With the summer solstice in the rear-view, it's time to put the offseason in the rear-view 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 Week 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 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 start with the three teams on Miami's September slate, the New England Patriots, Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars.
New England Patriots
2019 Record: 12-4 (AFC Wildcard Round Exit)
2019 Offensive Rank: 7th
2019 Defensive Rank: 1st
2020 First-Round Draft Pick: None (Kyle Duggar selected 37th overall)
Key Veteran Additions: DT Beau Allen, S Adrian Phillips
ESPN Continuity Ranking: 29th in NFL, 67.1% snaps returning
Death, taxes, and the pairing of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady reigning over the AFC East. That was football's constant for the better part of two decades. The 2020 season ushers in change within the Dolphins divisional backyard. The six-time Super Bowl winning head coach will still roam the sidelines in Foxboro, but with Brady now out of the division, New England will turn to a new quarterback.
It's a two-man race between 2018 fourth-round draft pick Jarrett Stidham and journeyman Brian Hoyer. Miami met Hoyer last year as a member of the Colts, holding up on a red zone stand to stave off Hoyer and the Colts for the Dolphins second win of the season.
Stidham threw four passes last season. He completed two for 14 yards and threw one interception. Quite the juxtaposition, Hoyer has 12 years and 1,477 passes under his belt. Entering his third stint with the Patriots, Hoyer has 54 touchdown passes and 34 interceptions in his NFL career.
The strength of the Patriots stop-unit, which ranked tops in football in both total and scoring defense, returns largely intact and perhaps even stronger. Defensive Player of the Year Stephone Gilmore is the linchpin of the group leading the way in 2019 with a career-high six interceptions. Long-time stalwart Devin McCourty re-signed this offseason to pair with renowned box safety Patrick Chung and second-round pick Kyle Duggar.
Gilmore and McCourty both played 94 percent of the Patriots defensive snaps last year with Chung averaging 50 snaps per game. Cornerbacks J.C. Jackson and Jonathan Jones – both exceeding 63 percent of the 2019 snaps – round out the projected starters with Jason McCourty and 2018 second-round pick Joejuan Williams providing substantial depth.
On offense, New England's salary delegation identifies the line up-front as the strength of the unit. Joe Thuney is back on the franchise tag while center David Andrews and right guard Shaq Mason signed contract extensions in 2017 and 2018 respectively. Per ESPN's Team Pass Block Win Rate statistic, New England ranked 18th in the NFL with a 58 percent PBWR. The aforementioned Thuney ranked second among all guards with a 97 percent PBWR.
The New England backfield defines versatility. A first-round pick in 2018, Sony Michel pairs with James White to keep the playbook wide open in both the run and pass game. Rex Burkhead and 2019 third-rounder Damien Harris gives New England four legitimate options out of the backfield.
Those who attempt to stop the run offer another sturdy unit on this Patriots roster in the front-seven. Dont'a Hightower is a one-of-a-kind linebacker who peruses different gaps alternating between playing on the ball and off of it. Hightower is one of many flexible players on the New England defense, including the vastly underrated Lawrence Guy. Guy ranked seventh among interior defensive linemen in PFF's run-stop percentage metric with at least 100 run-down reps – first place in that category goes to New England's Adam Butler.
Belichick is known for his ability to develop and utilize personnel. Beau Allen was added to the interior line via free agency while rookies Josh Uche and Anfernee Jennings join 2019 second-round pick Chase Winovich in restocking the cupboard at edge.
Last season, the Patriots replaced four assistants under Belichick (including Brian Flores). Belichick saw another assistant make the leap to head coach this offseason with Joe Judge's departure to New York; Judge is bringing defensive line coach Bret Bielema with him to the Giants. The venerable Dante Scarnecchia called it a career after 25 brilliant years with the Patriots and we will likely see him one day in Canton.
Returning is long-time offensive coordinator and play-caller Josh McDaniels. Jedd Fisch brings a storied resume – both in college and the pros – into the quarterback's room. The defensive coordinator and defensive line positions remain vacant per the Patriots team website.
The Dolphins roster features 11 players that put on a Patriots jersey at some point in the past. Nate Brooks, Kamu Grugier-Hill, Trent Harris, Ted Karras, Ryan Lewis, Calvin Munson, Elandon Roberts, Eric Rowe, Jomal Perry, Kyle Van Noy and Ken Webster each spent time in New England before arriving in Miami.
The New England roster features one former Dolphin – running back Brandon Bolden, who played for the Fins in 2018.
