Here’s a look at how the Miami Dolphins (8-7) and Tennessee Titans (10-5) match up in six key areas ahead of Sunday’s Week 17 game at Nissan Stadium (1 p.m., CBS):
When the Dolphins run: The latest development in the Dolphins’ backfield merry-go-round is a timeshare of snaps split nearly evenly between Duke Johnson, Myles Gaskin and Phillip Lindsay. While they were in the game, Johnson and Lindsay saw the most carries, with each getting 13 against the New Orleans Saints last Monday night. It led to Miami finishing under 3 yards per carry, at 2.9.
The Titans are a run defense of similar caliber, ranking second in the NFL at 86.7 rushing yards surrendered per game. They’ve only allowed one opponent to surpass 100 yards rushing in their past nine games. Tennessee has Pro Bowl safety Kevin Byard lead the team in tackles (79). Inside linebacker David Long (66 tackles) could return for his first game since Nov. 7 against the Rams, and up front in the Titans’ 3-4 scheme is one of the game’s best in Jeffery Simmons.
It will be tough to manufacture rushing yards against the Titans, but Johnson and Lindsay will look to ground out that tough yardage. The run game will be critical, even if not getting much, in providing quarterback Tua Tagovailoa the balance in the run-pass-option offense and not putting too much on his shoulders. Edge: Titans
When the Titans run: The Dolphins may just be missing Derrick Henry’s comeback from a foot injury. Reports indicate he may return for the regular-season finale to shed rust before the postseason. Even while the bulldozing 2,000-yard rusher is out, Miami still has a ton of respect for Tennessee’s physical nature.
Without Heny, the Titans’ three backs splitting time are D’Onta Foreman, Jeremy McNichols and Dontrell Hilliard. Each has had his moments, but none are overly impressive. Three-time Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan should return from back and COVID issues on an offensive line that still likes to run block and is fourth in the NFL in rushing, playing the first half of the season with Henry in the lineup.
Miami, on its seven-game winning streak has the league’s fourth-best run defense in that span. Duke Riley returns off the COVID list to give the Dolphins more versatility in the linebacker rotation with Jerome Baker, Elandon Roberts and edge rushers Jaelan Phillips and Andrew Van Ginkel. The Dolphins keyed in on stopping the run well against Alvin Kamara and the Saints last time out. Edge: Dolphins
When the Dolphins pass: Tagovailoa is coming off a 19-of-26 performance where the completion rate could’ve been even higher against a tough Saints defense if he didn’t miss a few throws. Although he hit Jaylen Waddle for 10 receptions, there was a glaring opportunity that he missed, going up top to Mack Hollins instead for an interception.
Opponents are able to throw on the Titans as Tennessee has the league’s 26th-ranked pass defense. Tagovailoa said he’ll likely try to work away from Byard, who leads the team with five interceptions. Cornerback Janoris “Jackrabbit” Jenkins also got his first pick of the season last week against the 49ers. Between Harold Landry (11), Denico Autry (8) and Simmons (7 1/2), Tennessee also brings a fierce pass rush with 37 sacks on the year.
Expect the Dolphins to once again be conservative in the passing game with quick, short throws and a lot of activity for Waddle. They’ll open it up occasionally, but Miami will mainly look to avoid turnovers, get what’s available and keep its defense out of tough spots, especially with Tagovailoa throwing behind this suspect offensive line. Edge: Titans
When the Titans pass: Finally, deep into the third season since the breakup, we finally have the first matchup of Ryan Tannehill against the Dolphins. His career began to take off since leaving Miami for Tennessee once he took over for Marcus Mariota in that 2019 season, but much of his success has come off having Henry’s threat in the backfield. Since Henry went down midseason, Tannehill has five passing touchdowns to seven interceptions, completing 68 percent of passes for 1,325 yards in seven games.
Tannehill will be the best quarterback the Dolphins have faced since Lamar Jackson on Nov. 11. Miami will come after him in waves with Emmanuel Ogbah, Phillips, Van Ginkel, Baker, Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler as the Dolphins have catapulted themselves to tops in the NFL with 45 sacks. Lewan will be back, so that shores up Tannehill’s blind side.
Physical possession receiver A.J. Brown will have to be accounted for as former All-Pro Julio Jones is on the COVID list early in the week but could return before the game. Dolphins coach Brian Flores often allows cornerbacks Xavien Howard and Byron Jones to man up on their receivers to allow for extra blitzers, even from the safety position. Brown may be worthy of extra attention. It will be an intriguing matchup. Edge: Dolphins
Special teams: Yes, Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders had another miss against the Saints, but it was from a career-long distance of 59 yards at the end of the half after Miami allowed a bad situational sack that put them out of makeable field-goal range. Titans kicker Randy Bullock is 24 of 28 on the year with three extra-point misses.
Dolphins punter Michael Palardy continues to be a plus the second half of this season, and Hollins, a gunner, beautifully downed a fourth-quarter punt precisely at the 1-yard line off a Palardy boot in that game. The two have connected on quite a few of those. Miami seemed to like Tommylee Lewis the past couple of games on returns, but he was injured against New Orleans. Edge: Even
Intangibles: There is a four-day difference in rest and preparation ahead of this game with the Titans playing on Thursday night last week and Dolphins playing on Monday night. It also could be the coldest temperatures the Dolphins play in all season in a favorable schedule in that regard. Any revenge factor would mean more to Tannehill than any one of a bunch of young Dolphins that weren’t even in Miami when he last played with the organization. Edge: Titans
PREDICTION: Dolphins 20, Titans 16