The Week That Was
So…that was fun, eh?
I’m still in disbelief at the almost surreal beating that our Dolphins delivered to the Denver Broncos last Sunday. Sure, nearly everyone thought Miami would win. Sure, many of us even thought that they would win handily. There were even a fair number of fans and outside observers who expected a legit blowout. But a 50-point win on the back of 70 points scored? Even the most insanely optimistic, opium-deluded Fins fanatic couldn’t have envisioned what we saw at Hard Rock last week. Records were smashed all over the place, and I for one was left wondering how badly Sean Payton hates Russell Wilson, seeing as how he left him out there for the entire massacre.
However unbelievable, multiple websites and news outlets confirm that the Dolphins indeed won in spectacular fashion, sending them to 3-0 to start the season. While my score prediction was hilariously wrong, it was wrong in a way that I would love to see replicated on a regular basis:
Drinftinscotty’s 2023 Straight Up Predictions
|Game #||Opponent||Prediction||Outcome||My Straight Up Season Record|
|Game #||Opponent||Prediction||Outcome||My Straight Up Season Record|
|1||@Chargers||L, 27-24||W, 36-34||0-1|
|2||@Patriots||W, 27-20||W, 24-17||1-1|
|3||Broncos||W, 34-17||W, 70-20||2-1|
As much as we would all love to bask in the glow of the victory for many weeks and months, a much tougher test lies ahead for our Dolphins: a trip up to Buffalo to face the division rival Bills, who have been the class of the AFC East for three years running. Let’s look at what’s in store.
The Tale of the Tape
Although it’s still on the early side, three games is enough to get a general picture of teams from their key team stats. Here are the NFL rankings for the Bills and Fins:
Team Stats (NFL Rank)
|Stat Per Game||Dolphins||Bills|
|Stat Per Game||Dolphins||Bills|
|Passing Yards||362 (1st)||234 (12th)|
|Rushing Yards||188.3 (1st)||149.3 (7th)|
|Points Scored||43.3 (1st)||30.3 (2nd)|
|Pass Yards Allowed||231.3 (20th)||142.3 (3rd)|
|Run Yards Allowed||130 (24th)||110.7 (14th)|
|Points Allowed||23.7 (21st)||11.7 (2nd)|
|Net Turnovers||2 (tie 9th)||4 (tie 3rd)|
|Against Penalty Yards||46.3 (14th)||38.3 (8th)|
From just the stats, we have a Miami Dolphins team that is making an early case to be mentioned in the same breath as the 1999 Rams, 2007 Patriots, and 2013 Broncos – three of the most historically powerful offenses the NFL has ever seen. We’re still very early in the season, but this Dolphins team has the pieces to end the 2023 season in the same category as those juggernauts. They appear to be balanced, creative, and unrelenting in the ways that made those other teams such a terror for opposing defenses. They simply pose too many threats for all but the most talented and disciplined defenses to possibly try and account for. We saw flashes of it last year, but those were not sustained, partially due to Tua missing five games between two stretches due to injury. So far in this young season, we’re getting treated to what Mike McDaniel had envisioned when he took the job as Dolphins HC before last year. The numbers here also point to a defense that’s below average, though that may be a tad deceiving this early. A good deal of the points and yards surrendered by the defense were in the opening game against the Chargers - an offense with legit talent that came out with a good plan to attack a Fins defense that was still learning new DC Vic Fangio’s defense. Since then, the defense has been better.
The Bills’ numbers suggest a team without a real weakness, and there’s some truth to this. The numbers rate extremely high in many areas, and no team stat is lower than 14th in the league. It does bear noting, however, that in their first three games, they have faced the Jets, the Raiders, and the Commanders. I’ll offer a closer look at those last two in a moment, but that first game was against the Jets in that game where they infamously lost Aaron Rodgers before most fans had a chance to even pound their first beer. At least on the surface, the Bills haven’t exactly faced stiff competition. Of course, surfaces can obscure much of what lies beneath. Just how did Buffalo look in their last two games?