2019 Record: 10-6 (AFC Wildcard Round Exit)
2019 Offensive Rank: 23rd
2019 Defensive Rank: 2nd
2020 First-Round Draft Pick: None (DE A.J. Epenesa selected 54th overall)
Key Veteran Additions: WR Stefon Diggs, DT Vernon Butler, DE Mario Addison, CB Josh Norman
ESPN Continuity Ranking: 1st in NFL, 88% snaps returning
When Sean McDermott arrived in Buffalo, the Bills were unceremonious owners of professional sports' longest playoff drought. With two trips to January football in three years, and the highest percentage of returning snaps from a talented roster, Year 4 could provide the payoff of a gradual climb up the standings under the rebuild of new management.
The architect of many top defenses in Carolina tried his expertise as the head coach in Western New York and has provided similar returns. The Bills were second in total defense and scoring defense last season, and will return Defensive Coordinator Leslie Frazier along with 10 starters on that side of the ball (80.4 percent of the defensive snaps).
The star of the group is 2019 All-Pro cornerback Tre'Davious White. Selected in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft, White has a career passer rating against of just 62.0 and has snatched 12 interceptions compared to five touchdowns allowed. He's solid in all phases of the game and brings an infectious energy to a talented Bills secondary.
The hits keep coming in that last line of defense for Buffalo with arguably the best safety tandem in the NFL. Micah Hyde was the steal of free agency in 2017, as he's started 47 games the last three years in Buffalo with 20 pass breakups and eight interceptions. Ball production is a trend in the Bills secondary as Hyde's running mate – Jordan Poyer – has 11 interceptions and 22 pass breakups over the same three-year timeline.
Two more stars-in-the-making, playing on rookie contracts, set the tone up front. Last year's first-round pick Ed Oliver had six sacks, 31 QB pressures and 23 run stops as a rookie and offers the versatility to play any position along the defensive line. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds is equipped to carry the water on three downs in his own right. A modern day size-speed player, Edmunds picked off two passes, defended 12 more, forced two fumbles and made 121 tackles with two sacks as a rookie in 2018. Despite a drop off in volume numbers in 2019, Edmunds put together a Pro Bowl season in Year 2.
Any NFL roster has holes heading into the season – at the very least questions marks. But for the Buffalo defense, you'd have to squint to find them. Star Lotulelei is as durable as they come and effective clogging running lanes. Edges Trent Murphy and Mario Addison give Buffalo even more pass rush prowess alongside last year's team leader in pressures, Jerry Hughes.
Hughes racked up 54 quarterback pressures on 457 pass rush snaps, making it seven consecutive years with at least 50 pressures.
The defense sets the tone and provides offensive coordinator Brian Daboll with the ideal complement to his run-heavy offense. Buffalo ran the ball 465 times in 2019, sixth-most in the league. With 513 attempted passes – and 40 sacks taken – the Bills ended the season with a 46-54 balance in favor of the pass.
Quarterback Josh Allen is the catalyst for Buffalo's run-heavy attack, which mixes in vertical shots to play off the running game. Allen is a bruising runner in his own right and picked up 510 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground a year ago. Allen's ability to thrash teams on the ground, paired with one of the strongest arms in the league, makes for one of the toughest dual-threats to defend in the NFL.
Last year's leading rusher is returning with high expectations from Bills Mafia. Devin Singletary is a smooth runner with speed to burn as he gashed defenses to the tune of 5.1 yards per carry. Rookie Zack Moss provides Daboll with an ideal thunder-and-lighting pairing in the Buffalo backfield.
The big lanes and explosive play opportunities are created by a punishing offensive line that was fortified in the 2019 offseason. Second-year right tackle Cody Ford gives the Bills a pair of bookend tackles while Mitch Morse, Jon Feliciano and Quinton Spain solidified the interior line in free agency.
In addition to the sixth-best rushing attack, the Bills line ranked 9th in ESPN's Pass Block Win Rate metric at 62 percent collectively. The lone incumbent of the group, left tackle Dion Dawkins, graded as Pro Football Focus' 26th-best tackle last season.
Buffalo accumulated some star power, and the production to match, the last two years in the receiving and tight end corps. Stefon Diggs comes over in a trade from Minnesota. He averages 1,075 yards and 7.5 touchdowns each of the last two years. Diggs, one of the game's premiere route runners, pairs well with slot specialist Cole Beasley and burner John Brown who had his first 1,000-yard season (1,060) since 2015 when he was in Arizona. Tight End Dawson Knox showed plenty of flash in his rookie season.
Expectations for the Bills are high. The front office has assembled one of the deepest, most complementary rosters in the league the last three years and done well to surround third-year quarterback Josh Allen with weapons, a shutdown defense and a quality offensive line.
The Dolphins roster features three former Buffalo Bills in Ryan Fitzpatrick, Ryan Lewis and Shaq Lawson. The same is true of the converse as current Bills Evan Boehm, Vincent Taylor and Jonathan Woodard used to play in Miami.
