With the summer solstice in the rearview, it's time to put the offseason to bed and focus on the best part of the calendar – football season!
The 2020 schedule presents some exciting matchups for the new look Dolphins. With Seattle and Kansas City scheduled to visit Hard Rock Stadium in weeks 4 and 13, Miami welcomes arguably the two best quarterbacks in football to South Florida in Russell Wilson and Patrick Mahomes. Each of the previous four Super Bowl participants are on the slate with the annual Patriots series, Kansas City and the Los Angeles Rams making the trip to Miami, and a trip out west to take on last season's runner up in San Francisco.
In this series we'll take a look at what's changed with each of Miami's 2020 opponents from last season, advanced metrics from popular publications, and a full roster breakdown of each of Miami's 13 opponents.
We'll break it down into four parts proceeding in chronological order. Today, we shift our focus to the end of the season with the December opponents: Cincinnati Bengals, Kansas City Chiefs and Las Vegas Raiders. The New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills previews can be found in Part I covering the September opponents.
Part IV: December Opponents (Bengals, Chiefs, Raiders)
2019 Record: 2-14 (No playoffs)
2019 Offensive Rank: 30th
2019 Defensive Rank: 25th
Key Veteran Additions: S Von Bell, CB Trae Waynes, CB Mackensie Alexander, DT D.J. Reader, G Xavier Su'a-Filo
2020 First-Round Draft Pick: QB Joe Burrow
ESPN Continuity Ranking: 25th in NFL, 69.1% snaps returning
With the first pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Head Coach Zac Taylor and the Cincinnati Bengals hitched the organization's wagon to a quarterback in possession of the most prolific statistical season in the history of college football. Joe Burrow, owner of a variety of collegiate passing records, is now charged with taking the torch from Andy Dalton and bringing the Bengals franchise to new heights.
Taylor worked under Sean McVay as Jared Goff's Quarterbacks Coach during the 2018 season when the Rams won the NFC. After becoming the head coach in Cincinnati, the Bengals paced the NFL in 11-personnel (1 back, 1 tight end, 3 receivers) deployment in 2019. Not surprisingly, the Rams utilized that grouping 89 percent of the time in 2018. Burrow flourished in the spread, five-in-the-pattern LSU attack created by now Carolina Panthers Offensive Coordinator Joe Brady, and how those two styles mesh is one of the more intriguing storylines in the NFL this season.
Burrow's weapons are formidable, to say the least. Running back Joe Mixon finished fifth in 2019 in forced missed tackles behind Josh Jacobs, Nick Chubb, Chris Carson and Derrick Henry. He averaged 3.15 yards after contact per carry, according to Pro Football Focus. Giovani Bernard is a shifty, creative runner that shines brightest in the passing game with 312 receptions and 2,633 receiving yards in his career.
On the outside, Cincinnati gets A.J. Green back after a year lost to an injury. His career tape is littered with one-on-one vertical wins much like a few of Burrow's LSU highlights. Rookie Tee Higgins – selected 33rd overall in April's draft – gives Burrow a pair of matchup problems on the perimeter. Tyler Boyd produced the third-most receiving yards from the slot (776) while John Ross completes the unit's diverse skillset with his Combine record 4.22 40-yard dash time.
The offensive line remains largely intact from last season. Cincinnati's 2019 first-round pick, Jonah Williams, missed his rookie season with an injury, but will take over for Cordy Glenn at left tackle. Alabama Head Coach Nick Saban said Williams was the best of his loaded 2019 draft class. Mike Jordan, Trey Hopkins and Xavier Su'a-Filo make up the interior of the line while 2019 undrafted free agent Fred Johnson will compete with incumbent starter Bobby Hart for the right tackle job.
On the defensive line, Geno Atkins has been a dominant force from day one. Over a 10-year career, Atkins has compiled 593 quarterback pressures and 279 run stops, including 53 pressures and 28 run stops last season. Now, Atkins has another imposing presence inside by way of free agent acquisition D.J. Reader. A 347-pound tree stump against the run, Reader racked up career-highs in run stops (35) and pressures (36) in 2019.
