The Miami Dolphins are still searching for their first playoff win since the 2000 season, but the good news is we can talk about this team with playoff expectations again after they snuck in as the No. 7 seed with a 9-8 record in head coach Mike McDaniel’s first year.
But a series of winning and losing streaks with multiple concussions for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa led to a disappointing finish from a team that played Buffalo really well and could have the right stuff to deal with AFC contenders like the Chiefs and Bengals.
First, the Dolphins must prove they are still among the best in the conference after other teams have made upgrades, including the Jets in the division. Miami has an Over/Under of 9.5 wins at offshore sportsbooks, but the Dolphins are only +300 at BetOnline to win the AFC East because of the Bills (+120) and Jets (+245).
Are we sleeping on Miami, or will the other contenders pass the Dolphins by?
Changes That Matter
The best news is Tua Tagovailoa is back healthy, but given he has yet to play more than 13 games in a season, the Dolphins have to be prepared on the backup quarterback front. Adding Mike White from the Jets may be a nice fit for the offense, but he has his own durability issues to worry about.
Still, the hope is Miami has much better luck with quarterback health this year. When else have you seen a team lose a different starting quarterback to injury in 3 straight games?
Beyond the quarterback’s health, the Dolphins have a new defensive coordinator, but he will not have his key new piece for a while. The offense also lost some supporting pieces to Hill and Waddle.
Vic Fangio Could Really Use a Healthy Jalen Ramsey
The Dolphins only needed one season from defensive coordinator Josh Boyer for McDaniel to move on from his mistake in retaining him last year. The replacement is a smart hire in Vic Fangio, who has decades of experience coaching defense in the NFL. He also coached Bradley Chubb, Miami’s big in-season trade acquisition last year, while in Denver.
Chubb needs to have a big year to improve this pass rush, but the exciting addition to the Miami defense was trading for corner Jalen Ramsey from the Rams. Likely a future Hall of Famer, Ramsey could pair with Xavien Howard to give Fangio a great duo of proven corners.
Unfortunately, Ramsey was injured in training camp and had meniscus surgery. He could be out until December, but reports are conflicted over his return date. Either way, do not expect him early in the season when the Dolphins have important games against teams like the Chargers, Patriots, Broncos, and Bills.
The good news is the corner is a position where the Dolphins actually have depth. They spent a 2nd-round pick on Cam Smith this year, and Kader Kohou was a pleasant surprise as an undrafted rookie in 2022. Howard also needs to bounce back from a poor year in 2022.
But the idea of having Howard and Ramsey together was what could move this defense up a tier. Now, we have to wait some months to see that.
Can This Offense Develop a Third Receiver?
Common throughout decades of NFL history, elite offenses usually feature a solid No. 3 receiving option. It could be a slot receiver, a deep threat, or it could be a tight end.
Even a team like the 2022 Chiefs had Marquez Valdes-Scantling. He did not have a great regular season with 687 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he caught a touchdown in back-to-back playoff games, and he was huge in the AFC Championship Game with 116 yards.
Last season, the Dolphins were a 2-man show with Hill and Waddle, who combined for 3,066 yards. The Dolphins had 19 performances with more than 75 receiving yards last year, and the duo of Hill and Waddle had all 19 of those games.
Trent Sherfield (417 yards) and tight end Mike Gesicki (362 yards) were the No. 3 and No. 4 receivers on this team last year. They are both gone in 2023. The options to replace them are not that exciting when you are talking about Braxton Berrios and tight-end Durham Smythe.
Hill and Waddle are great, but another reliable target would enhance the offense. Not just that, but another receiver is great injury insurance in case one of those speedsters is down for a game or more.
2023 Schedule Analysis and Pick
Just being realistic about the AFC, the Chiefs, Bengals, and Bills still look like the class of the conference with their past success and reliability at quarterback. The Jaguars are also poised to repeat in the AFC South and should be a better team than they were last year.
That would leave 3 open playoff spots. A team like Miami is more in that tier with the Ravens and Chargers, but the Ravens will hopefully have a healthy Lamar Jackson, who has a new coordinator and more weapons than ever this year. Baltimore is not blowing another 21-point lead to this Miami team.