2019 Record: 6-10 (No playoffs)
2019 Offensive Rank: 26th
2019 Defensive Rank: 21st
2020 First-Round Draft Picks: CB C.J. Henderson, DE K'Lavon Chaisson
Key Veteran Additions: LB Joe Schobert, TE Tyler Eifert, CB Rashaan Melvin
ESPN Continuity Ranking: 8th in NFL, 79% snaps returning
The Jaguars are hoping to become the next NFL organization to strike gold at quarterback outside the first couple of rounds of the draft. If his rookie season was any indication, that may well be the case with Gardner Minshew. His "Magic" became a cultural phenomenon the year prior at Washington State, and he then took Minshew Mania on the road to Jacksonville via a 21-touchdown season compared to only six interceptions.
Despite starting just 12 games, Minshew tied for seventh in the NFL in game-winning drives with four, and tied for fourth in fourth-quarter comebacks with three. His penchant for the dramatic and perpetual Houdini act makes for one of the more exciting quarterbacks in football.
Even with a potential sixth-round gem in Minshew, Jacksonville hit some considerable bumps down the stretch in 2019. Doug Marrone's' team closed out the campaign with six losses in the final eight contests by a lopsided combined score of 234-127.
Only two years ago, Jacksonville was in the AFC Championship game – with a 10-point second-half lead no less – on the back of a star-studded defense and physical run game. The feature back of that ground-and-pound approach is still in town, but the majority of the complementary defense is not.
Jalen Ramsey, Telvin Smith, Calais Campbell, A.J. Bouye, Paul Posluszny, Malik Jackson, and Dante Fowler all played in a Pro Bowl at one point in their careers. As each has moved on, Jacksonville undergoes something of a rebuild on the defensive side. Ranking 20th in defensive continuity – with just 69.8 percent of the 2019 snaps returning in 2020 – the Jags will fall back on a war chest of draft picks to restock that unit.
The 2020 NFL Draft was a great start as Jacksonville nabbed one of the top cover corners in the draft in C.J. Henderson and one of the best pass rushers and most versatile edge players in K'Lavon Chaisson out of LSU.
Chaisson pairs with 2019 Rookie of the Year candidate Josh Allen. Not to be confused with the Bills quarterback by the same name, the sixth overall pick a year ago was a menace of a pass-rusher checking in with 10.5 sacks and 49 quarterback pressures. Playing in just 634 snaps as a rookie, those figures are trending upward and could one day result in a sack title.
Myles Jack is one of the few players left from that 2018 defense. Jack missed five games last year and played roughly half as many snaps as he did in both 2018 and 2017. Jack, who also played running back in college, is the definition of a modern day linebacker. With plenty of speed to burn, instincts to sniff out the run and athleticism to turn and run in coverage, Jack received glowing PFF grades in those two seasons.
Jacksonville's eighth-overall continuity ranking comes from the offense where 88.1 percent of the snaps on that side of the ball return for 2020. It's the 3rd-most in football. Minshew is back under center while Leonard Fournette and D.J. Chark return to lead the running back and wide receiver rooms respectively.
Fournette hit career highs in rushing (1,152 yards) and yards per carry (4.3) last season. Fournette hasn't played a 16-game season in his three years, but he eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark both years in which he played at least 13 games (439 rushing yards in eight games in 2018).
Second-round pick Laviska Shenault gives new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden a dynamic, versatile weapon. The former Colorado Buffalo is built like a house and will score from anywhere on the field as both a ball carrier and pass catcher. Gruden isn't the only new member of Doug Marrone's offensive staff. Entering his fourth year in charge of the Dolphins' in-state rival, Marrone added former Giants Head Coach Ben McAdoo as the quarterbacks coach to help aid the development of Minshew.
The Jacksonville offensive line is where most of the stability and continuity exists. All five players projected to start this year entered 2019 as starters. Brandon Linder was the fifth-highest graded center courtesy of Pro Football Focus last season, as he has put together a consistent, seven-year career with the team. Guards Andrew Norwell and A.J. Cann started all 16 games in 2019 while Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor gives Gruden and Minshew a pair of bookends that round out a quality offensive line.
Projections are all over the place for the 2020 Jaguars, but the big additions of Joe Schobert (four interceptions, two forced fumbles, two sacks and 133 tackles in Cleveland last year) and Rashaan Melvin (four interceptions and 33 pass breakups the last three years) suggests a commitment to winning now. Gruden might've been one of the best offseason moves across the league – his style will pair well with the enigmatic Minshew.
The Dolphins roster features three former Jacksonville Jaguars in Ereck Flowers, Allen Hurns and Tae Hayes. Doug Middleton and Rashaan Melvin are the only former Dolphins on the Jaguars roster.