For the first time in his NFL career, Patrick Mahomes is taking his talents to South Beach as the Kansas City Chiefs (11-1) will take on the Miami Dolphins (8-4) on Sunday afternoon. Will Tua and the Dolphins be able to cover the spread against the reigning champions?
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Miami Dolphins
Sunday, December 13, 2020 – 01:00 PM EDT at Hard Rock Stadium
The Chiefs are a 7-point favorite at most betting sites. That is a sizable spread for a Kansas City team that has won its last four games by a combined 15 points. Meanwhile, the Dolphins are tied for the most wins by 17-plus points (four) this season. Sure, half of those were against the winless Jets, but the Chiefs only have one such blowout win this season against non-Jets teams too (Denver). Is Miami (+7) a great value in this matchup?
Dolphins Can Rewrite the Story in the AFC
There is a growing consensus that the Chiefs are still the best team in the NFL, and they can temporarily move into the AFC’s top seed ahead of Pittsburgh (11-1) with a win in Miami. However, the Dolphins can make their case as a legitimate contender and likely lock up the Coach of the Year award for Brian Flores with a win in this game.
How huge of a win would this be for Miami? I would say it can be the biggest win over a non-New England team for the Dolphins since their last playoff win against Peyton Manning’s Colts way back in 2000. This is not hyperbole either. Eight of the last nine wins Miami has had over a playoff team this late in the season (Games 13-16 and playoffs) were against the rival Patriots. About the only thing this franchise has been good for the last two decades is upsetting the Patriots in December, like a year ago in Week 17 or when the Patriots were 12-1 in 2004.
Miami’s current strength of victory (.266) is the lowest among the 14 teams currently in a playoff seed. Beyond inching closer to the playoffs, a Miami win against the 11-1 defending champs and MVP favorite would legitimize this season and make the Dolphins a contender. Of course, it will not be easy, but the Dolphins will match their strength (defense) against Kansas City’s strength (offense).
Patrick Mahomes vs. Miami Defense
The Chiefs remain a heavy favorite thanks to Patrick Mahomes leading the league’s most efficient offense. He has never played the Miami defense, and on paper, the Dolphins are one of the top units this season. Miami ranks third in points per drive allowed, third in takeaways per drive, and ranks in the top 10 in interceptions, pressure rate, sacks, and quarterback hits. No defense has allowed fewer touchdown passes (14) than Miami.
This all sounds great – until you realize which quarterbacks the Dolphins have feasted on in 2020 and which ones had great games. Sure, the Dolphins had a season-high five sacks against Cincinnati’s Brandon Allen on Sunday, but Mahomes has taken five sacks in a game one time in his career. He is not going to finish with three points on the board like Sam Darnold or turn the ball over four times as Jared Goff did.
Here is why you can trust Mahomes to still play great in this game. The three best quarterbacks Miami has faced this year are Josh Allen, Russell Wilson, and Kyler Murray. All three of those quarterbacks passed for at least 283 yards, multiple touchdowns, no more than one turnover, passer ratings over 110, and a total of four sacks between the three. They all led their teams to exactly 31 points too.
Mahomes does not have bad games, but if there is an area of concern right now, it is the red zone. The Chiefs had a streak of seven drives without a red zone touchdown over the last two games before snapping it late against Denver. Kansas City ranks 23rd in red zone touchdown rate this year (57.4%). Miami’s defense is ranked second in points per red zone trip allowed.
Cornerback Xavien Howard is having an outstanding year with a league-high eight interceptions and 16 passes defended. If he can keep Tyreek Hill in check, that will really help Miami’s cause. Travis Kelce is still a ridiculously tough matchup, but the Dolphins are one of six defenses to allow fewer than 500 receiving yards to tight ends this year.
While Mahomes has never faced Miami, he twice saw Bill Belichick’s New England defense in 2018 that included Flores on the staff. The Patriots had great success in the first halves of those games, holding Mahomes to single-digit points, but still ultimately allowed 40 and 31 points. Still, if Flores has learned anything from Belichick’s approach to Mahomes, it is that you cannot go crazy with the blitz.
Interestingly enough, Miami leads all defenses with a 41.2% blitz rate according to Pro Football Reference. If the Dolphins do not dial that back this week, they could be in regret mode after this one as Mahomes has the best statistics against the blitz this season (12 touchdowns, zero interceptions, 138.8 passer rating).
This is why so often the best defense against the Chiefs is taking advantage of their own offensive mistakes. You must hope for drops, fumbles, and penalties (holding, pass interference) that wipe out huge plays.
What Is the Miami Offense?
The Miami offense can be hard to explain with the quarterback switch from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Tua Tagovailoa, and some injury situations involving Tua and starting running back Myles Gaskin. Basically, the Dolphins would like to run the ball, but they are dead last in the NFL at 3.7 yards per carry, so it has not been very effective. That is a problem against the Chiefs where you would love to string together long drives and limit Mahomes’ possessions.
Sunday against the Bengals was the first time Tagovailoa attempted more than 28 passes in a game, and he was mostly solid. This offense does not try to overload him, but it also does not use a lot of play-action to simplify things for him. Miami gets the ball out quickly and that has led to the receivers not getting much separation on their targets.
According to Next Gen Stats, Tua has the highest aggressiveness rate (26.5%) in the league while Fitzpatrick ranks third (22.0%). Maybe both passers could be better at finding the open man, but it appears this is mostly a function of the team’s three most reliable receivers (DeVante Parker, Preston Williams, and Mike Gesicki) ranking in the bottom six in separation this season on their targets.
This is not a pretty offense, but it is better than the one Denver nearly beat the Chiefs with on Sunday night. Miami will need to score at least 28 points to win this one, so that means scoring touchdowns instead of field goals. Fortunately, the Chiefs rank dead last on defense at allowing touchdowns in the red zone (75.8%).
You probably think I just made the argument for the Dolphins being a little fraudulent, and the Chiefs are ready to expose them Sunday with a big win. That very well could happen, but consider that in one of his passing masterclasses in Tampa Bay, Mahomes still only led the Chiefs to a 27-24 win. A week before in Las Vegas when Mahomes only had the one mistake on an interception before halftime, that was just a 35-31 win.
The Chiefs have not been able to beat anyone by more than six points since they played the Jets. There are flaws with this Kansas City team that have been covered up by the consistent excellence from Mahomes and his skill guys. Some of these flaws could be better exposed by a hungry Miami team that is unfamiliar to Mahomes with talented players on both sides of the ball.
Remember the three great games I mentioned for quarterbacks against the Dolphins this year? Kyler Murray still lost 34-31 because of his kicker (and he coughed up a fumble for a touchdown). Josh Allen only won 31-28 and Russell Wilson’s win was 31-23.
Beating Miami by more than a touchdown is tough this year. Beating anyone by more than a touchdown has recently been too hard for the Chiefs. I like Kansas City to win this game, but when it comes to my NFL picks this weekend, I am taking the Dolphins with the points and hoping for a memorable game in what could be the first of several battles between Mahomes and Tua in the AFC.