We know the Chargers (Week 1) can blow any lead, but they played one of their best games of the year against the Dolphins last season. They meet again in Week 1 in Los Angeles, so that opening game can have massive implications for the wild card spots and this Over/Under pick. Without Ramsey and playing at the site of Tua’s lousiest passing game of 2022, that could be a big win for the Chargers.
Even teams like the Steelers and Broncos (Week 3) would not be shockers to improve when Mike Tomlin and Sean Payton are the coaches. Tomlin no longer has a rookie quarterback in Kenny Pickett, who was throwing game-winning touchdowns in the clutch to end the season, unlike the 16-10 loss in Miami where he threw a game-ending interception a week after suffering a concussion. Russell Wilson will hopefully respond to Payton’s coaching in Denver.
But the Jets (Week 12) are the team most likely to make the Dolphins slide down the seeding in the AFC. The Jets crushed the Dolphins 40-17 in a game Tua did not play, then the teams played an 11-6 slop fest in Week 18 with backup quarterbacks for both sides, but when you give Aaron Rodgers a top defense and a legitimate No. 1 receiver, it is hard to not see him deliver. He also got a win over the Dolphins in Miami last year.
We have only talked about AFC opponents and how the Dolphins have 7 tough games against the Chiefs (Week 9), Bills (Week 18), Jets, Ravens (Week 17), and Chargers, but the Dolphins also have to play a couple of the NFC’s best teams in Philadelphia (Week 7) and Dallas (Week 16).
Last season, Miami was 2-6 against playoff teams and did not beat any after Week 3. For a team that saw its results correlate so well to the schedule, the smart move for your NFL picks is to take the under against what looks like a tougher schedule in 2023.
NFL Pick: 2023 Miami Dolphins Under 9½ Wins (-105) at BetOnline
*The line and/or odds on picks in this article might have moved since the content was commissioned. For updated line movements, visit BMR’s free betting odds product.
2022 Recap: The Scariest of Quarterback Injuries
The Dolphins did some things very well in McDaniel’s first season, but the breakout year for 3rd-year quarterback Tua Tagovailoa was marred by some scary concussions that cut his season short and threatened his career (and life).
Miami is not blameless in this situation either. In a Week 3 game against Buffalo, Tua hit the ground and appeared visibly wobbly before getting help from his teammates. He left the game momentarily and returned to finish it as the Dolphins said it was a back injury.
The chances we see an NFL player that wobbly return to a game in the future are slim to none after the new protocol was introduced. Because 4 days after Tua’s mysterious injury against Buffalo, he played and suffered a definite concussion in Cincinnati and was treated at the local hospital. Tagovailoa missed the next 2 games and returned for a 16-10 win over the Steelers, kicking off a 5-game winning streak.
But those wins were all against teams that did not qualify for the playoffs. Once the Dolphins started playing teams like the Bills, Chargers, and 49ers, they lost Tua’s last 4 starts. He suffered another concussion against Green Bay on Christmas, a game where he threw 3 interceptions.
Tua’s Season-Ending Concussion and Quarterback Performance Highlights
That final concussion ended Tua’s season, and the Dolphins also lost Teddy Bridgewater to injury. They had to start 3rd-string rookie Skylar Thompson in the wild card game in Buffalo, and despite trailing early, they made a game of it before losing 34-31.
The injuries to Tua overshadowed what was a very nice year for the young quarterback. He led the NFL in various passing categories for the 13 games he played:
- Passer rating (105.5)
- Yards per attempt (8.9)
- Yards per completion (13.7)
- Touchdown pass rate (6.3%)
- Adjusted net yards per pass attempt (8.37)
Trading for wide receiver Tyreek Hill from Kansas City worked out very well. Hill caught a pair of touchdown bombs (48 and 60 yards) in Baltimore to lead a 21-point comeback win. Oddly enough, Hill would not score another touchdown from farther than 3 yards out until Week 13, but his impact went beyond the deep plays.
Hill had a career-high 1,710 receiving yards and his speed lived up to the hype in forming the fastest wide receiver duo with Jaylen Waddle. It would be nice to see a full 17-game season from this duo with Tagovailoa.