Patrick Mahomes. Tua Tagovailoa. The AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs. The AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins. The winners of two of the last four Super Bowls. The NFL’s most explosive offense.
It’s a potential AFC championship game preview – and it will kick off early in the morning with the game taking place in Frankfurt, Germany (on NFL Network).
So, get your popcorn, or maybe some bacon and eggs, or maybe a brat and a lager.
Whatever you decide to pair with some early morning football, just make sure you have an alarm set for the NFL’s first game at Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt.
The Chiefs and Dolphins both sit atop their respective divisions with identical 6-2 records, and our projection model has these teams on a collision course for the AFC title game.
Despite an ugly 24-9 loss to the Denver Broncos last week, our projection model still gives Kansas City a 34.6% chance of reaching the conference title game – the highest percentage for any AFC team. Miami isn’t far behind with the AFC’s second-best odds of playing in the championship game at 31.7%.
It’s a massive game as far as playoff positioning goes, as the winner will not only move ahead in the AFC standings but will also possess a potential tiebreaker.
Although the Chiefs saw their six-game winning streak come to an end last week, they haven’t suffered back-to-back losses since NFL Weeks 2 and 3 of the 2021 season.
Dating to Week 4 of 2021, Mahomes has won his last seven games following a loss, throwing for an average of 324.4 yards with 16 touchdowns and 16 plays of 25+ yards in those contests. The Chiefs are averaging 30.7 points and 433.3 yards in those games, winning by an average of 10 points.
The Dolphins arrive in Germany following another strong showing in a 31-17 win over the New England Patriots last Sunday. Although Miami is in first place, it is still seeking a signature win.
The Dolphins have yet to beat a team with a winning record, with their victories coming over teams with a combined .289 winning percentage (11-27) while their losses have come to the 5-3 Buffalo Bills and 7-1 Philadelphia Eagles.
A win over the Chiefs would certainly qualify as a statement regular-season win, though sportsbooks have made Kansas City a roughly 2.0-point favorite with a high over/under of 50.5. That falls in line with our prediction that the Chiefs are the best bet with a 59.3% chance of victory and a projected score of 27-24.
SmartRatings rates this game No. 2 (71) on the Week 9 schedule in terms of excitement level behind only the Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles showdown (82). The AI-based platform’s excitement scale translates to the following general sub-ranges: 0-39 (Dull Game), 40-64 (OK Game), 65-84 (Good Game), 85-100 (Great Game).
One thing is for certain: To leave Germany with a victory, one of Miami’s top priorities will be to do whatever it can to take Travis Kelce out of the passing game.
MIA Key: Contain Kelce
Mahomes obviously has a phenomenal relationship with Kelce (though an argument could be made Kelce has a better one with Taylor Swift), and it’s no secret that Kansas City’s offense runs through the two.
Kelce is enjoying another All-Pro season and arrived in Denver last week coming off one of the best two-game stretches of his career – combining for 21 receptions and 303 yards with a touchdown in wins over the Broncos and Chargers in Weeks 6 and 7.
In last Sunday’s rematch with Denver, the Broncos made it their mission to take Kelce out of the passing game and the plan worked. He was targeted nine times and caught just six passes, and they went for 58 yards – his fewest since Week 2.
Kelce came into the game with an open percentage of 89.7 – sixth among the 29 tight ends targeted at least 20 times – but had just an open percentage of 77.8 against Denver.
Despite being covered, Mahomes still forced the ball to Kelce – as he was targeted four more times than any of his teammates. A big reason Mahomes continuously looks in Kelce’s direction is because his Kansas City’s wide receivers aren’t the most reliable.
Against Denver, Skyy Moore dropped a catchable ball on a fourth-down that would’ve been a touchdown and Rashee Rice dropped his fourth pass of the season – the most by any KC receiver.
Chiefs receivers have dropped 17 passes by Mahomes – the most dropped passes by any QB this season. By comparison, Miami receivers have dropped just six throws from Tagovailoa.
Highest Percentage of Drops on Catchable Balls
- Los Angeles Rams (8.1)
- Kansas City Chiefs (7.8)
- Green Bay Packers (7.5)
- Dallas Cowboys (6.9)
- Detroit Lions (6.5)
The task of covering Kelce and getting Mahomes out of his comfort zone will largely fall on safety Jevon Holland and All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey.
