The NFL offseason rolls along and I’m back with another Futures Friday article this week. In this article, I’ll break down why I believe the Miami Dolphins offer value in the AFC East and could be a sleeper Super Bowl candidate. Let’s get to work.
AFC East Best Bets: Divisional Winners & More
Heading into the 2023-24 NFL season, the AFC East presents a ton of intrigue. While the Bills remain the favorite, don’t sleep on the Dolphins as a candidate to win the division. Read on for more information on how to bet the AFC East heading into the 2023-24 season, along with some insight into why there is value on the Miami Dolphins to win the division at +350 odds.
2022 Miami Dolphins Recap
The Dolphins had an interesting 2022 season, the first with head coach Mike McDaniel. An 8-3 start to the season had them looking like a true contender in the AFC before an ill fated West Coast trip featured losses to the 49ers and Chargers that were the beginning of a brutal 1-5 stretch to close the season.
Miami still made the playoffs as a Wild Card team, and they gave the Bills everything they could handle despite starting the clearly overmatched seventh round rookie Skylar Thompson under center. In a 34-31 loss, Miami showed it belonged on the playoff stage.
While the injuries at quarterback were a huge part of the story, a defense that ranked 24th in points allowed and 15th in DVOA was arguably the biggest limiting factor for the Dolphins in 2022. Entering this season, they have made moves to address some of their biggest shortcomings.
The Case for Tua Tagovailoa
A successful Dolphins season starts with Tua Tagovailoa. He led the team to an 8-5 record in games he started last year and led the NFL in yards per attempt (8.9) and passer rating (105.5). He also possesses an elite deep ball – he ranked first in adjusted completion rate (58.2%) and passer rating (124.1) on throws 20+ yards downfield.
Of course, the elephant in the room is Tagovailoa’s health – he suffered three concussions last season that led to him contemplating retirement. Tagovailoa is now deemed fully healthy by team doctors and has been training all offseason in Judo to learn how to tuck and fall properly.
That Judo training will hopefully allow Tagovailoa to become even better at avoiding hits – he’s already third in quarterback sack prevention rate. That could be even more important behind an offensive line that ranked just 24th in ESPN’s pass block win rate metric.
Miami’s offensive line is on an upward trajectory. Terron Armstead and Connor Williams became top 15 players at their respective positions per PFF after signing in free agency while Robert Hunt was a top 20 guard in both pass and run-blocking per PFF.
If former first-round pick Austin Jackson can provide a boost after missing most of last season, this line could be very solid. Jackson wasn’t very good as a guard in 2021 and only played in two games last year, but in a contract season, there’s upside for a strong campaign.
Tua is well supported in this offense with an elite pass-catching set. The Dolphins boast arguably the best wide receiver tandem in the NFL with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, the former of whom has said he wants to become the first wide receiver in NFL history with over 2,000 receiving yards this season.
Mike McDaniel is one of the best offensive minds in the NFL, and there’s reason to believe in further growth from Tagovailoa in his second season in McDaniel’s system. I haven’t fired on it yet, but there’s a good chance I end up adding a half unit on Tua Tagovialoa to win MVP at some point. The best odds currently available are .
And the last touchdown, the game-winner, back to that cover 1 spy they ran last time in the red zone, this time the throw to Waddle just beats the defender.
I love what Tua was able to do – give playmakers a chance, take those chances, and deliver.pic.twitter.com/hP4AEJVRUk
— John Vogel (@DraftVogel) September 19, 2022
A Massively Improved Pass Defense
The Dolphins’ pass defense was putrid in 2022 as they allowed the fifth-most passing yards and ranked 25th in DVOA against the pass. Meanwhile, they had a very good run defense and ranked 4th in DVOA in that regard.
Before making any offseason moves, we should expect some progression from this pass defense. Miami led the NFL in adjusted games lost among defensive backs per Football Outsiders last season – Byron Jones missed the whole year with an ankle injury, Nik Needham tore his Achilles in Week 6, and Brandon Jones tore his ACL in Week 7.
Along with the expected positive regression in the injury department, the Dolphins traded for Jalen Ramsey, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. A former three-time First Team All Pro and Super Bowl champion, Ramsey raises the ceiling of this defense.