The Bengals front features waves of edge rushers. Sam Hubbard is a stout, technically-sound player with elite athletic traits (9.82 RAS courtesy of Kent Lee Platte's Relative Athletic Scorecard). He broke through in a big way in 2019 with 49 pressures and 42 run stops. The only edge rusher with more pressures (51) and sacks (10) for the Bengals was Carlos Dunlap.
A clear organizational goal this offseason was to get faster at the second level of defense. The Bengals drafted three linebackers (Logan Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither and Markus Bailey) with better 40-yard dash times than the two highest snap-takers for the 2019 Bengals.
This free agency period was arguably the most aggressive in the Mike Brown era, particularly in the secondary. Among the 20 slot corners with the most reps at the position in 2019, free agent signing Mackensie Alexander permitted the fifth-lowest passer rating against. Safety Von Bell was PFF's premier run-defending safety last year with New Orleans. He made 24 run stops and was the only safety with a grade better than 90.0. Cincinnati signed a third starter in the defensive backfield in Trae Waynes. He'll pair with incumbent William Jackson as the perimeter corners. Over a three-year career, Jackson has 23 pass breakups and a passer rating against of only 84.4. Jessie Bates is a former baseball star who showcases his center field range on the football field. He has six interceptions and 10 pass breakups in his two-year career.
The Bengals added a significant amount of talent this offseason. Burrow's accelerated acclimation, better offensive line play and reinforcements to the back seven on defense are all critical elements to the Bengals making considerable strides in Year 2 under Zac Taylor.
Clayton Fejedelem, Keaton Sutherland and Ryan Fitzpatrick are the only former Bengals on the Dolphins roster. Trenton Irwin, Torry McTyer, Samaje Perine and Isaiah Prince are with Cincinnati after spending time previously with the Dolphins.
Kansas City Chiefs
2019 Record: 12-4 Super Bowl LIV Champions
2019 Offensive Rank: 5th
2019 Defensive Rank: 7th
Key Veteran Additions: OT Mike Remmers, RB DeAndre Washington
2020 First-Round Draft Pick: RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire
ESPN Continuity Ranking: 2nd in NFL, 84.7% snaps returning
Nothing about Patrick Mahomes is ordinary. He's the only player to win an MVP and Super Bowl MVP within his first three years as a pro. As a result, Mahomes was the recipient of the most unique contract in recent NFL history. Signing a 10-year extension keeps Mahomes and legendary Head Coach Andy Reid together for the foreseeable future, and that's bad news for the rest of the AFC.
It's easy to exhaust all the superlatives when scouting Mahomes – he's transcendent, an enigma. His rare physical traits are on display when playing outside the structure of the offense. He anticipates and escapes pressure with ease and fills up the highlight reel with a variety of throws from different platforms and arm angles. He's just as deadly when the play goes according to plan; he was seventh in passer rating when kept clean in 2019 and first in 2018 in the same category.
Mahomes operates with an embarrassment of riches at the skill positions and the Chiefs got better in that department this offseason. Travis Kelce was second in yards (1,336) and touchdowns (10) among 2019 NFL tight ends. Tyreek Hill finished fourth among receivers with at least 40 pass targets each of the last two years in PFF's yards-per-route-ran stat. Sammy Watkins (4.46 40 time) and Mecole Hardman (4.33 40 time) give the Chiefs one of the league's fastest receiver units.
Running back Damien Williams broke out last postseason with 290 yards from scrimmage and six touchdowns in Kansas City's Lombardi-winning run. Without holes on offense, Reid and General Manager Brett Veach gave Mahomes yet another weapon in the first round courtesy of LSU product Clyde Edwards-Helaire. CEH, as he's often referred to, was arguably the top dual-threat back in this year's class. He was PFF's highest-graded college back in wins-above-average metric and the 13th-overall most valuable player regardless of position. He rushed for 1,419 yards and 16 touchdowns with 453 receiving yards in LSU's record-setting offense.
