Chiefs’ Mahomes faces Dolphins for first time in key AFC tilt
The reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, who have won seven straight games, are set to visit the vastly improved Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Miami (8-4) has won seven of its past eight games, and the Dolphins have already far exceeded last season’s 5-11 record to contend for the AFC East title.
Kansas City (11-1), which has already clinched a playoff berth with four games left in the regular season, is a 7-point favorite on Sunday.
“It’s the first step,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said in reference to Kansas City clinching the playoffs for a franchise-record-tying sixth straight year. “We have much bigger goals.”
The next step is clinching the AFC West title, and a win over Miami would give that crown to the Chiefs for a fifth straight season. The Chiefs are also locked in a battle with the Pittsburgh Steelers (11-1) for the top overall seed in the AFC.
Mahomes leads the No. 1 offense in the AFC, averaging 30.8 points per game. Mahomes, who has never faced Miami, is No. 1 in the NFL this season (minimum six games) with 317.9 passing yards per game as well as an absurd 31-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio.
In addition, Mahomes is completing 68.3 percent of his passes, and the Chiefs are tied for fourth in the NFL in fewest sacks allowed (16).
Kansas City’s five-time Pro Bowl star Travis Kelce is the No. 1 tight end in the NFL in receiving yards (1,114), receptions (82) and touchdowns (eight). This is Kelce’s fifth straight 1,000-yard season, and he has made at least one catch in 107 straight games.
The Chiefs’ two other big-time weapons are wide receiver Tyreek Hill and rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.
Hill is tied for first in the NFL with 13 touchdown receptions, and he is third in receiving yards (1,079). However, Hill missed practice on Wednesday due to an illness.
Edwards-Helaire, Kansas City’s first-round pick out of LSU, has 926 scrimmage yards and is averaging 5.1 yards per touch. He is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and has yet to fumble this season.
Meanwhile, Miami’s defense is second in the NFL in points allowed, with 212. Only the Steelers have done better (211).
Key players on the Dolphins defense include cornerback Xavien Howard, who is first in the NFL with eight interceptions. Defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah is tied for eighth in the NFL with eight sacks.
Offensively, the main focus is on rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, but third-year kicker Jason Sanders is on a Pro Bowl pace. Sanders leads the AFC with 28 field goals and has missed just once. He has also made 10 straight kicks from 50 yards or longer.
Tagovailoa, the fifth pick in this year’s draft, is 4-1 as a starter and has yet to throw an interception.
Tagovailoa has been able to rely on Miami’s outstanding defense and special teams. That “game manager” reputation faded a bit in last week’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals, when Tagovailoa passed for a season-high 296 yards.
“The only thing that was different was our tempo,” Tagovailoa said after Miami went to a no-huddle offense in the second half last week. “The reason we (went no huddle) is that it confuses defenses. They can’t get to their calls.”
Miami’s top targets are wide receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Mike Gesicki, each with four touchdown catches. Parker has the edge over Gesicki in receiving yards, 677 to 537. Running back Myles Gaskin leads Miami in scrimmage yards (726).
The Dolphins, though, are banged up as three starters missed practice on Wednesday: linebackers Elandon Roberts (chest), Kyle Van Noy (hip) and guard Ereck Flowers (ankle). Tagovailoa (thumb), Howard (shoulder) and Gaskin (knee) were among a host of Dolphins limited in practice.
For the Chiefs, starting linebacker Damien Wilson (knee) missed practice Wednesday, as did backup offensive lineman Yasir Durant (illness).
–Field Level Media