Cleveland Browns closer to NFL playoffs than Miami Dolphins

Jamar Taylor, another quality player the Dolphins traded to Cleveland, could have a lot to celebrate in 2018. (Bill Ingram/The Post)

Get ready for a stomach-turning prediction:

The Browns will make the playoffs before the Dolphins.

Maybe it’s just the way this part of the NFL calendar makes the mind wander to crazy places, but Cleveland’s situation looks pretty enticing after a trio of trades to begin what could be a pivotal offseason for the laughingstock of the league.

The team that went 0-16 last year and 1-15 the season before has some pieces in place and the firepower to add many more.

The Browns now have their best quarterback in at least a decade by trading for Buffalo dual threat Tyrod Taylor and immediately supplied him with an elite slot receiver in former Dolphin Jarvis Landry. Cleveland brought those two in for the mere price of some mid- to late-round draft picks.

The Browns also picked up a decent 25-year-old cornerback in Damarious Randall to wrap up their busy Friday.

Taylor and Landry join a skill position collection that already features former all-pro receiver Josh Gordon, a 2017 first-round pick at tight end in David Njoku and running back Isaiah Crowell, who totaled more than 2,300 yards from scrimmage over the past two seasons. Taylor is the old man of this crew at 28 years old.

That group teams with an offensive line that Football Outsiders ranked No. 14 in the league last year, 16 spots ahead of the Dolphins.

Is that enough ammunition to make a run at the Super Bowl? Of course not. But it looks at least as good as what Miami has at the moment.

The Dolphins are betting on Ryan Tannehill, who hasn’t played since December 2016, to come back from two knee problems at 30 and deliver the best season of a career that’s been league-average at best. There’s a good chance they’ll draft his successor next month.

Their receiver corps has exactly one proven commodity (Kenny Stills), the offensive line has been shaky for years despite multiple first-round picks and millions of dollars being poured into it and they’re allergic to dynamic threats at tight end. They might be good at running back with Kenyan Drake and Damien Williams.

Defensively, Miami improved from awful to OK last season, so there’s that.

The idea that Cleveland might have more pieces in place than the Dolphins shouldn’t be totally jarring, even after the Browns went 0-16 last season and Miami was 6-10. Cleveland actually ranked slightly ahead of the Dolphins in total offense and total defense.

Miami had a minus-112 point differential, definitely better than the Browns’ league-worst minus-176, but still in the bottom four of the league. The gap between those two totals averages out to four points per game. Consider that Cleveland had six one-score losses, and all but one Dolphins victory came by seven points or fewer. It wouldn’t have taken much for these teams to finish with the same record.

There’s still a ton of offseason left, and the Browns are better equipped for it. They gave up a third-, fourth- and seventh-round pick to get Taylor and Landry, plus nearly $32 million in salary cap commitments, but they still have plenty of capital in both departments.

Even after paying Landry and Taylor, they have the second-most cap space in the league at $76.4. It’s still going to be a challenge to lure top players to Cleveland, but that kind of cash helps. The Dolphins, with all the holes on their roster, won’t get anywhere near that number even after the expected cuts of Lawrence Timmons and Julius Thomas.

Then there’s the draft, where the Browns own the first and fourth overall picks this year. They also have three second-rounders, giving them five of the first 64 selections. Miami has two.

Once the rosters settle, the Dolphins head back to work at what feels like a futile effort to overtake New England in the AFC East, a division the Patriots have captured in every healthy Tom Brady season since 2003. The AFC North has been far more open with no team winning it more than twice in a row and 10-6 being enough to take the division four times in the last 15 years.

The Browns put themselves in this somewhat enviable position thanks to years of hardcore tanking that’s been horrible for their fans to endure, and they’ve mishandled numerous opportunities along the way.

But is it really much worse than sitting through the last decade of Dolphins football? (These teams are 2-2 against each other during that span, by the way). Has perpetual mediocrity been a ton more fun than being the Browns? Do two playoff seasons make up for going an average of 7-9 all the other years?

The point isn’t to shame the Dolphins for being worse than the Browns. It’s that they should learn something from them. It’s time for a large-scale rebuild, and as painful as that’s going to be, it’s not going to hurt that much more than watching what this team already is.

[Possible replacements for Jarvis Landry in free agency, NFL Draft]

[What Jarvis Landry said after being traded to Cleveland]

[Miami Dolphins master the art of wasting their best draft picks]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Bills QB Tyrod Taylor lights up Miami Dolphins—just like everybody else has

Tyrod Taylor hammered the Dolphins. Every quarterback has this year. (Getty Images)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.—Week after week, a quarterback has lined up against the Miami Dolphins and put up one of his top games of the season. Everyone from the heavyweights like Cam Newton to the castoffs like Ryan Fitzpatrick has thoroughly enjoyed their crack at this defense.

