After Tonight, Dolphins Schedule Gets Much Easier

Miami QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett
Miami QBs Tua Tagovailoa and Jacoby Brissett
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 10 - Jacoby Brissett is probably starting for the Miami Dolphins tonight and it's a problem for the Dolphins.

This may not seem like a hot take. Of course it's a problem when your starting quarterback is out of the game. But there are probably a lot of fans out there who think there isn't much of a drop, if any, when going from Tua Tagovailoa to Brissett. Conventional wisdom is that Tagovailoa has already proven that he's not going to be a long-term successful starting quarterback in the NFL. Certainly, the Miami front office seems to have decided that they need to move on from Tagovailoa. That's the opinion that goes unspoken in the background of all those rumors and leaks about a trade for Deshaun Watson.

Nonetheless, Tagovailoa has clearly been better than Brissett this year. Here are the stats for the Miami offense with each quarterback:

Miami Offensive DVOA by Week, 2021
Weeks Pass Run Total
Tagovailoa (Weeks 1, 6-8) 13.7% -15.9% -2.3%
Brissett (Weeks 2-5, 9) -13.9% -43.5% -24.1%

It's not really Brissett's fault that the running game is struggling more when he's in the lineup. I don't think there's a huge difference between how defenses play Tagovailoa and how they play Brissett when it comes to box counts. But there's also a clear gap here in passing performance.

The good news for Tagovailoa is that when he comes back into the lineup -- I'm assuming that will be next week against the Jets -- things will get a lot easier for him. After tonight's showdown with the Ravens, Miami gets the easiest schedule in the league over the final eight weeks of the season.

We run schedule strength numbers in the FO+ tables based on the average DVOA of opponents. That usually does the trick for measuring schedule strength, but it does present a problem because of backup quarterbacks. When we count Arizona as playing Seattle in Weeks 11 and 18, we're measuring Seattle based on a combination of Geno Smith and Russell Wilson. In reality, Arizona is likely getting the Wilson Seahawks, and that's a harder team to beat.

To get a more accurate picture of schedule strength, I have created a new average of opponents based not on DVOA but on DAVE ratings that still incorporate a bit of our preseason projections to account for the fact that, for example, we all believe that Green Bay and Kansas City are likely better than their DVOA so far this season. Instead of using the regular DAVE ratings, I used the DAVE ratings that are adjusted for the playoff odds simulation and therefore account for backup quarterbacks. It sees Seattle and Green Bay as better than their DAVE going forward, for example, while New Orleans is worse than its DAVE rating because Jameis Winston is out for the year. In doing this analysis, I also adjusted past games for backup quarterbacks. So, for example, San Francisco's past schedule strength is adjusted to acknowledge the fact that the 49ers played the Colt McCoy Cardinals this week instead of the Kyler Murray Cardinals.

You've probably read elsewhere, or perhaps on Football Outsiders, that Tennessee has the easiest remaining schedule in the league. This analysis suggests that's not quite true, though it is awfully close. The Titans have the biggest gap between their schedule strength in the first half of the season compared to the second half of the season. They had the hardest schedule through Week 9. For Week 10-18, they come out with the third-easiest schedule.

Two teams end up with easier schedule ratings. At the very bottom is Tampa Bay, whose schedule goes from average to very easy as they work towards winning that first-round bye in the NFC. And then between the Titans and the Bucs, you'll find the Miami Dolphins. Miami's remaining opponents have an average DAVE of -6.9%, which ranks 31st. Take out Baltimore, and their final seven opponents have an average DAVE of -9.9%, the easiest schedule in the league.

The Chargers, Eagles, and Seahawks are other teams whose schedules get easier from here on out.

On the other side of the coin, you'll find the Carolina Panthers. Their schedule so far this season ranks 29th in the league. Their remaining schedule ranks second in the league at 7.3%. That assumes that Kyler Murray is starting for Arizona this week, however. If we estimate Arizona DAVE based on Colt McCoy as the starting quarterback, Carolina's second-half schedule drops from second in the league to fifth. Still, that's a lot harder than what the Panthers have played so far.

