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NFL playoffs: Three things to watch for in Dolphins-Chiefs on Super Wild Card Weekend

Miami Dolphins
2023 · 11-6-0
Kansas City Chiefs
2023 · 11-6-0

The Dolphins' punishment for a late-season slide and losing the AFC East title with a Week 18 home defeat to Buffalo is a trip to Kansas City to face the defending Super Bowl champions in what is expected to be a bitterly cold night at Arrowhead Stadium.

The clubs faced off in Week 9 in Frankfurt, Germany, a 21-14 win for the Chiefs in which neither offense clicked. Miami generated 292 total yards, with Tua Tagovailoa putting up just 193 passing yards and a touchdown, and Tyreek Hill caught eight passes for 62 yards with a pivotal fumble that K.C. turned into a touchdown. The Chiefs earned 267 yards, with Patrick Mahomes throwing for 185 yards and two TDs as Kansas City held on late after taking a 21-0 halftime lead.

Both offenses will look for better production in the rematch Saturday to extend their seasons.

Here are three things to watch for when the Dolphins visit the Chiefs during Super Wild Card Weekend:

1) Tyreek Hill returns to Kansas City. Schedule makers took away Hill's return to Arrowhead in the regular season, placing the Week 9 contest in Germany instead of K.C. The football gods ensured the NFL's leading pass catcher would make it back to Missouri this season anyway. Traded to Miami before last season, Hill leads the NFL with 3,509 receiving yards since 2022, including 1,799 in 16 games this campaign. In the first meeting, the Chiefs used a variety of coverages with physical corners L'Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie to help slow the Cheetah, curtailing the explosive plays. Of his eight catches for 62 yards, Hill had a long of 19 yards, one of only two games this season he didn't have a catch for 20-plus yards, and his 7.8 yards per catch were the lowest of his campaign. Hill was targeted just once on passes of 20-plus yards in the game. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spangulo's ability to dial up pressure and force short throws will be critical again on Saturday. The Dolphins will need to find the big plays to Hill they were missing in Week 9 to move on in the postseason.

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2) Who will step up for the maligned Chiefs offense? Mahomes is the best magician in the NFL, able to make things work even when the surrounding pieces are struggling. In the crucible of big moments this season, his pass catchers have failed him far too often. Drops, missed routes, penalties. The Chiefs offense hasn't been able to get out of its own way for most of the season. In the first meeting with Miami, Travis Kelce was held to three catches on four targets for 14 yards. Don't expect a repeat on Saturday. Kelce has 133 catches, 1,548 receiving yards and 16 TDs in his playoff career, all second-most all time behind Hall of Famer Jerry Rice. Even with the Dolphins focusing on slowing the star TE, expect Mahomes to force feed Kelce the ball early. But the Chiefs offense needs someone to step up. Rooke Rashee Rice has come on strong down the stretch and will need to continue that run. Whether it's Rice, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Skyy Moore or Kadarius Toney, if healthy, Mahomes needs someone other than Kelce to stand out against a Jalen Ramsey-led Dolphins D. Miami is extremely banged up on defense entering the postseason, but if the Chiefs don't execute and avoid the mistakes plaguing them all season, it won't matter.

3) Who will perform better in the bitter cold? Temperatures at Arrowhead are expected to be in the single digits around kickoff, with the wind chill plunging well below zero. Forecasts can change slightly, but it's still on pace to be the coldest playoff game in K.C.'s history. Cold isn't as dramatic a tide turner as snow or rain, but wind could play a significant factor, with gusts up to 22 mph. Eyes will be on how Miami players, who have dismissed concerns this week, handle the extreme temperatures. Hits become more pronounced in the freeze, and if the wind whips, will it ground the passing attacks? If Saturday's affair becomes an offensive struggle, it would favor the home squad given the Dolphins' injured defense, which will be without a host of players up front, including Andrew Van Ginkel, Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips.

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