The latest guy to look like an MVP candidate against Miami? Tyrod Taylor, who was briefly benched in favor of Nathan Peterman less than a month ago.

In his best performance since early November, Taylor ripped the Dolphins for 224 yards and a touchdown on 17-for-29 passing, plus another 42 yards and a touchdown on six runs Sunday as Buffalo won 24-16 and put Miami on the brink of playoff elimination.

“I don’t think he got out of the pocket too much,” Ndamukong Suh said. “One particular play, I let him out of the pocket. I’ve got to have better contain, I will tell you that. I don’t think he hurt us too much with his feet in the run game, but he was on point. He made a lot of great passes and great plays.”

It’s nothing new for the Dolphins, who are allowing the ninth-highest opponent passer rating (94.1) and 10th-highest completion percentage (63.9) in the NFL. They’re also bottom-eight in interceptions (nine) and sacks (25) despite spending $36.6 million on the defensive line (fourth in the NFL).

In all but three Miami games, the opposing quarterback put up a higher passer rating than he’s had against the rest of the league. In eight of those, it’s been at least a 10-point upgrade.

Taylor was coming off a nightmare game in his last start, a 23-3 loss to New England two weeks earlier. He went 9 for 18 for a total of 65 yards with an interception, three sacks and no touchdowns. He missed the next game because of a knee injury before returning with a big day against the Dolphins.

“We couldn’t contain him,” cornerback Bobby McCain said. “We didn’t contain him. We didn’t do our job.”

Taylor has an 88.6 passer rating against the rest of the league. That sounds familiar, of course. Here’s a look at the other quarterbacks who looked better than usual when they faced the Dolphins:

Philip Rivers, Chargers
110.6 vs. Dolphins; 92.2 otherwise

Josh McCown, Jets*
116.9 vs. Dolphins; 91.3 otherwise

Drew Brees, Saints
104.5 vs. Dolphins; 104.0 otherwise

Matt Cassel, Titans
85.5 vs. Dolphins; 8.3 otherwise

Joe Flacco, Ravens
107.9 vs. Dolphins; 78.2 otherwise

Derek Carr, Raiders
99.3 vs. Dolphins; 87.7 otherwise

Cam Newton, Panthers
120.4 vs. Dolphins; 82.4 otherwise

Ryan Fitzpatrick, Buccaneers
100.6 vs. Dolphins; 88.3 otherwise

Tyrod Taylor, Bills
94.6 vs. Dolphins; 88.6 otherwise

*– McCown’s rating is combined from two games in which he posted a 126.3 and a 108.4.

The quarterbacks Miami has reasonably handled this year are Matt Ryan (86.4 rating vs. the Dolphins, 92.9 otherwise), Tom Brady (59.5 compared to 107.2) and Trevor Siemian (30.5 compared to 79.0). The aforementioned Brady number is from the recent Monday Night Football game Hard Rock Stadium. Two weeks earlier, he went for a 114.1 against the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.

[How the Dolphins’ 30-somethings are still getting it done–and what that means for the young guys]

[When Adam Gase gets upset with Jakeem Grant, he threatens to call his mom]

[Ndamukong Suh played every single snap in the win over New England]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

5 instant takeaways: Buffalo Bills 24, Miami Dolphins 16

Tyrod Taylor did what pretty much every quarterback does to the Dolphins: whatever he wanted. (AP)

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y.—The Dolphins’ stunning upset of the Patriots on national television was the thrill of the season. This was the opposite.

Miami fell flat with a demoralizing letdown against the Bills, trailing the entire afternoon in a 24-16 loss at New Era Field on Sunday. That destroyed the sudden playoff hope created by last week’s victory and leaves the Dolphins with little more to play for than pride in the final two games of the season.

Here are five takeaways from the dreary defeat at Buffalo:

1. If the Dolphins are going to grow into a real contender, the first step is getting past the Bills.
Forget the Patriots. It’s been a long time since Miami was decisively better than the Bills. The Dolphins dominated them head-to-head and in the standings in 2008, but since then Miami has won exactly five more games than Buffalo and gone 8-9 in the series.

Buffalo remains in the No. 6 seed in the AFC and is well-positioned to be better next season with a healthy chunk of salary cap space and four picks in the first two rounds of the draft. Also, it’s always going to be freezing here in December. Neither of these problems looks like it’s going away.

2. LeSean McCoy will make anyone rethink the value of a great running back.
It’s easy to treat running backs as disposable in the modern era, but this guy is special. He’s worth the $10 million he’s getting this year. The Dolphins knew that coming in, so much so that defensive coordinator Matt Burke guaranteed there would be missed tackles, and he confirmed it for them all over the field.