Other teams whose schedules get a lot harder over the rest of the season include the Patriots, Bengals, Rams, Raiders, and Falcons.

You'll also notice on this table that some teams had it hard both early and late this season (Chicago, Detroit) while other teams had it easy both early and late (Buffalo).

DAVE Schedule Strength 2021
Team Weeks
Rk Weeks
Rk Change
LAR 0.8% 14 9.7% 1 8.8%
CAR -5.8% 29 7.3% 2 13.1%
CHI 5.5% 3 6.0% 3 0.5%
GB 0.0% 17 5.9% 4 5.9%
CIN -3.8% 26 5.2% 5 9.0%
DET 5.2% 4 4.3% 6 -0.9%
WAS 2.2% 9 3.6% 7 1.3%
PIT 2.1% 10 3.3% 8 1.2%
LV -4.0% 28 3.2% 9 7.3%
ARI 3.9% 6 3.1% 10 -0.8%
NE -6.9% 31 2.4% 11 9.3%
ATL -5.9% 30 2.4% 12 8.3%
BAL -1.7% 23 2.3% 13 4.0%
CLE -1.1% 22 1.8% 14 2.9%
SEA 5.7% 2 1.7% 15 -4.0%
MIN 1.4% 13 1.4% 16 0.0%
IND -0.6% 21 1.3% 17 1.9%
NYJ -3.3% 25 1.0% 18 4.3%
NYG -0.3% 18 0.6% 19 0.9%
HOU 3.5% 7 0.2% 20 -3.3%
SF 2.8% 8 -0.2% 21 -3.0%
KC 1.6% 11 -0.5% 22 -2.1%
NO -2.2% 24 -1.4% 23 0.9%
JAX 0.0% 16 -1.7% 24 -1.6%
DEN -3.9% 27 -2.7% 25 1.2%
DAL 0.7% 15 -3.1% 26 -3.8%
LAC 4.8% 5 -4.0% 27 -8.8%
BUF -8.5% 32 -4.7% 28 3.8%
PHI -0.6% 20 -6.7% 29 -6.1%
TEN 6.1% 1 -6.7% 30 -12.8%
MIA 1.6% 12 -6.9% 31 -8.4%
TB -0.4% 19 -8.8% 32 -8.3%

Thursday Night Preview

This should be pretty one-sided. Baltimore is seventh in DVOA and DAVE. Miami is 28th in DVOA and 26th in DAVE, and as noted above the Dolphins have played worse with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa is a game-time decision but it looks pretty unlikely that he will play.

A few matchup specifics on this game:

  • Baltimore is 31st in DVOA against running backs as receivers, so this might be an interesting week to go with Myles Gaskin in your PPR league.
  • Miami ranks dead last this year when covering "other receivers," so... Mikes Boykin? Big game for guys named Miles/Myles, I suppose. Or perhaps it will be a big game for Devin Duvernay.
  • The Baltimore offense is sixth on third-and-short and 12th on third-and-medium but dead last in the NFL on third-and-long (7+ yards to go). Lamar Jackson is passing a lot more this year, and better than before, but still has some problems when the pass is absolutely dictated by situation.
  • The Baltimore defense also has significant third-down splits: 28th on first down, 27th on second down, but fifth on third down. Beware of regression to the mean in the long term! Probably not in this game against this quarterback, however.

We discussed the Miami Dolphins and their problems this year further in today's FO Livestream with guest David Bearman from ESPN Chalk.

Baltimore is currently favored over Miami by 7.5.


11 comments, Last at 13 Nov 2021, 6:41pm

1 Brissett has been so…

Brissett has been so disappointing. I thought the Dolphins were getting a top backup when they signed him, but he's been "move-on" bad. Pat has already pointed out that the mistake was in my expectations, but I still find it surprising he doesn't seem to have any strengths whatsoever, only bigger weaknesses.

