NFL News & Analysis

2022 NFL Playoffs: Why nobody wants to play the Miami Dolphins or San Francisco 49ers

The two scariest NFL teams to the established Super Bowl contenders right now are schematic cousins — the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers.

We saw what the 49ers are capable of in Week 12 against the Arizona Cardinals, and the Dolphins have been lighting defenses on fire all season as long as Tua Tagovailoa is under center.

There may be better teams in the league, but these two offenses will terrify any opponent in January. And they are married to defenses capable of big performances, as well as coaches from a system with an outstanding track record.

Put simply: No playoff team wants to see the Dolphins or 49ers on their schedule.

Miami Dolphins

Tyreek Hill is the most explosive playmaker in the NFL. Arguably the fastest player in football, Hill also possesses absurd short-area quickness, strength and prowess at the catch point that can’t be rivaled.

He isn’t just on pace to break the single-season receiving record, but he’s also averaging an absurd 3.6 yards per route run — a record in the PFF era — and has caught 60% of his contested targets this season. There isn’t a defender in the league who can match up with Hill one-on-one, and so any attempt to take him away has to be done schematically, which can be countered by Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel and his playcalling.

If a defense does manage to corral Hill, the Dolphins have been able to turn to Jaylen Waddle, the closest analog the league has to Hill. Waddle is averaging 2.7 yards per route run and 17.2 yards per reception, and those numbers could be even bigger if not for an above-average drop rate of 10.5%.

Miami also ranks top 10 in yards before contact on average on the ground. Everything combined is allowing Tagovailoa to cook as the quarterback. His 91.5 overall PFF grade isn’t just over 20 grading points higher than last season; it’s the top mark in the NFL this season.

We can argue about how much of the credit he individually deserves and how much belongs to the arrival of Hill, McDaniel or additions along the offensive line, but we can’t argue with the bottom-line output.

Tagovailoa is averaging 9.1 yards per attempt and has a 118.4 passer rating. He is the owner of the NFL's highest PFF grade on third and fourth downs among quarterbacks, and if you look at just games where he has started and finished, the Dolphins are undefeated with the league’s best offense in terms of expected points added per play.

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San Francisco 49ers

The 49ers have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to matchup-problem players on offense. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo may be less reliable at facilitating offensive production than Tagovailoa this season, but the 49ers arguably have far more options than Miami when it comes to causing defenses headaches.

Christian McCaffrey and Deebo Samuel alone provide the unique skill sets of an elite running back who can line up at receiver and an elite receiver who can line up at running back.

Add in George Kittle — who possesses arguably the most complete skill set of any tight end in the league when factoring in blocking — Brandon Aiyuk, Elijah Mitchell and even fullback Kyle Juszczyk, and you have an array of offensive weaponry that no defense in the league can counter.

In recent weeks, we have seen the offense do a better job of getting several of those weapons firing at the same time, which only magnifies the threat for opponents.

The key to San Francisco staying dominant on offense is Garoppolo limiting mistakes. His turnover-worthy play rate is just 2.8% this season, dramatically better than his 5.1% mark in 2021. If he can maintain this run of playing relatively mistake-free football, there isn’t a team in the league with more to offer in terms of offensive playmakers.

The NFL is still focused on the potential playoff showdown between the Buffalo Bills and Kansas City Chiefs, or whether anybody can topple the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC, but the two teams nobody wants to play in January are the Miami Dolphins and the San Francisco 49ers.

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