Rounding out the return of all 11 offensive starters from last year's championship team is the offensive line. Right tackle Mitchell Schwartz paced all NFL tackles in PFF's pressures allowed percentage each of the last two years. He also led the team in run-blocking grade. The other bookend is a former No. 1 overall pick in Eric Fisher. He's been a durable, steady force with 1,000 or more snaps in five of the last six seasons. Center Austin Reiter allowed only 11 pressures on 835 pass blocking snaps and received an above-average run-blocking grade on the other 415 snaps.
Defensive tackle Chris Jones is back on a contract extension. He led the Chiefs in PFF's defensive grading (87.6) and quarterback pressures (64). His counterpart, Frank Clark also generated 64 pressures, led the team with 13 sacks and finished second in run stops with 35 tackles within two yards of the line of scrimmage.
Linebacker Damien Wilson paced the Chiefs defense with 36 run stops. He also contributed 11 quarterback pressures on only 78 pass rush snaps. Anthony Hitchens enters his third year as the projected starting Mike linebacker. He's played more than 800 snaps each of the last two years with 70 run stops cumulatively.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu had a storybook first year with Kansas City. He intercepted four passes and broke up nine more. He made 87 total tackles with 25 run stops and played more than 1,000 snaps for the third straight season. Cornerback Bashaud Breeland held opposing quarterbacks to a completion rate of just 46.6 percent on 700 coverage snaps. Second-year safety Juan Thornhill is a quintessential complement to Mathieu as safety/slot hybrids. Thornhill played at least 134 snaps at three different positions (slot, box and free safety) in his rookie season, limiting opposing passers to 56 percent completion and intercepting three passes.
Under Reid and Veach, the Chiefs have built a team that looks the part of an annual contender. An offense that's as good as any returns all 11 starters, and the defense retained nearly all of its key contributors and top snap-takers. The addition of Edwards-Helaire in the backfield is almost unfair as Mahomes' arsenal of weapons expands beyond the absurdity he had at his disposal during a championship season.
Current Dolphins Emmanuel Ogbah and Albert Wilson used to play in Kansas City. Four former Dolphins currently play for the Chiefs: Taco Charlton, Chad Henne, Chris Lammons and Damien Williams.
Las Vegas Raiders
2019 Record: 7-9 (No playoffs)
2019 Offensive Rank: 24th
2019 Defensive Rank: 24th
Key Veteran Additions: LB Nick Kwiatkowski, TE Jason Witten, QB Marcus Mariota, LB Cory Littleton, WR Nelson Agholor, S Damarious Randall, S Jeff Heath, DE Carl Nassib
2020 First-Round Draft Picks: WR Henry Ruggs, CB Damon Arnette
ESPN Continuity Ranking: 12th in NFL, 77.4% snaps returning
Jon Gruden's arrival with the Raiders was perceived as a long-term effort to restore the winning tradition enjoyed by the organization during the head coach's first stint with the club. Perception became reality after a 10-year contract and a focus on building through the draft.
Entering Year 3 with the Raiders, Gruden has the team on a positive trajectory as it heads for its new home and the bright lights of Las Vegas. The Mack trade, orchestrated by Gruden and General Manager Mike Mayock, was originally greeted by media scrutiny. Now, Las Vegas enters the 2020 season with one of its most talented rosters in recent memory, due in large part to the draft picks made from the return compensation of that trade.
The catalyst to Year 3 under this regime, as is often the case, hinges on the performance of the quarterback, Derek Carr. It's Year 7 for the three-time Pro-Bowl signal-caller who's coming off his best statistical season. With career highs in passing yards (4,054), completion percentage (70.4) and passer rating (100.8), the next step in the quarterback's evolution is a more aggressive, vertical attack. Per NFL Next Gen Stats, Carr had the fifth-fewest average air yards per completion last season.
