The Bengals and Dolphins are finally meeting for the game that many fans considered to be the game that would decide who would be picking first in the draft. It hasn't quite lived up to that billing, but a loss for the Bengals would secure their spot with the first-overall pick in the draft. This seemed like a great time to catch up with Kevin Nogle of The Phinsider to get his perspective on Sunday's game.
Patrick Judis: Bengals fans were one of the first teams to experience Ryan Fitzpatrick as a starting quarterback. Now over 10 seasons and five teams later, what is the Fitzmagic experience like?
Kevin Nogle: It has been a little strange, but maybe because this entire year has been strange. Losses do not hurt as badly when you know you are starting a rebuild, but on Sunday, wins are what you want to see. Strange season. Fitzpatrick has been really good for Miami. He is not a top quarterback by any stretch of the imagination, but he is a solid passer who fights like hell and gets results. Maybe it is not a win, but there is no denying that Fitzpatrick has picked up this team at times and willed them into playing better. His never-give-up style has gotten the team to play hard on every single play - whether it is a close game or Miami is being blown out.
As for Fitzmagic vs. Fitztragic, we have seen some magical moments but not a lot of the horrible ones. He has really been a solid quarterback this year who provides a spark when it is needed.
PJ: Can you explain the Dolphins running game struggles? It became a pretty popular meme this week that Fitzpatrick is the team’s leading rusher. Does this stem from trading away Kenyon Drake during the season, or there is a bigger issue?
KN: The offensive line is the biggest issue, with the Dolphins constantly swapping players in and out of the starting lineup - and even during games. They are trying to find a combination that works, and when you are heading into Week 16 still trying to find the right offensive line, things are not going well for that unit. Part of it is the Kenyan Drake trade, then Mark Walton being released after another legal issue, and Kalen Ballage simply could not get going this year. It has led to Fitzpatrick being the only one who can regularly find yards on the ground. Patrick Laird has looked okay in limited attempts this year, but he is nearly 100 yards behind Fitzpatrick at this point, so I would not expect a change to Miami’s rushing leader this year.
PJ: It can be hard for losing teams to keep playing hard, and sometimes we see teams start to quit towards the end of the season. Have the Dolphins had any issues in that regard this season? And if not, how have they avoided it?
KN: We really have not seen it this year—at least not lately. It was probably more of an issue at the start of the year, when the media was spouting off about how Miami was the worst team ever, would definitely go 0-16, and were clearly looking to not win. I think that was part of why things like the Minkah Fitzpatrick trade happened - outside noise impacted inside Miami’s locker room. Now, the team plays hard every week. They are probably outmatched most weeks, but they are at least competing. I think Ryan Fitzpatrick is a part of it. And, I think head coach Brian Flores is a huge part of it. He has the locker room believing he is the right man for the job, and he is doing everything he can to win. Switching back to Fitzpatrick instead of riding with Josh Rosen who was struggling proved to the team Flores wants to win. As long as he is trying to win, the team seems to be behind him.
PJ: Bengals fans who watch every week know that bad teams have bright spots that get overshadowed by the season. What are some bright spots for the Dolphins from this season?
KN: DeVante Parker and Mike Gesicki are breaking out nicely. They are not going to have dominant numbers, simply because the Dolphins are not a dominanting team, but they look like they are players around whom the offense can be built. I feel like Parker should have been a Pro Bowl alternate, but that does not appear to be the case. While he is on IR now, you could add undrafted rookie wide receiver Preston Williams to that statement as well. He had some spectacular moments this year and looks like a key player for the offense in the future.
On defense, Jerome Baker has been really strong this year, and Raekwon McMillan, who was placed on IR this week, has looked like the player we thought he was going to be before an ACL tear in his rookie-year preseason. Vince Biegel was a throw-in on the Kiko Alonso trade to the New Orleans Saints, and he has been really impressive as a linebacker. He probably is not a starter moving forward, but he is at least a key reserve and rotational guy who can blitz and cover. Finally, Nik Needham is becoming a fan favorite. He is an undrafted rookie out of UTEP who looked like he was destined to be a roster cut during the preseason. He made the practice squad and continued to develop, now working as a starter on a team decimated by injury in the secondary. He still makes rookie mistakes, and he can be picked on at times, but he is someone who has been a definite bright spot as well.
PJ: It is no secret that both fan bases are at least okay with a loss this week. This may not be where most of the national media thought both of these teams would be at this point in the season, but this is a huge game in deciding the first-overall pick. With that in mind what is your prediction for the game on Sunday?
KN: I think this game will be more competitive than some people, but you are also right that a loss here can be understood by either fan base. I think Fitzpatrick and Flores can will the Dolphins to another win this week. I will go with a 28-24 Dolphins victory.
Thanks again to Kevin Nogle for taking the time out to answer our questions. If you'd like to see more of his work or Dolphins' coverage, you can head over to The Phinsider.