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Dolphins vs. Chiefs playoff preview: Insider look at disappointment, Patrick Mahomes, defense, and Tyreek Hill’s return

The Miami Dolphins head to Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday to face the Kansas City Chiefs in the Wild Card Weekend. We get a closer look at the Chiefs with some help from Arrowhead Pride.

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Miami Dolphins head into the 2024 NFL playoffs on a two-game losing streak, a streak that led them to fall from the AFC East division lead and the AFC’s second-seed position to the sixth seed. That fall moved them from hosting a Wild Card playoff game in Miami to having to hit the road to face the Kansas City Chiefs in what is forecasted to be an incredibly cold Arrowhead Stadium.

The Dolphins and Chiefs faced off earlier this year, a Week 9 game that listed Kansas City as the home team but was played in Frankfurt, Germany. Despite having arrived several days earlier than the Chiefs in an effort to adjust to the time change, Miami looked like they were sleepwalking through the first half of the game, falling behind 21-0 at the mid-way break. They made a strong effort in the second half to get back into the game, including holding the Chiefs scoreless, but fell 21-14 at the end of the game.

Now, the Dolphins face the Chiefs again, and this time, wide receiver Tyreek Hill faces his former team in his former home stadium. How will Chiefs fans react to the return of their former star receiver? To answer that question and get a better look at who the Chiefs are as the playoffs begin, I turned to SB Nation’s Chiefs team site, Arrowhead Pride.

Maurice Elston was kind enough to sit down with me to give us his thoughts on the Chiefs having a disappointing season, Patrick Mahomes not playing up to his normal standards, the Chiefs’ defense, and Hill’s return.

You can check out my side of the conversation as I answered questions about the Dolphins here:

The Chiefs are once again in the playoffs and in position to successfully defend their Super Bowl championship from last year, lift three of the last four Lombardi Trophies, and appear in four of the last five title games. It has been an amazing run, yet it feels like Chiefs fans are not happy with this season and “only” clinching the third seed. Is that a valid impression, and is anything less than the Super Bowl a disappointment for Chiefs fans?

NFL: SEP 07 Lions at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The sentiment across the Chiefs Kingdom reflects a collective disappointment in the current season. It’s not merely the 11-6 record that stands out as disheartening, but rather the manner in which the offense performed en route to that record. With Patrick Mahomes at the helm, there’s an unwavering expectation among Chiefs fans that anything short of a Super Bowl victory feels like a letdown. The standard set by Mahomes and the team has raised the bar significantly, making each season’s outcome crucial in the pursuit of championship glory.

Patrick Mahomes, at least from the outside looking in, has not had a typical Patrick Mahomes season - he is still a Pro Bowl quarterback, but he just has not seemed like the NFL MVP, Offensive Player of the Year player we have seen in the past. His completion record is the highest of his career, but he threw for the second-fewest touchdown passes in his career as a starter, his career high in interceptions, his lowest yards per game average in his career,and his worst passer rating as a starter. I know there has been a lot of talk about the Chiefs’ wide receivers - but I do feel like that is a discussion most years dating back to the no-receiver touchdowns season in 2014 - especially with Travis Kelce being such a dominating presence in the passing game. Is there something “wrong” with Mahomes? Knowing this is all relative to Mahomes’ greatness, what has cause this “drop” in his performance.

Cincinnati Bengals v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Ryan Kang/Getty Images

While it’s challenging to pinpoint a specific issue with Mahomes himself, there appears to be a broader concern affecting the overall performance of the Chiefs’ offense. The combination of penalties and pressure conceded by the offensive line, coupled with drops from the wide receivers, has fostered a sense of mistrust within the team. Mahomes, in particular, seems to lack full confidence in both his receiving corps and the offensive line.

Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Ralf Ibing - firo sportphoto/Getty Images

This lack of trust manifests in instances of “happy feet” in the pocket, where Mahomes is compelled to take unnecessary actions due to the perceived unreliability of protection or receiving options. Notably, there are occasions when Mahomes holds onto the ball longer than necessary, possibly indicative of a hesitancy to release the ball even when a receiver is open, suggesting a lack of trust in their ability to secure the catch.