The Bills Last Two Games: Vs Las Vegas and at Washington
Two weeks ago, the Bills hosted the Vegas Raiders up in Buffalo. In short, the Bills handled business very well. They spotted Vegas seven points on a DeVonte Adams touchdown a few minutes into the game and then even went three-and-out and punted back to the Raiders. The Raiders responded to this gift by throwing an interception, which lit the pilot light on all the Bills’ burners. From that point at about 5 minutes left in the first quarter, Buffalo played solid, complimentary football to steadily outscore the Raiders 38-3, winning the game with a thoroughly convincing final score of 38-10. A few brief stretches aside, Buffalo outplayed Las Vegas in every phase of the game. It was a perfect example of what a very good team should do to a disorganized team with limited talent.
Last Sunday, while our Dolphins were making NFL history in the right ways for once, the Bills were putting their own beatdown on the Commanders in Washington. After one quarter, it was 10-0 Bills. After two quarters, 16-0. The third quarter was a slog, and then things totally broke open in the fourth quarter as the Bills quickly went up 30-0 and started resting starters. The final score was 37-3. It wasn’t nearly as dazzling as what the Dolphins did to Denver, but Buffalo certainly pulled Washington’s pants down around its ankles, especially the Commanders’ offense and QB Sam Howell. I honest to Marino felt bad for Howell. He threw four picks, all of them bad decisions on his part. He was also sacked nine times. Yes. Nine. Some of this was the Bills’ strong pass rush, but more than a little of it was Howell just holding onto the ball too long. On the other side of the ball, the Bills offense wasn’t exactly playing at their peak “2021 AFC Divisional Round vs Chiefs” level, but several of their strengths were on display. This game was very much the Buffalo Bills telling the Commanders to get that weak mess out of here.
My main takeaways from watching these two games:
- You can go ahead and forget the notion that the Bills are “cooked” or that their window has closed, based on their somewhat weaker play in the latter part of last season. After a very shaky opening week loss, they have looked more like the top-tier AFC team that they were in 2020, 2021, and the first part of 2022.
- Josh Allen is back to being a serious problem. Give him a semi-open receiver to throw to anywhere on the field? He’s going to lace that ball right down there to him nine times out of ten. Break through Buffalo’s (good) offensive line to apply pressure on Allen? You better wrap him up and sack him right away, because otherwise he’s going to break the tackle, find a gap, and run for at least a ten-spot on you. Either that or just rip off a 30-yard completion with two of your defenders draped off of his hips and shoulders.
- Buffalo’s defense may still be missing Von Miller, but they are a handful. Locked in. Rallying to the ball. Good tacklers. Think the Pats defense we saw a couple of weeks ago, but with more athleticism. These linebackers and defensive backs aren’t getting punked for infinite yards like we saw against Denver. This will be the Fins offense’s toughest test yet, early in the 2023 season.
Dolphins Offense vs Bills Defense
Look, I understand that we’re all as high as Floyd from True Romance over last week’s historic offensive performance against the Denver Broncos. I’ve rewatched that game twice, being more entertained each time. But that was a few stars aligning just correctly. This Bills defense is several tiers better than the Broncos. Their defensive front applies pressure well. The linebackers are smart and fast to the ball, and also fast to throw dirty plays that injure Dolphins QBs. Yes, I said it. That aside, their defensive backs cover well and are opportunistic. But they’re not the ‘85 Bears or the 2000 Ravens. They’re very good, yes, but they’ve also done their real damage this young season against bad offenses. In Washington’s case, a really bad offense. They’ve yet to face anything remotely like the ‘23 Dolphins. Thanks to a balanced offense built on solid O-line play (for once), Tua Tagovailoa’s increased mastery and confidence, and immense speed and talent at multiple skill positions, this offensive attack has no easy answers. In just three games, Mike McDaniel has shown to be capable of beating you any which way. In game one against the Chargers, LA took away the run, so Tua threw for 450 yards to bag the win. In week two, Bill Belichick took away the big passing plays by dropping more DBs into coverage, so Tua and the running backs played a more conservative game and steadily chipped away to get another crucial road win. Last week against Denver, it was an all-around fireworks show based as much around a robust running game as anything, with Raheem Mostert, De’Von Achane, and a few others combining for a ridiculous 350+ rushing yards. As good as Buffalo’s defense is, I simply can’t see them shutting down the Dolphins' offense in any way remotely similar to what they did against the laughable offenses that Vegas and Washington are running out there. The Fins won’t be putting up crazy numbers like they did against the Chargers and certainly not like the Broncos, but they should get theirs. Oh, and they’re getting Jalen Waddle back, who was out last Sunday. Advantage: Dolphins