The Dolphins add Ramsey to a secondary featuring Xavien Howard, another former All Pro talent, Jevon Holland, an ascending star, and Cam Smith, a rookie with plenty of promise. This secondary has a ton of talent.
Miami also hired Vic Fangio as their new defensive coordinator, and he’s been well regarded as one of the best defensive coaches in the NFL. He’ll immediately help this pass defense transform from one of the worst to one of the best.
Finally, the Dolphins should have a very good pass rush. Jaelan Phillips was sixth in PFF pass rush grade last year, and the 2021 first rounder could be set for a full-fledged breakout. Christian Wilkins, a fellow former first rounder, is also a force in the middle of the defensive line.
Bradley Chubb rounds out the pass rush, and he should make a big impact in his first full season with the team. Chubb had his best season in 2020 when being coached by Fangio with the Broncos – he had 57 pressures, tied for the seventh-most in the NFL per PFF.
Bills and Jets AFC East Odds
The Bills () and Jets () currently have shorter odds than the Dolphins to win the AFC East, but I’m a bit lower than the market on both teams.
I’m low on this Bills offensive line after they were outside the top 20 in PFF pass and run blocking grades last year and had an embarrassing showing to end the season in the playoffs. Buffalo also lacks strong pass-catching depth with minimal high-level talent outside of Stefon Diggs.
I’m also concerned about an aging secondary that has been hit hard by injuries in recent years, especially considering the Bills just lost Leslie Frazier, their defensive coordinator that has led the top defense in the league by several metrics since he took over in 2017.
The Jets are the easier sell for me. Aaron Rodgers is coming off the worst passer rating of his career and was just 27th in QBR. He struggled through a fractured thumb and rib bruise and already has a calf injury in mini camp. At 39 years old, it might be time for us to adjust our expectations for one of the best quarterbacks of all time.
New York’s offensive line is also a major liability. Mekhi Becton has only played 48 snaps over the last two years and fellow tackle Duane Brown is now 38 years old. The Jets didn’t add to their offensive line in free agency or the draft.
Recap: the Case for the Dolphins
Tua Tagovailoa is one of the most underrated quarterbacks in the NFL. I can’t guarantee that he’ll stay healthy this season, but what I can tell you is he has been one of the most productive passers in the league when he’s been on the field. With an elite receiving tandem, ascending offensive line, and superb scheme, an MVP push isn’t out of the question.
Add that elite offense to a defense that should be among the most improved this season. There’s high-level talent at all three levels for Miami, and the addition of defensive coordinator Vic Fangio should make a massive difference for a defense that grew stale under its previous coaching.
While the Bills and Jets have shorter odds to win the AFC East this season, I believe the value is on a Miami team that could be a sleeping giant, even in a loaded AFC. With Tagovailoa still on his rookie contract, the Dolphins have done an excellent job of building out this roster, and they could be ready for a serious push into contention.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel explains all the areas where Tua Tagovailoa has improved & says all the issues he heard about as concerns are non-existent at this point. pic.twitter.com/Aly1UeunVD
— Omar Kelly (@OmarKelly) June 7, 2023
Running NFL Futures Log
I’ll update this every week with futures picks hyper-linked to my past articles for your convenience. If there isn’t a link, it’s because I haven’t written an article for it yet. Here’s the running list:
|Bijan Robinson to win Offensive Rookie of the Year||+450||DraftKings||1||4/27/2023|
|Philadelphia Eagles over 10.5 wins||-150||DraftKings||1||5/3/2023|
|Atlanta Falcons to win the NFC South||+300||FanDuel||1||5/5/2023|
|Chicago Bears to win the NFC North||+350||Caesars||1||5/5/2023|
|Miami Dolphins to win the AFC East||+350||Caesars||1||5/5/2023|
|Seattle Seahawks to win the NFC West||+275||DraftKings||1||5/5/2023|
|Calvin Ridley to lead the NFL in receiving yards||+4500||DraftKings||0.25||5/26/2023|
|Arizona Cardinals under 5 wins||-110||Caesars||1.1||5/26/2023|
|Tennessee Titans to Win the AFC South||+400||DraftKings||1||6/7/2023|
|New York Jets under 9.5 wins||+120||Caesars||1||6/15/2023|