However, it’s important to contextualize Mahomes’ performance, acknowledging that what may be considered a down year for him still stands as an impressive season for many quarterbacks. Despite the challenges, Mahomes continues to demonstrate exceptional skills, and addressing the issues within the team could potentially lead to a resurgence in offensive prowess.

The Chiefs’ defense ranked second in the league this year, allowing just 289.9 yards per game. They were fourth against the pass, giving up 176.5 yards per game, and 18th against the run, with 113.2 yards per game allowed. In Week 9 against the Dolphins, Kansas City held Miami to just 292 yards of offense, with 175 yards passing and 117 yards rushing - basically right on their averages. They also finished the year second in sacks with 57, including three of them against the Dolphins. What has worked so well for Kansas City’s defense this season and how can Miami find success against it?

Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Mario Hommes/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

The success of the Chiefs’ defense this season can be attributed to the valuable combination of continuity and a deep understanding of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s scheme by the players. The presence of two lockdown corners has been instrumental, providing the defensive line with the necessary time to generate pressure. Additionally, the impactful addition of linebacker Drue Tranquill and his exceptional coverage skills should not be understated.

To counter the Chiefs’ defense, the Dolphins might find success by leveraging the speed of their running backs. Creating mismatches with the Chiefs’ linebackers in coverage, especially in a base formation, could be a strategic avenue for offensive success. By exploiting these matchups, the Dolphins may be able to capitalize on the Chiefs’ defensive structure and open up opportunities for their running backs in the passing game

The Dolphins were the road team when these two teams met back in Week 9, but the Chiefs were not exactly the home team as the game was played in Germany. Fast forward to this weekend and the Dolphins finally head to Arrowhead Stadium, bringing with them wide receiver Tyreek Hill. As Hill returns to Kansas City, how do fans feel about him and his departure from the Chiefs? Will this be a prodigal son returning home, or could we expect boos and anger directed toward Hill?

Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

The Chiefs fan base appears to have developed a complex, love/hate relationship with Tyreek Hill. Adoration for his contributions during his time in Kansas City is undeniable, especially considering the noticeable impact his absence has had on the team’s wide receiver performance this year. However, sentiments have shifted due to some of Hill’s comments since his departure, causing a divide among fans.

While it may be unlikely for fans to outright boo Hill, there seems to be a readiness to express a mix of emotions. Supporters may cheer for mistakes or when opposing players make successful plays against him, reflecting a sentiment of disappointment or disagreement with Hill’s statements. The ambivalence in the fan base mirrors the complexities of navigating the aftermath of a beloved player’s departure, with emotions likely to play out audibly during games.

The Dolphins’ last three weeks have been a gauntlet of games against the NFC’s second seed, the AFC’s top seed, and the AFC’s second seed. While they started it with a win over the NFC’s Dallas Cowboys, they lost badly to the Baltimore Ravens, then stumbled throughout the second half last week against the Buffalo Bills. Now, as the stretch of facing top-seeded teams continues, they face the third-seeded Chiefs. I am actually a little surprised that the line has been hovering between around 3.5 points for most of the week - though according to DraftKings Sportsbook odds, the line has moved to favoring the Chiefs by 4.5 points on Thursday. Do you anticipate this being a close game as the line would seem to suggest, or are you expecting the Chiefs to smack Miami in the mouth early, continuing that trend as well?

Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

Given the challenges witnessed in the Chiefs’ offensive performance this year, it’s difficult to anticipate them overwhelming any team with a barrage of points. Consequently, it suggests that the upcoming game is likely to be closely contested. The key for the Chiefs would be the defensive strategy, particularly in containing Tyreek Hill and putting pressure on Tua Tagovailoa.

If the Chiefs’ defense can successfully limit Hill’s impact, forcing Tagovailoa to throw outside the numbers or disrupt his preferred timing, it could significantly benefit the Chiefs’ overall game plan. In this scenario, the Chiefs are poised to cover the spread, leveraging their defensive strengths to create a favorable outcome. The closeness of the game might not necessarily translate to a lack of success for the Chiefs, especially if their defensive efforts prove effective.

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