Dolphins vs Chiefs Pick: NFL Wild Card Matchup Preview

Dolphins vs Chiefs Pick: NFL Wild Card Matchup Preview article feature image

Action Network/Getty Images. Pictured: Mike McDaniel (left) and Andy Reid.

Dolphins vs Chiefs Pick: NFL Wild Card Matchup Preview

Saturday, Jan. 13
8 p.m. ET
Dolphins Odds
-110o / -110u
Chiefs Odds
-110o / -110u
Odds via bet365. Get up-to-the-minute NFL odds here.

Dolphins Preview

The Dolphins will have to leave Florida and travel to zero-degree temperatures at Arrowhead Stadium for this matchup on Saturday night. The good news for the Dolphins is that their efficient and explosive rushing attack should travel quite well, especially against a Chiefs defense that is susceptible to a potentially run-heavy attack. Miami's backfield leads the league in yards per carry at 5.48 yards per attempt, while Kansas City's defense is 27th in Run DVOA, per FTN.

A strong running game in today’s NFL doesn’t translate to victories, but the Miami ground game is different. No team in football gains more than five yards per carry at a higher rate and no team in football gains 10+ yards on a higher percentage of their rushes. In total, the Dolphins had 858 yards come on explosive runs (15+ yards), which was also the top mark in the league. This running game doesn’t just keep an explosive Dolphins offense on schedule, but it can create field-flipping and game-changing plays.

The Chiefs pass rush boasts the top adjusted sack rate in football, but the Dolphins can alleviate a lot of the pressure that Tua Tagovailoa will face if they can consistently avoid long down-and-distance situations with an efficient run game.

This is a terrific matchup for the Dolphins because the Chiefs rarely stuff runs within four yards of the line of scrimmage on first down or within three yards of the line on all other downs. In fact, the Chiefs were 31st in the NFL in the rate at which they stuffed runs in this manner (39.6%).

When these teams met in Week 9, the Dolphins fell behind early, which limited them to call just 19 run plays. The Dolphins still averaged 5.78 yards per attempt and lead back Raheem Mostert averaged 7.2 yards per carry. I expect Miami's sharp head coach Mike McDaniel to persistently strive to expose the weakness of the Chiefs defense.

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Chiefs Preview

In that aforementioned Week 9 meeting, Kansas City ran for only 3.9 yards per carry as it tried to sit on the lead it built in the first half. This time around, I expect a pass-heavy game plan that tests the injury-riddled secondary of the Dolphins.

In Week 18 against the Bills, the Dolphins secondary surrendered a 78.9% completion rate and 9.4 yards per attempt to Josh Allen. The week prior, Lamar Jackson averaged an incredible 15.3 yards per pass and completed 85.7% of his passes. You can bet Andy Reid will lean on his best player (Patrick Mahomes) and take the path of least resistance in attacking the Dolphins defense.

Further adding to my confidence in Mahomes’ ability to have a big game is how the personnel matchup between these two units. Miami’s best two secondary players may be rendered ineffective against the Chiefs scheme. Jalen Ramsey has only played 14 snaps in the slot, as 91% of his alignment this season was on the boundary. The Chiefs' two key weapons in the passing game, Travis Kelce and Rashee Rice, are unlikely to see much of Miami's best player in coverage.

An argument can be made that safety Jevon Holland is the Dolphins’ most important player in the defensive backfield, but he has battled knee injuries in the latter half of the season. Holland suffered a setback in warmups in Week 18 and was limited to just one tackle, playing just 27 of the team’s 78 defensive snaps.

Lastly, the biggest obstacle the Miami defense will have to overcome will be its lack of pass rush. The Dolphins' defensive pressure rate has suffered greatly since injuries up front have sidelined some of their best players on the edge of the line. The Dolphins' 40% pressure rate on the season isn’t indicative of how their front seven is playing currently, and they have had to bring extra defenders with the blitz to affect passers.

Historically, blitzing has been a very bad idea against Mahomes. I don’t think it will be effective against a Chiefs team that is number one in the NFL in pass block win rate, according to ESPN data.

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Dolphins vs Chiefs Pick

Despite just laying out where each offense has the advantage on Saturday, my first inclination was playing the under when this game opened at 47 total points. Since then, sharp bettors have pounded the under, dropping it three points down to 44. I would still play the under in this spot, but I wouldn't touch it below the key number of 44.

Mahomes is 35-22 (61%) to the under in his career playing at home, including hitting the under at an 83% rate over the last two seasons when at Arrowhead. The Dolphins should use such a heavy dose of the ground game that, if successful, will keep the clock moving while they have the ball.

If the total dips below 44 again and the Dolphins keep laying more than three points, I would lean toward taking the points against Mahomes, who has only covered the spread 46% of games as a favorite of more than three points.

Pick: Under 44 (Play to 44)

Lean: Dolphins +3.5

Pick: Under 44 (-110)
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