Ramsey made his season – and Dolphins debut last week – and didn’t look like a player that underwent surgery in July to repair a torn meniscus in his left knee. Originally expected to be sidelined until December, Ramsey intercepted a Mac Jones pass and returned it 49 yards and ended up playing 49 of New England’s 53 offensive plays – a much higher rate than what was expected.
Though it might not be normally where he lines up defensively, the versatile Ramsey has the physical tools to cover Kelce. Holland, meanwhile, figures to draw the difficult assignment of trying to contain Kelce in most situations.
Holland has cleared concussion protocol and will be back in the Chiefs game after sustaining a head injury in the Week 7 loss to the Eagles.
KC Key: Pressure Tua
Look, slowing down Miami’s prolific offense is a tall order.
The Dolphins are averaging an NFL-best 33.9 points per game, a league-leading 7.33 yards per play and it’s average of 453.3 yards per game is 62.7 yards more than the next-closest team (Lions).
Last week’s win was Miami’s fifth 30-point game of the season – the same number it had all last year – and its scoring touchdowns on a league-leading 39.3% of its offensive drives. (The NFL average for TD efficiency is 20.0.)
Touchdown Efficiency Leaders
- Miami Dolphins (39.3%)
- Buffalo Bills (31.0%)
- San Francisco 49ers (29.9%)
- Philadelphia Eagles (27.4%)
- Los Angeles Chargers (26.7%)
Just as the Mahomes-Kelce combination fuels the Kansas City offense, the Dolphins have their own dynamic duo in Tagovailoa and Tyreek Hill.
This will be Hill’s first matchup with the Chiefs since being traded prior to the 2022 season, and he’s said his playmaking ability is going to be problems for Kansas City.
He’s been causing problems for opposing defenses all season.
Hill leads the NFL with 1,014 receiving yards and eight receiving touchdowns and is second with 61 receptions – three fewer than the Bills’ Stefon Diggs. The Cheetah’s 16 receptions of 20+ yards trail only Eagles receiver A.J. Brown’s 17 and his average of 14.9 burn yards per target is the third-highest rate in the NFL among the 49 receivers targeted at least 40 times.
The Chiefs have been stout against the pass – ranking second in opposing net passing yards at 176.1 per game – and their best chance of grounding Miami’s prolific offense starts up front.
Kansas City’s 28 sacks are second in the NFL behind the Ravens’ 31, and it has the league’s sixth-highest blitz rate at 35.1.
The Chiefs sacked Russell Wilson six times last week with George Karlaftis being credited with 2.5 of them, while fellow defensive end Mike Danna had one to give him 5.5 on the season.
Karlaftis has matched his sack output from his 2022 rookie season with six, and his adjusted sack rate of 7.4 ranks fourth among the 42 edge rushers with at least 125 pass rushes.
All-Pro Chris Jones, meanwhile, has registered a pressure rate of 17.8 and an adjusted sack rate of 4.4, to rank third and fourth, respectively, among the 43 defensive tackles with at least 80 pass rushes.
The Chiefs have been taking down opposing QBs at an alarming rate over the last three weeks, registering a sack on 17.4% of passing play.
Sacks Per Passing Play Since Week 6
- Kansas City Chiefs (17.4)
- Arizona Cardinals (10.7)
- Baltimore Ravens (10.5)
- Tennessee Titans (9.9)
- Atlanta Falcons (9.6)
Sacking Tagovailoa, meanwhile, is no easy feat.
The Dolphins rank second in the NFL in pressure rate-allowed at 29.4 and Tagovailoa has the league’s second-lowest sack rate with 3.9% of pass plays resulting in sacks. Mahomes has the lowest at 3.2%.
Tagovailoa is still dangerous when throwing the ball under duress – his open target percentage of 81.0 ranks third and his well-thrown percentage of 79.4 ranks fifth among the 33 QBs with at least 25 passes thrown under pressure – but the best way to keep the ball out of Hill’s hands, is to tackle Tagovailoa before he throws.