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Pregame Shuffle Week 16: Cowboys at Dolphins

It stands to reason that there will be a lot of points scored this week.

Miami Dolphins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

The Cowboys are reeling after getting their doors blown off by the Bills last week, but they’ve been in this position before. This team hasn’t lost consecutive games since November of 2021, which saw them lose to the Chiefs and Raiders in the span of just four days around Thanksgiving. When given a full week of preparation, the Cowboys haven’t lost consecutive games since Thanksgiving of 2020; they lost on Thanksgiving and then got blown out by the Ravens the following Thursday.

They now have a full week of prep, and they’ll need it. While Dallas is outscoring opponents 372-160 coming off a loss since 2021, they’re unlikely to score another huge win this week. That’s because the Dolphins are one of the best teams in the league, and boast one of the most explosive offenses out there.

Miami enters this game with the same record as the Cowboys, 10-4, and that’s not their only similarity. They’ve been especially dominant at home, losing their first home game of the year just two weeks ago in a stunner. They’ve also frequently come under fire for not beating good teams: their wins have come against teams with a combined 37-75 record, and the Dolphins are 0-3 against teams with a winning record and have lost those games by a combined score of 100-51.

If that wasn’t enough of a similarity, these two teams have also put up similar results. They tend to score a lot of points and, for the most part, have played well on defense. Just take a look at the chart below, which represents team strength based on both offensive and defensive expected points added (EPA) per play. The two teams’ logos are right on top of each other.

2023 NFL Team Tiers, Weeks 1-15, courtesy of rbsdm.com

Of course, that’s about where the similarities end, unless you also count the fact that both head coaches share the same initials. But Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel is almost nothing like Mike McCarthy. From a personality standpoint alone, they’re two very different people, as fans of HBO’s in-season Hard Knocks can easily attest to.

McDaniel also comes from a very different background. The 40-year old coach grew up in Colorado, played wide receiver at Yale, and moved back to Colorado to become a coaching intern for Mike Shanahan’s Broncos, the same team he grew up watching and even “worked” as a ball boy at one point, at age 22. That’s a stark difference from the 60-year old McCarthy, who was born and raised in Pittsburgh. The son of a firefighter, McCarthy worked night shifts as a toll collector while working as a graduate assistant for the University of Pittsburgh, eventually working his way up to the NFL coaching world.

McDaniel is a protege of the Shanahan offense, having started his coaching career under Mike and later working on Kyle’s 49ers staff, which led to him landing the Dolphins job following the 2021 season. Since arriving to Miami, McDaniel has brought the Shanahan offense and infused it with all-world track star speed, highlighted by receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. It’s all built around quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, a smart and efficient passer who has quickly become comfortable in this offense.

The defensive side is where things get really interesting, though. After McDaniel’s first season in Miami, he made a change at defensive coordinator and brought in the seasoned and respected veteran Vic Fangio, whose defensive scheme has taken the league by storm in much the same way the Shanahan offense has.

To say that Fangio has a history with McCarthy would be an understatement. Both are proud Pennsylvania natives and have been around the league for a long time. From 2015 to 2018, McCarthy called plays against Fangio’s Bears defense twice a year, with McCarthy’s Packers going 5-2 in those matchups.

But things really got interesting in 2021, when Fangio - as the head coach of the Broncos - had some choice words to say after beating McCarthy’s Cowboys 30-16 and really being the first team to shut down that red-hot offense, coordinated by Kellen Moore. Fangio got fired two months later, and joined the Dolphins after taking off the 2022 season from football. Now, with McCarthy calling the plays again for the first time since his Packers days, he gets a shot at Fangio once again.

That won’t be the only fascinating chess match to watch in this one, though. Dak Prescott’s attempt to bounce back from a terrible performance last week will be aided by a significantly more inviting climate this week, and Dan Quinn’s defense needs to atone for a historically bad game against the run by facing one of the best rushing offenses in all of football.

As if that weren’t enough, the stakes are high for both of these teams. For the Cowboys, they can’t afford to lose much more ground if they hope to still have a shot at winning the NFC East. Meanwhile, the Dolphins have a two-game lead on the Bills in their division but can’t be feeling content after seeing how resurgent Buffalo has looked lately. Miami is also just one game out of the top spot in the AFC, and know they have a great shot with the Ravens facing McDaniel’s former team, the 49ers, this week.

These two teams have played some of the most entertaining football this season, and both enter this game with plenty of incentive to win as they look to better position themselves ahead of the playoffs. This game promises to be an exciting one, though the winner is anyone’s guess.

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