Dolphins Defense vs. Bills Offense
I do worry about this one a bit. Miami’s defense has some real talent on it, and Vic Fangio’s vaunted defensive strategies seem to be taking root after a rough start in week one. But boy, is Josh Allen a tough puzzle to solve. It was already tough, once he figured out his mechanics issues between the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Once they added a few reliable receivers, though, it became the entire AFC’s problem. The one time a Vic Fangio team faced the Josh Allen Bills, it was 2020 when Fangio’s Broncos got obliterated 48-19. Now, keep in mind that that Broncos team had Drew Lock under center, which never boded well. Also, it was Fangio’s first year in Denver, when his team was still learning his defensive scheme. Still, it’s not a great resume, short as it is. Then again, Allen has done that to many good DCs in the last few years. The current Dolphins defense has a chance to keep Allen from going fully berserk on them, but guys like Xavien Howard, Kader Kohou, and the other DBs are going to have to play at their very best, just to give the Fins’ front seven a chance to keep any sort of lid on Allen. They’re capable, but they won’t be able to get away with many (or any) mistakes in this one. Advantage: Bills
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: They’re roughly even, on balance, though different. The Fins don’t have a terribly reliable field goal kicker in Jason Sanders, but they do have a very reliable punt and kick returner in Braxton Berrios. The Bills have a reliable field goal kicker, but they’ve been poor in punt and kick return coverage. Kinda cancels out. No advantage here.
Coaching: Given just how much swag Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel is operating with, it’s tempting to give the Fins the nod here. But Sean McDermott has been places that McDaniel hasn’t been yet. McDermott is a couple of years ahead of where McDaniel hopes to be soon: taking a perennially mediocre franchise and elevating it to a perennial deep playoff-run team. McDermott is obviously an excellent head coach, but McDaniel looks very much ready to make his case that he’s on the same level. No advantage here.
Injuries: Both teams are dealing with a few injuries, though most of them are either minor and/or to less impactful players. Each team does have one key player unlikely to play on Sunday: outside linebacker Jaelen Phillips for the Dolphins and free safety Jordan Poyer for the Bills. Not small losses for either team, to be sure, but otherwise the teams should be able to send their A-teams out there.
Weather: No worries. Forecasts are calling for a beautiful, cool, early autumn afternoon. Should be a great day for football.
Other Factor(s): The real one here to me is the recent history between these two clubs. The Bills ascended to their current place as a top AFC squad in the 2020 season, but really their dominance over the Dolphins started late in 2018. The Dolphins won that season’s first matchup with Buffalo, but since then the Bills own a 9-1 record against Miami. And that one win was last year’s fluky one where the crushing South Florida heat and humidity earned a game ball by stomping down on a Bills team that had otherwise been dominating. That was also the game where Matt Milano shoved Tua to the turf way late (a blatant roughing the passer call, which earned him the whistle), causing his first concussion (not confirmed, I know, but c’mon - we all know it). When Tua and the gang returned for the rematch in Buffalo, they almost pulled off a great road win, only to come up a tad short. The same thing happened in the Wildcard playoff game a few weeks later, when Tua was out again and third-string QB Skylar Thompson almost helped oversee a major upset road win. My point is that the Dolphins are salivating to get a win over the Bills. And while the Fins are no longer sneaking up on anyone - not after dropping a 70-spot on Denver last Sunday - this is about as big a grudge match as they’re going to have at this stage. The Bills are really good, intense, and will be working hard for this victory. The Dolphins? The Dolphins have everything to prove in this one.
Prediction: Dolphins 34, Bills 24
That’s right. I’m calling for a way overdue, solid victory over the toast of the AFC East of the 2020s. I think this one will be a really great game, and I don’t know that the Dolphins pull away until the fourth quarter. Still, I think we saw an offense last week that reached its ultimate form. And that form is scary. The Bills defense is too good to get rolled anything like Denver did, but I just can’t see how they account for all the problems that the current Fins’ offense presents. On the other side, the Bills will stress the Miami defense for sure, but I feel that the Dolphins’ D can keep Josh Allen and the Bills offense in relative check. In check enough, anyway, for the Miami offense to provide the scoring needed for a massive, early-season road win.
That’s where I’m at, folks. Deliriously optimistic? Perfectly reasonable? Am I somehow underselling our Dolphins? Fire of a comment or two in the chat to let us all know how you’re feeling about this matchup that’s about as big as a September NFL game can get.