Raiders brass attacked this area of need with a premium resource via the 12th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft. Wide receiver Henry Ruggs recorded the fastest 40-yard dash time at the Scouting Combine and scored touchdowns on 25 percent of his touches at Alabama. Ruggs' 10.5 yards after the catch tied for eighth-best in college football. He had the same rank in fewest dropped passes (tied for eighth) with only one drop in 2019.
Ruggs can fly, but he's a well-rounded playmaker who came off the board before anyone else at his position. The 4.22 burner will open the offense up for a pair of dependable receivers in Tyrell Williams and Hunter Renfrow. Darren Waller ranked fourth in yards per route run (2.42) among tight ends with at least 30 targets.
Mayock and Gruden identified the offensive line as the starting point for building the team dating back to 2018. So far, mission accomplished. A huge payday for former Patriots tackle Trent Brown was money well-spent last year as Brown allowed one sack on 326 pass blocking reps. Their 2018 first-round pick, Kolton Miller, has started all 32 possible games in his young career, giving Gruden his bookend tackles.
The interior offensive line is the strength of the team. Rodney Hudson allowed two hurries, a hit and no sacks on 527 pass-blocking reps en route to being named PFF's top-graded center in that category. Left guard Richie Incognito only allowed Carr to get hit once (a sack) with the other eight pressures credited as hurries. Right guard Gabe Jackson ranked 21st in PFF's pass blocking grades.
The running back that completes Las Vegas' physicality on offense is 2019 first-round pick Josh Jacobs. Jacobs led the NFL in tackles avoided (69) and finished sixth in yards-after-contact average (3.48).
Defense was the focus of the offseason for the Raiders, particularly at the second level. Las Vegas signed a pair of players that will supplant last year's snaps-leaders at the position with Nick Kwiatkowski and Corey Littleton. Both players graded in the top 26 among off-ball linebackers last season. Littleton piled up 134 tackles, missing only one in 2019, according to PFF.
The edge position is spearheaded by a pair of second-year players. Maxx Crosby, a 2019 fourth-rounder, led the Raiders in sacks (11) and pressures (45). The fourth-overall pick in the same draft, Clelin Ferrell, contributed five sacks, 26 pressures and 21 run stops. The team's second-most productive edge rusher, Benson Mayowa, signed with Seattle this offseason, giving Crosby and Ferrell clearly defined roles as the top edge rushers.
Inside, Las Vegas has a nice trio of impact players. P.J. Hall is a pocket collapser (23 pressures), Jonathan Hankins a tree stump in the run game (25 run stops) and Maurice Hurst is a combination of the two. Hurst had 38 pressures from his interior position in 2019.
The secondary was also remade this offseason. Cornerback Damon Arnette was selected with the 19th pick in April's draft. College quarterbacks completed only 44.6 percent of passes thrown at Arnette last year. He's a bully on the outside that matches the aggressive style of fellow projected starter on the perimeter in Trayvon Mullen. A rookie in 2019, Mullen permitted a completion rate of just 58 percent with an interception and eight pass breakups.
Defensive back LaMarcus Joyner provides Paul Guenther's defense with versatility in his sub-packages. Joyner played 86 percent of his snaps in the slot last season after coming over from the Rams. In Los Angeles, Joyner played 77 percent of snaps at free safety. He could stay in the slot with Damarious Randall now in the fold. Randall has 16 career interceptions from his safety position. Johnathan Abram, a 2019 first-round pick and the defense's tone setter, returns from a season-ending injury to round out the top five of the Las Vegas secondary.
Derek Carr's ascension in production last year with Gruden provides encouragement for the Raiders' hopes of competing in a brutal AFC West. The addition of Ruggs and the continuity of the offensive line should create more vertical opportunities. The additions to the back seven on defense will help the Raiders grind out games with that dominant line and physical back in Jacobs.
The Dolphins roster does not feature any former Raiders while Las Vegas has four former Fins – Ken Crawley, Richie Incognito, Jeremiah Valoaga and Sam Young.