The 2022 NFL offseason is more than halfway over, and with that, it’s time to continue to buy into some teams and sell others from a betting perspective. Earlier this week, we talked about a 2022 bull in the Detroit Lions. We'll look at the other side of the coin here with a bear projection on a team that has made a significant splash this offseason: the Miami Dolphins.
Coming off a surprise 10-6 2020 season, the Dolphins opened the 2021 campaign with a road win over the New England Patriots. They were outgained 393 yards to 259 in the contest but got some crucial turnovers to seal the first half of what would be a season sweep of Bill Belichick’s squad. But after that initial win, a Tua Tagovailoa injury and defensive regression led to seven consecutive losses for Miami, including one in London to Urban Meyer’s Jacksonville Jaguars and one at home to Arthur Smith’s Atlanta Falcons.
A get-right win against the league’s worst team in the Houston Texans gave way to a big Thursday night victory against a banged-up Baltimore Ravens team that had played 70 minutes the previous Sunday in a win against the Minnesota Vikings. From there, the Dolphins had the privilege of playing the New York teams three times in five weeks, combined with a bye and a game against a reeling Carolina team. Miami then beat Ian Book and the New Orleans Saints on Monday Night Football before getting rolled by the Tennessee Titans and winning a meaningless game (to them) against the Patriots in Week 17. Head coach Brian Flores was fired at the conclusion of the season.
The Dolphins had a PFF ELO rating of just 0.4 points better than the average team on a neutral field, and a Pythagorean record of just 7.6-9.4 based on a point differential of -32 points. As such, the betting markets have the Dolphins at around 8.5 or 9 wins for the 2022 NFL season, implying an improvement over a 7.6-win team rather than a decline or stagnation from a 9-8 team.
Enter Mike McDaniel, the former 49ers offensive coordinator, as head coach. By all accounts, McDaniel seems like an innovative mind who will theoretically port many of the great things Kyle Shanahan does, especially in the running game:
working through some stuff for a paper right now
GCOE is "ground covered over expected" – change in Euclidean distance between RB and LB/SS after two seconds, adjusted for situation. Against these offenses in 2021: pic.twitter.com/GzeGE8Smpk
— Eric Eager ???????? (@PFF_Eric) May 11, 2022
Furthermore, the Dolphins used their war chest of 2022 draft picks, acquired during the tank job by Flores and via McDaniel’s old team in the Trey Lance deal, to acquire superstar wide receiver Tyreek Hill from the Kansas City Chiefs. Miami subsequently made Hill the highest-paid wide receiver in the NFL. He has been one of the most valuable wide receivers — and non-quarterbacks in general, really — since entering the NFL in 2016, but defensive adjustments to the Chiefs' high-powered offense altered Hill’s role as one of the best deep threats of all time in 2021. His average depth of target declined from 12.9 yards in 2020 to 10.6 yards in 2021. And his average yards after the catch declined from 5.6 to 4.3.
While Tagovailoa likely won't command the same respect as Patrick Mahomes did with Hill, it’s hard to imagine opponents are going to give up the top of the defense against the speedy receiver, which will likely lead to disappointing deep passing results for the Phins in 2022.
Speaking of disappointing deep passing results, since joining the Dolphins as the fifth overall pick in 2020, Tagovailoa has completed just 24 of 58 passes traveling more than 20 yards in the air, with only three touchdown passes to three interceptions. He has 14 big-time throws on those 58 passes versus eight turnover-worthy plays.
If the lack of big-play passing is concerning for Tagovailoa, the fact that that area of the field has arguably been his best should scare Miami backers even more. On throws between 10 and 19 yards downfield in 2021, Tagovailoa earned just a 62.5 PFF grade, making only two big-time throws compared to nine turnover-worthy plays. He had more interceptions (six) in that area of the field than touchdowns (five) en route to a lowly 68.6 NFL passer rating on those throws. This is not insurmountable, as Jimmy Garoppolo had a 2:15 big-time throw to turnover-worthy play ratio on such throws in 2021 for McDaniel's 49ers while managing a 107.4 passer rating.
There are other concerns on offense, chiefly the idea that McDaniel wants to turn tight end Mike Gesicki into George Kittle, even though his usage up until this point gives little to no indication he can manage that role. On defense, there are some real stars in Christian Wilkins, Xavien Howard, Byron Jones, Jevon Holland and Emmanuel Ogbah. But those stars did not turn the tide when the Dolphins played some of the best offenses in the league in Las Vegas, Tampa Bay or Buffalo, and so they will need to prove they can stand tall against what is going to be an AFC full of good offenses in 2022.
Speaking of, Miami has the eighth-hardest schedule in the league this upcoming season, with an average opponent — after adjusting for home-field advantage and rest — 0.37 points better than the average team on a neutral field.
Our simulation has the Dolphins winning an average of 8.2 games in 2022. We have them winning eight or fewer games 54.6% of the time, winning nine games 14.0% of the time and winning 10 or more games 31.4% of the time.
Thus, for the 8.5 index, the required break-even of a +110 bet is 47.6%, which is easily surpassed by the aforementioned 54.6%. This represents a seven-percentage-point edge.
For the 9 index, the break-even is 55.6% of non-push events, which is surpassed by the 54.6%/(54.6% + 31.4%) = 63.4% of the non-push events where the Dolphins go under nine wins. This represents a 7.8-percentage-point edge, making it the better of the two win-total bets.
This is a situation where the markets are giving you value in fading an improved but overvalued team in a tough division and conference. While the Dolphins could very well be moving in the right direction, they will likely have to improve significantly to have a better record than last year. Bet against that.