When the Dolphins leave the oceanfront and head to the desert to play the Cardinals on Sunday, it will be about more than Tua vs. Kyler.
It’s about two rising teams, perhaps earlier than anyone truly thought logical. Two playoff contenders, with dynamic young coaches, one trained to test defenses with wide-open offensive schemes (Arizona’s Kliff Kingsbury). The other a former assistant in New England (Miami’s Brian Flores) who just might be a product of the Patriots’ coaching tree who can succeed in charge elsewhere.
Arizona (5-2) comes off a bye preceded by a major step, rallying to knock off division leader Seattle in overtime. The defense is coming around, though not like Miami’s.
And there are the young QBs. Kyler Murray was the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2019. Tua Tagovailoa, as touted as any signal caller coming out of college in years, will make his second start for Miami.
“You get the feeling of who is next up going into the league,” Murray says. “Obviously, Tua had a great college career. I didn’t envision this, but I knew he’d be in the league.”
Twelve months ago, the Dolphins (4-3) were 0-7 under Flores. They’ve since gone from worst to first in points allowed, now giving up 18.6 per game, compared with 34 a year ago.
“I think people have different definitions of turnaround,” Flores says. “Right now, we’re just trying to have a good turnaround and have a good practice today. Turnaround and have a good practice tomorrow. Someone else’s interpretation of a turnaround might be different than mine is.”
The action began with Green Bay’s rout of severely undermanned San Francisco 34-17. Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns for the Packers (6-2). The host 49ers (4-5) were missing such key starters as quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, tight end George Kittle and their top wide receivers.
On byes this week are Cincinnati (2-5-1), Cleveland (5-3), Philadelphia (3-4-1) and the Los Angeles Rams (5-3).
New Orleans (5-2) at Tampa Bay (6-2)
Forget the over/under on this game (it’s 51 1-2), what’s the over/under on the times the broadcasters mention Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
Hard to ignore the two quarterbacks who top the NFL’s career list for TD passes and yards. And it figures their matchup could not only decide this game, but eventually the NFC South. The Saints won the opening-week meeting, but both teams have progressed significantly since.
“It’s pretty cool,” Brees says of the stats competition with Brady. “When in history has that ever happened? Again, I think, I know speaking for myself, I’m just laser-focused on the job that is right in front of me. And the opportunity that we have this week. And winning the football game is the most important thing — and however we can get that done.”
Seattle (6-1) at Buffalo (6-2)
A coast-to-coast battle between division leaders.
The Seahawks have won at least seven of the first eight games of a season once, in 2013, when they were 7-1. They won the NFL title that season. The Bills could go 7-2 for the first time since 1993, when they went to the Super Bowl for the last time.
Seattle’s Russell Wilson is on the verge of several NFL marks. Wilson’s 92 wins are tied with Peyton Manning for most through a quarterback’s first nine seasons, and his 101 career wins (including playoffs) are tied with Brady for most by a QB over the same span.
Chicago (5-3) at Tennessee (5-2)
A pair of slumping squads coming off consecutive defeats, but the Bears are in worse shape, their offensive line ravaged by injuries and illness.
This could come down to whether Chicago, with its mediocre offense, can ride the D to victory. That would mean shutting down Titans running back Derrick Henry, the NFL’s leading rusher with 775 yards. Henry has eight rushing touchdowns, finding the end zone in five straight games.
Baltimore (5-2) at Indianapolis (5-2)
Baltimore has won a league-high nine straight road games, including all three this season. It has scored 20 or more points in 30 consecutive games, matching Denver’s NFL record from 2012-14. On defense, the Ravens have a takeaway in 20 straight outings.
They will be missing two 2019 All-Pros, though: Left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) is done for the season and cornerback Marlon Humphrey is on the COVID-19 list.
Indy, which has won five of six overall and all three home games, can play some defense, too. It’s tied for the league lead with 11 interceptions, and fewest touchdowns allowed (14), holding opposing quarterbacks to a league-low passer rating of 76.2.
Pittsburgh (7-0) at Dallas (2-6)
Oh, for the days when the Steel Curtain and Doomsday Defense faced off.
While Pittsburgh remains in pro football’s elite, the Cowboys have reached a nadir. Dallas will start a fourth quarterback in 2020, either Cooper Rush or Garrett Gilbert. The Cowboys are last in turnover margin at minus-11, and standout running back Zeke Elliott has yet to rush for 100 yards in a game; the two-time rushing champion had never gone more than two weeks into a season without one.
The Steelers can set a franchise record with their eighth consecutive victory to start the season. Last week’s win matched the 7-0 start of 1978, when Pittsburgh won the third of its six Super Bowls — beating the Cowboys.
Carolina (3-5) at Kansas City (7-1)
Christian McCaffrey might finally be back from a sprained ankle that sidelined the 2019 All-Pro running back for six weeks. After three victories without him, Carolina lost the past three.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid has 229 wins, tied with Curly Lambeau for fifth most in NFL history. His defense usually takes a back seat to the Patrick Mahomes-led offense, but Kansas City is tied for the league lead in takeaways with 14 and has caused at least one turnover in 10 straight regular-season games.
Las Vegas (4-3) at Los Angeles Chargers (2-5)
The Chargers have lost eight straight against AFC West opponents, tied with Detroit for the longest current losing streak in division games. LA has mastered blowing leads, too: The Chargers have lost four games this season when holding a lead of 11 points or more, which ties the 1986 team for most in franchise history. The 1996 New York Jets have the most since the 1970 merger with five.
Maybe Las Vegas discovered some keys to future victories with its win in nasty conditions at Cleveland. Las Vegas had three drives last week that covered at least eight minutes and five drives of at least 10 plays. RB Josh Jacobs had 31 carries for a season-high 128 yards, the most carries in a game for a Raider in 13 years.
New England (2-5) at New York Jets (0-8), Monday night
Rarely is this a competitive game, and given how the Jets have played in 2020, it might be a Monday night snoozer. The Patriots have won the past eight meetings.
But those were the Brady Patriots. New England enters on a four-game losing streak, its longest skid since 2002. The Patriots will try to avoid losing five straight games for the first time since 1995.
Denver (3-4) at Atlanta (2-6)
Back in the 1998 season, these were the conference champions. Now, they search for respectability.
Denver’s defense could be the deciding factor. Bradley Chubb has sacks in four consecutive games, Malik Reed in three. And the Broncos rank third in red-zone defense (48%); the Falcons are 27th in red-zone offense (53.3%).
Detroit (3-4) at Minnesota (2-5)
One of the more lopsided division rivalries, with Minnesota ahead 76-39-2 and having won six in a row. But the Vikings also have lost their past five home games since a win against Detroit last December.
Lions RB Adrian Peterson returns to Minnesota, where he played the first 10 years of his career and became the franchise’s all-time leading rusher. The Vikings are one of five teams in the league he has not gotten a rushing TD against.
New York Giants (1-7) at Washington (2-5)
The three victories all came within the NFC Least, with New York beating Washington, which has wins over Philadelphia and Dallas. The Giants won the past four meetings. Their past three losses have come by a total of six points and their past four games have been decided by seven points, including the one-point win over Washington.
New York must protect Daniel Jones against pass rushers Ryan Kerrigan, who has 7 1/2 sacks against the Giants, DE Montez Sweat, who leads Washington with five sacks, and second overall draft pick Chase Young.
Houston (1-6) at Jacksonville (1-6)
Both teams come off byes. Some folks are wondering why bother.
The Texans already switched coaches, going 1-2 under Romeo Crennel. Jacksonville has stuck with Doug Marrone, but a loss here makes his wobbly job security shakier.