Give the NFL credit. The league obviously hired writers from disparate backgrounds to arrange the season’s plotlines. On Sunday, the Week 18 finale will climax with an end-of-season clash of genres between the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, who couldn’t be more different. The Dolphins even have a Hard Knocks camera crew following them around, documenting their exploits.
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Miami is built like a team ripped straight out of Stan Lee-Kevin Feige’s brain trust. The Dolphins are also vulnerable to the same missteps as an overcaffeinated cast of marquee names who score points in bunches and sell merchandise to casual fans. Tyreek Hill, Raheem Mostert, and Jaylen Waddle move like they’ve been edited through special effects. General Manager Chris Grier’s team-building skills should be lauded as much as Phase 1 Nick Fury or Mike McDaniel’s play calling.
McDaniel’s arc from Yale graduate to offensive wunderkind has been pulled straight from the Tony Stark crib sheet. His jocularity, cleverness, and expertise in designing innovative gadget plays are what make him the brains behind their humming offensive machine. Tua Tagovailoa is Miami’s Hawkeye, the mild-mannered marksman equipped with a bow and quiver when the other side has cannons in their arsenal. At the end of the day, he’s the most mortal variable in the equation, which makes him easy to root for.
The Dolphins lead the league in scoring, but beneath the surface, they’re the equivalent of Disney pablum sacrificing physicality in the trenches like an MCU script being stripped of depth and character development in favor of bigger action sequences.
Against the five best teams on their schedule, they’ve averaged 12 fewer points per game and they went 1-4 in contests against Philadelphia, Kansas City, Baltimore, and Buffalo. All four proved they could subdue Miami with bully ball. Miami’s only win in those five cames came against Dallas — but even that one was a turbulent offensive affair where the Fins only scored one touchdown.
Eventually, though, the basketball on grass fad, complete with CGI-generated explosions, green screens, and sunny weather in December begins to fade. The physical teams have swooped in with the vigor of Martin Scorcese piling on top of superhero fatigue while cleaning up during the playoffs and award season.
Miami’s fall from the AFC’s pinnacle is akin to the MCU’s fall due to hastily made special effects, shallow plots driven by wisecracking supes, and green screen paint-by-numbers franchise IP at breakneck speeds. Most of these elements describe these Dolphins.
The league’s best defenses have a handle on all their pre-snap motion alchemy. Unlike his socially stunted peers, McDaniels is emotionally intelligent, treats his players with dignity instead of as anonymous numbers on a play sheet, and also rebuilt Tagovailoa’s confidence. All those details make their early season humiliation of Sean Payton even more satisfying in retrospect.
But the NFL isn’t an office job. Between the lines is a fiery, adrenaline-filled, job. Miami’s PG-rated physicality and lack of an edge are doing it in as the calendar flips to January.
Who’s the emotional firebrand in the locker room or on the Dolphins staff who can be relied on to snap them out of a funk and get them to run through a wall or plow through a wall? They appeared loose on Hard Knocks leading up to the Ravens’ massacre. Maybe too at ease.
Worse off, their defense will be moving on without Bradley Chubb and his 11 sacks and six forced fumbles after he tore his ACL during the fourth quarter of a blowout.
McDaniel fulfilled his preseason promise to diversify their offensive portfolio by squeezing more usage out of his backfield. As a large-scale production, the offense is an even more entertaining spectacle than last season, however, in those heart-pounding close-up shots — aka short yardage situations — they’ve missed the mark.
On Sunday night, the Fins will try to get back on track against the Hitchcockian Buffalo Bills. The stakes are higher this weekend for any other team — except maybe the Pats. Win and the Bills claim the AFC East and possibly earn the conference’s No. 2 seed. A loss coupled with wins by the Jags and Steelers would end their season in Week 18.
Allen is the most suspenseful character in the Bills’ story. There’s no telling whether Allen will snip the blue wire, accidentally detonate his dead man’s switch and incinerate the Bills season, or clip the red wire, and shepherd Buffalo into the postseason. A loss could also be detrimental to Sean McDermott’s job security.
Stefon Diggs could explode on the gridiron or emotionally at any moment. During their playoff elimination at the hands of Cincinnati a year ago, Diggs was visibly frustrated throughout the game and stormed out of the locker room before speaking to the media. Anyone who isn’t on the edge of their seat waiting to find out is lying. The tension will be palpable throughout the night. The league couldn’t have asked for a more riveting season finale.