The Miami Dolphins return to the road in hopes of securing their first victory away from home this season at the same site as their last regular-season road win when they take on the Las Vegas Raiders in Allegiant Stadium in Sin City.
Both the Dolphins and Raiders opened the 2021 campaign with close wins — Miami's at New England, Las Vegas' a thrilling overtime affair against Lamar Jackson and the Ravens. The Raiders kept the momentum going in Week 2 with a road win at Pittsburgh, while the Dolphins were shut out 35-0 by Buffalo in their return to the Sunshine State.
The Raiders have lost seven of their last eight against the Dolphins, with each of the last three — including last year's 26-25 Dolphins win in Las Vegas on the day after Christmas — decided by single digits. Miami's four previous wins between 2010 and 2014, on the other hand, were decided by an average of 20.5 points per game.
Miami would love to have an offense that shines as brightly as it did to close the 2020 season, though that hope will be tough to accomplish with a backup quarterback and a stingy Las Vegas defense on the other side of the ball.
Miami (1-1) at Las Vegas (2-0)
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 26, at 4:05 p.m. ET
Spread: Raiders -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Can Miami's offense rebound?
Miami scored just 17 points in its season-opening win over New England and failed to get on the scoreboard against Buffalo. To make matters worse, Tua Tagovailoa was placed on injured reserve on Saturday with fractured ribs, so he's out at least until Week 6. Jacoby Brissett, who replaced Tagovailoa last week, will be the starter moving forward.
Brissett didn't exactly flourish in relief though, attempting 40 or more passes in a game for only the third time in his professional career and throwing an interception while rushing four times for only eight yards. Miami's ground game struggled for the second time in as many games, notching just 71 rushing yards against Buffalo after totaling 74 on the ground at New England.
One major focus for the Dolphins in the early going has been spreading the ball around. Seven different pass catchers were targeted at least once against the Patriots, and the emphasis only grew in Week 2 as Tagovailoa and Brissett targeted nine with eight recording at least one reception. Rookie Jaylen Waddle's six catches for 48 yards led the way and DeVante Parker (42 yards) and Mike Gesicki (41) were close behind. Parker and Waddle exchanged the team lead in Week 2 after both caught four passes in the win at New England, with Parker's 81 yards pacing the team while Waddle grabbed the only touchdown.
2. Las Vegas' early-game struggles
The Raiders have scored 59 total points in their two games this season. More than half (33) of those have come in the fourth quarter and overtime. That means, then, that in the first 45 minutes of each of its two games, Las Vegas has posted just 10 points and 16 points, respectively, against Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
Labeling the Raiders' rushing performance in the first two games as "non-existent" wouldn't be an outlandish exaggeration. Outside of a 31-yard run by now-injured backup quarterback Marcus Mariota in the season-opening overtime thriller, Las Vegas has rushed 45 times for all of 103 yards — not even 2.3 yards per carry — over the first two weeks. Even with Mariota's scamper included, the Raiders are tied for second to last in rushing offense (67.0 ypg) and enter Week 3 as the only team with at least 45 carries and fewer than 175 yards through two games. Josh Jacobs' health — he missed last week's game because of toe/ankle injuries — has certainly been a factor in this. Jacobs has returned to practice, so it's possible he'll be back on Sunday.
Thankfully for those wearing black and silver at Allegiant Stadium, Derek Carr has been nothing short of phenomenal in the absence of a rushing game. The eighth-year veteran enters Week 3 leading the NFL with 817 passing yards, more than 120 ahead of second-place Kyler Murray. Carr will look to keep his momentum going against a Miami defense that, despite all the points allowed, has only surrendered a total of 460 passing yards in the first two games.
3. Which defense continues to shine?
Speaking of defense, Sunday's showdown in Sin City will largely be a test of which defense can hold the upper hand and maintain the strong start to the season. According to Pro Football Focus, Miami (No. 3) and Las Vegas (No. 6, tie) grade out as two of the top 10 defenses in the league in the early going. The Dolphins' strength has been their coverage in the secondary, while the Raiders have thrived on creating pressure behind the line of scrimmage.
Cornerback Xavien Howard has led the way defensively for the Dolphins, making plays all over the field, especially helping out with run support. He's far from alone, however, as linebacker Sam Eguavoen and edge rusher Emmanuel Ogbah have combined for seven QB hits while Ogbah and defensive tackle Adam Butler each have five QB hurries.
In a similar vein of strong coverage, the Raiders have allowed just two touchdown passes in as many games, one apiece to Jackson and Ben Roethlisberger. They've done quite well to wreak havoc in the backfield, with edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue two of the best on the team in getting pressure on the quarterback. The pair have combined for 17 QB hurries and nine hits, with Crosby and fellow edge threat Solomon Thomas leading the way with two sacks apiece.
The Raiders have a long and storied history, and a win on Sunday would bring Las Vegas to a rarely seen spot: victorious in its first three games. How rare? The franchise hasn't accomplished this feat in nearly two decades. The last time the Raiders opened with three straight wins, they started 4-0 in 2002 — and finished 11-5 in the regular season — en route to a spot in Super Bowl XXXVII. We're still a long way away from that time of year, but a third straight AFC win to begin the season would be another huge step in the right direction for head coach Jon Gruden and the Raiders.
Prediction: Raiders 31, Dolphins 16
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.