What makes him so dominant isn’t his speed or his muscle, but rather that he can start and stop and redirect like someone’s operating him with a video game controller. The Dolphins handled him reasonably well early, but he got rolling in the second quarter and hit them with 96 total yards and two touchdowns.

3. Kenyan Drake is the right man for the job as Dolphins look to 2018.
There were whispers of tanking when Miami unloaded Jay Ajayi for a fourth-round pick in October, but it’s become clearer each week that coach Adam Gase had a vision of a speedier, more versatile backfield with Drake and Damien Williams.

Drake’s gotten the starring role all to himself the past few weeks with Williams injured and he’s proven the Dolphins will be in good shape at the position going into next season. After 334 yards of total offense against the Broncos and Patriots, he averaged 4.9 yards per carry in the Buffalo game. Unfortunately for Drake, Miami was down big much of the game and didn’t get him many carries in the second half.

4. The Miami defense doesn’t need another overhaul, but there are still holes.
The Dolphins thought they fixed many of their defensive issues in the recent offseason, but some of the solutions haven’t held up. This defense is middle of the pack in nearly every category, and that only works if the offense is a fireworks show.

The biggest problem this year is Miami’s continually been torched in the passing game, regardless of who’s playing quarterback for the opposition. Tyrod Taylor, who was benched earlier this season, was the latest to have his way with the Dolphins, going 17 of 29 for 224 yards and a touchdown for a 94.6 passer rating. He’d topped that number in just five of his 12 previous games this year.

5. The playoffs are out of the picture. Now what?
The Dolphins might not be mathematically eliminated yet, but there’s no realistic chance of them cracking the playoff field now. That leaves them two games—at Kansas City, then home against the Bills—to finish out the season with nothing meaningful at stake.

So why watch? It’s a good chance to see what some of the young talent, especially rookie defensive end Charles Harris, can do in bigger roles. Harris started in place of Andre Branch (knee injury) against the Bills, and perhaps the Dolphins will consider finishing the year that way so Harris can get valuable snaps. There’s also still a chance of reaching 8-8, which won’t count for anything in the standings but would be a respectable finish after everything that’s gone wrong this year.

[How the Dolphins’ 30-somethings are still getting it done–and what that means for the young guys]

[When Adam Gase gets upset with Jakeem Grant, he threatens to call his mom]

[Ndamukong Suh played every single snap in the win over New England]

[Have a look at our Dolphins-Bills photo gallery]

Check out The Palm Beach Post‘s Miami Dolphins page on Facebook

Why the likely return of Bills QB Tyrod Taylor can be a problem for Miami Dolphins

Dolphins defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh appears to sack Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor but officials ruled Taylor was able to unload the ball, leading to a loud disagreement between Suh and the game officials in 2015. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

DAVIE — While word that Tyrod Taylor’s knee is healing and he’s expected to start Sunday should clear up the Bills’ quarterback situation in the minds of the Dolphins, it’s not necessarily good news for Miami.

The best way to describe the fits Taylor gives the Dolphins is to think back to a meeting in 2015 when Ndamukong Suh had Taylor in his grasp — or thought he did — but officials didn’t blow the play dead and Taylor was able to throw the ball away.

Suh disagreed with the call. We know this because he cursed at the referee while the ref’s microphone was on. Oops.

Taylor has played well — at times outstanding — in four career games against Miami, which resulted in a sweep by the Bills in 2015 but a Dolphins sweep last season.

Overall, Taylor has a sparkling 121.2 passer rating against the Dolphins, thanks to eight touchdown passes and zero interceptions.

His passer rating against everybody else: 88.2. Taylor’s rating against Miami is better than his rating against any other team he has faced more than twice.

“Tyrod is a guy that can win with his arm, he can win with his feet so he’s obviously diverse in his skill set so he makes it challenging at time for people to defend,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said.

It didn’t take Taylor long to start picking apart the Dolphins. In his first appearance against them, he went 21-of-29 for 277 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions in a 41-14 rout that signaled the beginning of the end for Joe Philbin.

By the time the teams met again, Philbin was long gone and Taylor was hitting stride. The Bills came to Miami and rolled 33-17 with Taylor having to attempt just 12 passes. Oh, but he completed 11 for 181 yards, one TD and a near-perfect 146.5 passer rating.

The closest the Dolphins have come to corralling Taylor came in Meeting No. 3, a 28-25 Dolphins victory in October 2016. Taylor was 14-of-28 for 221 yards and one touchdown but was sacked four times.

In the most recent meeting, last Christmas Eve in Buffalo, the Dolphins won 34-31 despite Taylor’s 329 passing yards (and three TDs) plus 60 rushing yards.

And, by the way, those 329 yards are a career high.

Sunday’s Bills game a reminder that Miami’s schedule didn’t have to be this way

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5 Miami Dolphins Snap Conclusions from shocking defeat of Patriots

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