3 Huh. I guess most do, at…

Huh. I guess most do, at that. But when you see players like Mike White, Taylor Heinicke, Colt McCoy, Case Keenum and even Josh Johnson doing all right, it's hard not to feel ripped off. I thought he was at least supposed to be mobile. Turns out he moves well... for a semi.

4 Last week had a good article on backup QB's

Top of the line is GTM, get you through month.  What happens when a guy performs well in that month?  Look at Teddy Bridgewater's career, 5-0 as Saints backup, now well paid starter.

Lets not forget that Sam Darnold is a starting QB, so you are generally looking at below Darnold level as a backup.

You got spoiled by Ryan Fitzpatrick last year, he left to become a starter before getting hurt this year.  I feel that good teams need the top of line backups to keep them in the playoff chase/playoff positioning.  What if Rodgers had a 4-6 week injury, not COVID?  Jordan Love of course is a very unique backup to say the least.  Russell Wilson may still make the playoffs and cause trouble in the NFC because Geno Smith got them a win in three tries.  I do believe that it is important to not have a bottom of the barrel  backup for an excellent starter/team. 

For Miami, what if Brissett got a few more wins?  It would do the team nothing.

Josh Johnson and Colt McCoy have been around a long time.  Every dog has its day, or if you prefer, Any Given Sunday.  You can not really want these guys on Miami, they are not Tua replacements going forward.  Case Keenum, yes he is a backup, call him cream of the crap, so good for Cleveland, they are still in playoff contention with a much needed win.  Keenum has little value in Miami.

Here is last week's article on backup QB's

10 Use of veteran backups

Veteran backups have lower ceilings but higher floors than unknowns/rookies. They

A. keep you competitive so the fans don't check out, and

B. give you baseline competency to evaluate other players.


If a QB can't hit the side of a barn it's hard to evaluate and coach up his WRs.

5 He was never mobile

He ran a 4.94 40.

But some of those guys get the advantage of no/less tape in the NFL and/or any given Sunday.

Hence why you should never pay for such a player! Backups should just be the best rando you can find for cheap. And if you have to go to them, accept that you're screwed and pray that the opposition doesn't know how to plan for them and they randomly pop off.

Jacoby obviously isnt paid like a starter but $5m is still a decent chunk for 1 year of a guy you never want to see play! That's 2 Casey Haywards for your now middling D!

7 Too late for Dolphins

I'd be incredibly surprised if they somehow beat Baltimore.  If not, they have eight losses and road games in New Orleans and Tennessee in the future.  The most they can hope for is to (yet again) spoil the  Patriots' playoff chances in Week 18.   More realistically, we're looking at a 4-5 win team.  Honestly, none of their games are gimmes - the Jets, Giants and Panthers all look to have more fight in them right now than Miami.

9 That game probably saved Grier and Flores

at least they will likely be back for one more year. The game did display all Miami's weaknesses. The surprise was the strong defense. The thought is Flores finally took over defensive play calling, but he denied it. Everyone is talking about Miami running the next four games to get to 0.500. But this is a team that lost to the Jags. They can lose to anyone. They're likely, much like 2019, to a boring 5-12 team with an uncertain future. How did they lose to the Ravens, the same way the Ravens almost lost to the Lions. It's that kind of year in the AFC. All the top teams have obvious flaws.  

11 My takeaway from the game…

My takeaway from the game wasn't that MIA is suddenly a playoff team again, it's that BAL is a very vulnerable team whose entire season has been a glass house. The Ravens have now trailed by double digits in the 2nd half in 5 games this season (for perspective, the Cards, Bucs, Bills and Cowboys have only trailed by double digits in the 2nd half once) and were beaten by the worst team in the league if not for an egregious missed call and a historic 66-yard field goal.