Football

Futures Faceoff: Is Arizona or Miami the rebuild to bet on?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

This week’s installment of Futures Faceoff features two franchises looking for their second-year head coaches to take them to the next level. Kliff Kingsbury and Brian Flores but both have plenty to prove in this upcoming season and made headlines with acquisitions of DeAndre Hopkins and Byron Jones to help them meet expectations. Both teams will be relying on young quarterbacks in Kyler Murray and Tua Tagovailoa, and their fate could depend on the development of their young stars.

I will look at Arizona and Miami’s off-season activity, approach to building their roster, and strength of schedule heading into 2020. The goal is to determine which team is the better investment, based on the current odds, in the futures win total market. It’s always hot in Arizona and Miami, but let’s see which team can fire this winter to push themselves over the win total and cash out tickets!

2020 Future Win Totals odds: 

  • Arizona               7  (-130)
  • Miami                6.5  (+118)

Offensive ranks:

Arizona

  • 17th in scoring offense (22.6)
  • 21st in offensive yards per game (341.7)
  • 10th fewest Giveaways with 18 (12 INT, 6 fumbles lost)

Miami

  • 25th in scoring offense (19.1)
  • 27th in offensive yards (310)
  • 8th most Giveaways with 26 (18 INT, 8 fumbles lost)

Kingsbury’s Air-Raid offense didn’t last long in the National Football League. After an 0-3-1 start to the 2019 season, we saw the Cardinals’ head coach show the capacity to adjust at the pro-level. Out were the 10 personnel groupings, replaced by two-tight end sets. The Air-Raid looked more like the Ground-Raid, and the mid-season acquisition of Kenyan Drake set the tone for the second half of the season. Kingsbury’s decisiveness and ability to quickly adapt his scheme on the fly last season speaks volumes for his future in the league. Arizona finished the season with a rushing game that ranked second overall in rushing efficiency, behind only the Baltimore Ravens. In 2020, Kingsbury will look to elevate the passing game and take advantage of 2019’s Offensive Rookie of the Year in Murray.

The Cardinals were the envy of the NFL on March 16 when news broke they acquired superstar wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Houston Texas for the bargain basement price of David Johnson and a second-round pick. Hopkins brings elite receiver traits and gives Murray a true dominant wideout to grow with for years to come. A playmaker with consistent hands and a huge catch radius, Hopkins’ biggest impact could be on third down, an area the Arizona offense particularly struggled with last season. Kingsbury’s Cardinals were tied with the Bengals for 23rd in the NFL on third down conversion rate, but now have a viable weapon to couple with Murray’s rushing ability when the play breaks down.

If you can’t say anything nice, you probably shouldn’t say anything at all. There isn’t much to discuss in regards to the Dolphins’ offense in 2019, who ranked dead last in offensive efficiency. Former offensive coordinator Chad O’Shea was fired in favor of Chan Gailey, who will look to implement an easier scheme for the Dolphins’ young core, which now includes first-round pick and 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship MVP, Tua Tagovailoa.

Tagovailoa will get the opportunity to learn under polarizing veteran and current starter Ryan Fitzpatrick. Whether it’s Tagovailoa or Fitzpatrick to start the season, they will be surrounded by young playmakers coming into their own. Wide receiver DeVante Parker put the NFL on notice last season with his 72 receptions for 1,202 yards and nine touchdowns stat line. The Dolphins committed to improving the running game by signing Matt Breida, who averaged over five yards per carry and over eight yards per reception with the NFC Champion San Francisco 49ers last season. Breida is the perfect fit for Gailey’s offense, and combined with former Eagle Jordan Howard will give the Dolphins’ offense the physical running game they lacked last season. With third-year tight end Mike Gisecki poised for a breakout season, the Miami Dolphins could pick up where they left off in the last seven weeks of 2019 where they averaged 27 points per game.

Defensive ranks:

Arizona

  • 28th in scoring defense (27.6)
  • 32nd in opponent yards allowed (402)
  • 25th in Takeaways with 17 (7 int, 10 fumbles recovered)

Miami

  • 32nd in scoring defense (30.9)
  • 30th in opponent yards allowed (397.8)
  • 29th in Takeaways with 16 (13 Int, 3 fumbles recovered)

As excited as I am about the Cardinals offense in 2020, there are major concerns on the other side of the ball. Arizona finished last in yards per game allowed and 27th in defensive efficiency and net yards per pass attempt allowed. The Cardinals struggled at all three levels of the defense. I love the selection of hybrid LB/S Isaiah Simmons, and he certainly will help in coverage where Vance Joseph’s unit ranked 31st in coverage success rate versus running backs and 32nd against tight ends. The Cardinals needed an overhaul this offseason, and the free agent signings of Jordan Phillips, Devon Kennard, and De’Vondre Campbell don’t move the needle nearly enough.

Similar to Arizona, the Dolphins defense ranked towards the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. Unlike the Cardinals, Miami went all in this offseason to build a defense to compete in today’s modern NFL. The signing of Byron Jones made headlines, but it’s how the Miami head coach is constructing his defense that stuck out to me. Flores can now pair Jones with Xavien Howard to give Miami two of the best man-to-man coverage corners in the NFL. The Dolphins continued to add to their secondary in the draft with CB Noah Igbinoghene, who also excels in man coverage. The Dolphins have three corners can lock opponents up, and signed pass rushers Kyle Van Noy and Shaq Lawson to pile up the coverage sacks. The defense will improve under Flores, although I do have some concern with so many new pieces developing chemistry in a shortened offseason.

