This was supposed to be the Burrow vs. Tua game, matching the two top quarterbacks taken in the 2020 NFL draft. But now Joe Burrow is out for the season with a knee injury and Tua Tagovailoa has been fighting through a thumb injury and hopes to play.
None of that, though, changes the bottom line: The Dolphins are the better team. Yes, even if Burrow was still playing. So, I fully expect a victory along the lines of what the Dolphins did to the Jets. In other words, the defense and special teams should own the day and, as for the offense, that still remains a work in progress.
It’s hard to imagine a scenario where the Dolphins don’t walk away from Sunday with an 8-4 record heading into a very difficult final four games: home against Kansas City and New England, on the road at the Raiders and Bills. Those four games will undoubtedly define this season. My gut feeling is that the Dolphins will split those four games and finish 10-4, which should be plenty good enough to earn them a spot in an expanded playoff field.
But gut feelings don’t always ring true and it is clear that the major priority on Sunday, as it will be over the final month of games, is generating some consistency on offense. No doubt the defense is the strength and the special teams are special. But you can’t match up against the elite scoring teams with what we’ve seen from this Dolphins’ offense over the first 11 games.
While a lack of dynamic playmakers on offense can’t be addressed until the next offseason, the Dolphins can certainly get more than they’ve gotten out of the group currently in place.
The offensive line has been hot and cold. The running game just hasn’t shown much of anything and the big plays in the passing game have yet to materialize with any regularity. These are major concerns and significant roadblocks.
What this offense needs to do now is find some kind of identity and build off of it. They need to score off of turnovers and start converting more third downs. Whether it’s a healthy Tua or Ryan Fitzpatrick playing quarterback, they need to produce some game-altering plays.
From my vantage point, the strength of the offense at this precise moment is the receiving of DeVante Parker and a group of multi-talented tight ends. Sure, we’ve seen some nice things from running back Myles Gaskin, but he’s been hurt for the past month. I’d like to tell you there is a clear No. 2 receiver behind Parker, but there just isn’t. All sorts of combinations have been experimented with since Preston Williams went down with an injury, but nothing of substance has emerged.
I’m truthfully not sure the Dolphins can overcome that against some of the better teams and especially when the stakes are raised if they make the playoffs. I just don’t see how this team under its current make-up can win a high scoring game unless things can dramatically change.
Which brings us back to Sunday’s game against the Bengals. This would be the ideal time to get more out of this offense and to at least put together the type of balanced attack they can build on. I mean the Chiefs are coming to town a week from Sunday and, as good as Jason Sanders has been, his uncanny accuracy isn’t going to be enough to match what the Chiefs can do to a scoreboard.
But that’s for next week. Right now, it’s about beating the Bengals and making it seven wins in their last eight games. My pick: Dolphins 26, Bengals 10.