game.
The Titans look like another squad whose team stats aren’t misleading. They’re a below-average to poor team in most main aspects of the game right now. How do their units stack up to Miami?
Unit Matchups for Miami & Tennessee
Miami Offense vs Titans Defense: Overall, the Titans defense isn’t awful. They don’t seem to do anything especially well, but they’re 17th in terms of average yards surrendered per game - middle of the road. They can slow down and muck up games in ways that give them a chance to win. That said, this Dolphins offense has played better offenses and been successful this season. Most pertinent is their game against the Jets just two weeks ago, in which they put up just under 400 yards of total offense and 27 points (yes, they scored 34, but 7 of those were on that sweet Jevon Holland 99-yard INT return). This Dolphins offense has been showing more and more balance in recent weeks, able to beat an opposing defense just about any which way. It does look like the team might yet again be down at least two key starting offensive linemen - Armstead and Hunt - but the backups have been playing quite well, and I think the offense will have no trouble racking up their normal amount of yards and points. Major advantage: Dolphins.
Miami Defense vs Titans Offense: Look, I love Derrick Henry as much as the next red-blooded, ‘Murican football fan. Something about classic power runners like him gives me the same primal satisfaction as watching a 10-ton wrecking ball obliterate a dilapidated building. But this Miami Dolphins defense can handle him. Again, this isn’t quite the Henry of his prime. He’ll get his carries and rack up yards, but he’s not running over hordes of defenders like a few years ago. And while the other back in that group - Tyjae Spears - is a nice, change-of-pace back, the Dolphins have handled that type well for the last month or so. As far as passing, I just don’t see Will Levis bringing anything to the table that the Dolphins pass D hasn’t seen and managed perfectly well in recent weeks. Yes, DeAndre Hopkins is on this team, is still quite good, and will probably have some nice catches. But again, the Fins have guys like Jalen Ramsey, Xavien Howard, and (hopefully) Jevon Holland to handle that type of Alpha receiver. And given how poor the Titans’ O line has been with pass protection? I see our pass rushers putting serious and constant pressure on Will Levis for most or all of the game. Major advantage: Dolphins
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: This has actually gotten a bit better for the Fins lately. According to ftnfantasy.com’s DVOA metric, the Dolphins are up to 19th in the special teams rankings (they hovered around the bottom for most of the season). Jason Sanders is making his kicks; the coverage has been solid; and Berrios continues to be a reliable if not scary punt and kick returner. Tennessee is another story. Not only do their special teams rank poorly on the season (26th by DVOA), but they also just lost their punter due to injury. That can’t be good. Advantage: Dolphins.
Coaching: Mike Vrabel has shown to be a very good head coach for some years now. Arguably the very best of the Belichick “disciples,” nearly all of whom have failed spectacularly (some of them more than once). 2023, however, has not exactly been a feather in Vrabel’s cap. The “Belichikian” method of “defense, O line, and run game” has served him well in seasons past, and maybe it’s a reasonable approach given this team’s talent deficiency, but they’re basically sunk at this point in the season. They were pulling out several desperation stops against Indianapolis, but only to varying success. I get the feeling that he’s used any creative ammo he had last week, and Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel has been hammering home the message of not taking any opponents for granted. Slight advantage: Dolphins
Locale: This one’s in Miami, where the weather forecast looks good. Cool with virtually no chance for rain. The Fins are 5-0 in games at Hard Rock this season (the Chiefs game was a “home” game, but it was in Germany), and they’re 11-2 in Miami in the McDaniel Era (and one of those losses was without Tua). Tennessee, conversely, is 0-6 on the road. Major Advantage: Dolphins.
Injuries: Typical to NFL Decembers, both teams are dealing with injuries. On paper, there’s more concern for our Dolphins, with a bunch of offensive starters limited or not playing in the earlier practices this week. While some are minor issues that probably won’t keep the players from the field (Hill, Mostert), there’s a good chance that offensive linemen Terron Armstead and Rob Hunt will be out again. On the defensive side, linebacker and team captain Jerome Baker will likely still be recovering from the knee injury sustained against Washington, and stud free safety Jevon Holland is still dealing with issues in both knees. Fortunately, the units that may be missing these players have proven strong enough to overcome the absences in recent weeks. The Titans have been missing several players to IR for a number of weeks, but their most troubling absence will be that of superstar defensive end Jeffery Simmons.
Potential X-Factors: December has been, in recent history, a poisonous month for the Dolphins. Heading into December in 2022, the team was 8-3 before going on a crushing three-game road trip that resulted in three straight losses, followed up by another two losses. Last week, the team exorcised at least the specter of such a repeat by blowing out a weak Washington team on the road. Coach McDaniel has driven the message home that the 2023 version of the squad should use last year as motivation to finish the regular season strong – a message that they seem to have taken to heart. The Titans are in another boat altogether. While mathematically still in the playoff hunt, they’re a fragile glass teetering on the edge of a cliff. They played their guts out last week against the Colts, only to come up short and lose the heartbreaker in overtime. Vrabel isn’t the kind of coach to let his team start taking games off, even after a nearly season-ending gut punch, so I still expect a solid effort.
Prediction: Dolphins 38, Titans 13
With Jeffery Simmons, the Titans defense had been good enough to muck up games and hassle decent offenses just enough to keep scores close most of the time. Without him? I simply don’t see how they keep any sort of lid on the Dolphins offense, even if Miami is missing a couple of starting offensive linemen. Miami’s defense against a rookie QB, too? Another turnover returned for a touchdown would not surprise me in the least. Also, given the Titans’ offensive line issues with pass protection, I expect Miami’s pass rusher to cause Will Levis all sorts of problems that lead to bad decisions.
How are you all feeling about this one? Even bigger blowout than what I’m calling for? Does Tennessee play Rockie Balboa in the original where they fight like hell but lose a close one, or in the sequel where he actually wins? Any chance at all that Tennessee defies all odds, catches our Fins napping, and pulls a Clubber Lang on them (the first fight, not the rematch)? Post a comment to let us know how you’re feeling about the Monday Night game.