Who: Dolphins (8-4) vs. Chiefs (11-1)
When: Sunday, December 13, 1:00 EDT
Where: Hard Rock Stadium – Miami, Fla.
Weather: 81 degrees, partly cloudy, 72 percent humidity, 7 MPH winds
If styles make fights, then Sunday in Miami Gardens is the NFL's main event of the weekend. The Dolphins defense averages 17.7 points allowed per game, just one-tenth of a point off the NFL lead (Pittsburgh, 17.6 PPG). In the other corner, one of the most prolific offenses in the history of the league.
Fresh off a Super Bowl win and two years removed from an MVP season, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City offense gets more potent at every turn. For the Dolphins, it's a chance to measure how far they've come against one of the best.
"They've got a great coach, great quarterback, great players defensively. They do a great job in the kicking game as well," Dolphins Head Coach Brian Flores said. "It will be a great challenge for us. We've got a bunch of guys in our locker room who will compete and are tough. We've just got to do a good job of preparing."
"For us, we've just got to play our brand of football and obviously this is a very talented offense, really on all levels," Dolphins Defensive Backs Coach Gerald Alexander said. "Whether you start with the quarterback, the tight end, the elite speed of the receivers. We understand the challenge that is being presented when you have the reigning Super Bowl champions coming into town."
Friday Injury Report
Running back Salvon Ahmed and left guard Ereck Flowers will both miss the game Sunday. Linebackers Kyle Van Noy and Elandon Roberts will be listed as questionable.
Linebacker Damien Wilson is out for Sunday's game.
The rest of the Dolphins-Chiefs Week 14 injury report can be found here.
Win the Red Zone
*stats come courtesy of Pro Football Reference and Pro Football Focus*
The Chiefs are going to put up yards. The only time Kansas City failed to eclipse 300 yards this season was a 43-16 win over Denver that featured a defensive and special teams touchdown to generate an early 24-9 lead. Head Coach Andy Reid has weapons aplenty and is pushing all the right buttons. Twice this season, Kansas City went over 500 yards and surpassed the 400-yard mark on six other occasions.
On the year, Kansas City has gained 5,131 yards of offense, 372 yards more than the No. 2 total offense (Green Bay). Last year, they gained 6,067 yards and trumped that number in 2018 with 6,810 yards.
Miami's path to slowing this juggernaut is clear – win in the red zone. That goes for both sides of the football. Defensively, the Dolphins allow touchdowns on 58.3 percent of opponent's trips inside the 20, ninth-best in the NFL.
Conversely, the Chiefs defense is surrendering red zone touchdowns at a clip of 75.8 percent, 32nd in the league. In quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's first three starts, the Dolphins scored touchdowns on 7-of-9 possessions in the red area. Over the last three weeks, Miami is 3-for-7 converting red zone trips into six points.
Picking Your Poison
Strength-on-strength provides the surging Dolphins defense with its biggest test of the season. Cornerback Xavien Howard leads the league with eight interceptions and a 49.3 passer rating allowed. While Howard has been targeted a team-high 71 times, Byron Jones has 48 passes head his way with consistently tight coverage. He's forced incomplete third-down passes when targeted eight times this season.
Nik Needham's transition inside had been a fruitful one for Miami. Against Cooper Kupp of the Rams, Keenan Allen of the Chargers, Jamison Crowder of the Jets and Tyler Boyd of the Bengals, Needham collectively posted a stat line of eight receptions on 14 targets for 86 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.
Now, the opposition. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill is third in the NFL with 1,079 receiving yards. Travis Kelce doesn't just lead his tight ends in receiving; his 1,114 yards are second in the league regardless of position. Together, they've scored 21 touchdowns and moved the chains 108 times – both tops among all NFL pass-catching duos. Mecole Hardman averages 15.0 yards per reception (leads the team) and Sammy Watkins catches 69 percent of his targets.
Then there's Mahomes. No play is ever dead. Each snap is an opportunity to score, and he is almost impervious to a bad game. Just nine of his 43 NFL starts resulted in a passer rating below 90.0. Only three of those games produced a rating below 80.0. He's thrown for 107 career touchdowns and 20 interceptions with a 110.3 passer rating.
If Miami's stout secondary can match that firepower, the battle wages on with the ground game. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire is 11th in the league with 692 rushing yards and factors into the passing game with 926 yards from scrimmage. He's 13th in yards after contact average at 3.06 (min. 100 attempts). A few spots below Edwards-Helaire with 2.96 average yards after contact is Le'Veon Bell. Nobody had more rushing yards in 2016-2017 than Bell's 2,559 yards on the ground (then with the Steelers).
Get your popcorn ready.
Keeping Up with Kansas City
Containing the Chiefs high-powered offense is one of the most-difficult chores in the NFL. If winning in the red zone is the best path to victory, an efficient, third-down-converting offense is not far behind. Since Mahomes took the reins in 2018, opposing offenses converted 52-of-105 third down opportunities (49.5 percent) in the Chiefs' nine regular season losses.
The Dolphins found an offensive rhythm in the second half of the game Sunday. Tagovailoa's ability to distribute the football to a multitude of targets like wide receivers DeVante Parker, Jakeem Grant, Lynn Bowden Jr., Mack Hollins, tight end Mike Gesicki and running back Myles Gaskin will go a long way towards sustaining drives and keeping Mahomes' red-hot offense off the field.
Sunday against the Bengals, Tagovailoa found eight different targets with five players producing at least 35 yards of offense. On the season, 19 different Dolphins have caught passes.
Locating safety Tyrann Mathieu is a priority when facing the Kansas City defense. His five interceptions are tied for the most among NFL safeties. Up front, it starts with Chris Jones. Among interior defensive linemen, Jones is fifth in sacks (5.5), fourth in quarterback pressures (46) and third in QB hits (21).
The Chiefs are second in scoring offense (30.8 PPG), first in total offense (427.6 YPG) and passing (314.4 PYPG) and 16th in rushing (113.2 RYPG) with the second-best third-down conversion rate (49.0 percent).
Andy Reid dials up 11-personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) on 71.7 percent of their offensive snaps and calls on a second tight end with 12-personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR) 19.5 percent of the time.
Only the Packers play more dime defense than Kansas City (35.7 percent). Their ability to light up the scoreboard often forces opposing offenses to scrap the running game (10th-fewest rushing attempts against), thus the reliance on packages with six defensive backs. Kansas City also likes to blitz. Their 37.7 percent rate of bringing an extra rusher is the sixth-highest clip in the NFL.
The Kansas City defense ranks sixth in scoring (21.2 PPG) and 17th in total defense (358.2). They are 27th in rushing defense (132.4 RYPG) and tied for 13th in passing defense (225.8 PYPG).
A win Sunday would clinch a winning season for the Dolphins. It would be the 31st time in franchise history and make for the first 9-4 start since the 2001 season.
The Dolphins have defeated the defending AFC champions in each of the past three seasons (all wins over New England). Miami took down the 2019 NFC champion San Francisco 49ers in Week 5.
Miami's plus-80 first-half point differential is third-best in the NFL. The Dolphins offense is the fifth-best scoring offense in the opening halves of games at 16.0 points per game while the defense's 9.3 points per first half allowed is second in the NFL.
The recap Drive Time Podcast with Travis Wingfield will be available Sunday evening. Travis is joined by John Congemi to break down the game with instant takeaways and reaction to the game's results. Plus, the Sunday spotlight will feature a standout performer on MiamiDolphins.com in addition to the recap story and Congemi's three takeaways.