Strength of Schedule

There are several ways to approach evaluating the strength of schedule since so much changes year to year in the NFL. For the Futures Faceoff series, I made the decision to use Sharp Football’s strength of schedule which is formulated from each team’s 2020 forecasted win totals rather than the 2019 standings. This gives us a more updated look at the difficulty of opponents as opposed to how the teams finished in 2019. After all, the end goal here is evaluating the win total market.

Arizona and Miami both fall within two spots of each other at 12 and 14 with Miami having a slight advantage. The main takeaways when evaluating the schedules is that Arizona has a softer opening to the season after taking on the 49ers in Week 1. The Cardinals’ second half of the season includes five playoff teams from 2019, two divisional games against the Rams, and the Giants. The Dolphins open against New England, who Miami upset in last year’s finale, ending the Patriots hopes of getting a first-round bye. They have a key stretch from Weeks 6-13 that only includes one team that is expected to win over eight games (Rams).

The key to the Dolphins’ season may lie in the first month which is clearly the toughest part of the schedule. Flores’ leadership will be tested, but not anywhere close to the degree it was last season. However, it breaks their way in the sense that the two tough teams they face at home, Buffalo and Seattle, are northern teams that could be impacted by the Florida climate in September. If they can steal a few games in that first month, it could make all the difference in how they land in the AFC East. Miami and their new-look defense gets the benefit of facing a Top 10 easiest schedule in terms of opponent’s offensive efficiency. The running game was key to the Cardinals’ success in 2019, and Drake will face a schedule that ranks in the Top 10 against the run.

Has Hopkins overinflated expectations for Arizona?

The Cardinals’ biggest deficiencies last season were the defense and the offensive line. DeAndre Hopkins doesn’t solve either issue. This is the classic case of trying to walk before you crawl. Arizona’s ability to acquire a talent like Hopkins is a game-changer for Murray, but it doesn’t address their biggest need on offense. As much as I think drafting OT Josh Jones in the third round is tremendous value, I am very skeptical the Cards did enough up front to take this offense to the next level.  When playing in a division with pass rushes led by Nick Bosa and Aaron Donald, it’s going to be critical that Arizona protects Murray at all costs versus relying on his mobility to consistently escape danger. I believe Arizona’s offense is improved with the addition of Hopkins, but an offensive line that was ranked 26th in the NFL in adjusted sack rate could hold this team back from making progress in the NFC West.

Offense wins games in the NFL, but defense is still instrumental if you want to seriously compete. This is where the biggest concerns with the Cardinals lie when evaluating them as a potential 8-8 team next season. Yards per play is one of the most heavily weighted statistics used when evaluating team performance. In 2019, only two teams that ranked in the bottom 10 of yards per play allowed won more than seven games, and Arizona’s 6.0 mark was tied for 30th in the NFL. Per PFF, they were the league’s worst in multiple categories allowing the highest completion percentage, most receptions, touchdowns, and highest passer rating to opposing quarterbacks. That’s a lot of problems to expect Isaiah Simmons to solve alone. If he can’t propel the Cardinals out of the bottom 10, odds are they won’t win the eight games required to win the wager.

The odds and why my money is on Miami

Let’s look at the value of both teams in regards to their current odds. Arizona’s current price is at -130 which is pretty steep considering some of the challenges they will face this season. With a win probability of 56.52%, you will receive $76.92 for every $100 wagered if Arizona can in fact get to eight wins.

Miami with a current win total of 6.5 wins, only has to show enough improvement to become a 7-9 team in 2020 to win your wager. Even Adam Gase’s New York Jets went 7-9 in the AFC East during a year where Sam Darnold got mononucleosis. The Dolphins also offer a much larger payout at +118. Getting back 118% of your wager as opposed to the 77% the Cardinals yield is a $41 surplus for every $100 wagered.

There is a reason the Dolphins are at plus money. Miami started last season 0-7 and was the laughing stock of the NFL. However, the team never quit and Brian Flores’ leadership was on full display. They capped off a 5-4 run to finish the season with a monumental upset of the New England Patriots in a game that changed the course of the Pats’ playoff run.

Unlike Arizona, Miami went into this off-season committed to improving their pass defense. The Dolphins have turned a weakness into a strength with Howard, Jones, Noah Igbinboghene. They now have one of the stronger cornerback groups in the league. How does that translate to wins and losses? Six of the top seven teams in pass defense DVOA made the postseason last year. If you can lock down receivers, you are going to win games in the NFL. Flores has a plan and it’s a solid one.

I understand there will be challenges with getting these new faces to mesh, but Flores went 5-4 to finish the season with the worst talent in the NFL. Now we get to see what he can do with a competitive football team. I’m comfortable betting on Flores to improve by two games and get to seven wins. The Cards don’t have enough on defense to be a .500 team. Don’t buy the hype, buy the +118 with Miami and let’s turn last year’s Fish Tank into this year’s Fish Bank!

Futures Faceoff:

6: Steelers and Colts

5: Bears and Falcons

4: Buccaneers and Bills

3: Eagles and Cowboys 

2: 49ers and Ravens

1: Vikings and Browns


You can follow Mark Drumheller on Twitter (@x_drumheller) and e-mail him at xdrumheller@gmail.com.

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