The Redskins and Dolphins will meet at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, giving one of those teams a first victory (unless they manage to tie), but there won’t be many other bright spots on the docket this season for those two ailing franchises.
Finishing with one of the NFL’s two worst records this season has one huge benefit: the option to select either Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa or Oregon’s Justin Herbert, two highly coveted college quarterbacks, in the 2020 draft.
Despite their upstart challengers, the Dolphins still have the inside track for the top spot. Based on their true talent level — derived by looking at actual win rate, projected win rate based on total points scored and allowed and a regressed win rate that accounts for the small sample size of four or five games — we can project the season 1,000 times and find that the Dolphins are the team most likely to finish the 2019 campaign with three wins or fewer. Using that projection model, they also have the highest chance to go 0-16 this year (8 percent), well above the Redskins and Bengals.
Miami’s deficiencies appear irreparable, at least this season. The Dolphins are scoring a paltry 0.6 points per drive and converting just 17 percent of their red-zone opportunities into touchdowns (the league average is 55 percent). Their defense is allowing a league-high 3.5 points per drive, with a whopping 75 percent red-zone efficiency rate. They are, in short, a disaster on both sides of the ball. As a result, we would expect them to finish with the league’s worst record -- and the No. 1 pick -- in almost half of our simulations (42 percent).
After that, the race to the bottom is a virtual toss-up between the Bengals and Redskins. Cincinnati is scoring just 1.5 points per drive, fifth lowest in the league, while allowing 2.3 points per drive. Quarterback Andy Dalton is also on the decline; heading into Week 6, Dalton is one of the least-valuable passers of 2019, per ESPN’s Total Quarterback Rating, with a performance only good enough to win five or six games in a 16-game season (a 35.1 QBR).
To be fair, Washington’s passers are also navigating through the season without their Pro Bowl left tackle (Trent Williams, who is holding out) and right guard (Brandon Scherff, who is injured). They’re without their presumed top running back (Derrius Guice, who is injured) and playmaking tight end (Jordan Reed, who is in the concussion protocol).
The Jets at least expect to have their starting quarterback, Sam Darnold, back on the field this weekend after he missed the past three games because of mononucleosis. Darnold completed more than 68 percent of his passes in New York’s season opener before being sidelined.
At the very least, we can pencil in Miami for one of the two top draft spots. The race for the No. 2 pick appears close, but Washington is the leader in the clubhouse, even if you think the Redskins will beat the Dolphins this weekend.
Confidence in that, incidentally, is waning among oddsmakers. The early line for this game opened with Washington as a 6½-point favorite, a number that has since been bet down to 3½. That corresponds to a drop in implied win rate from 70 percent to 60 percent.
After the trip to Miami, the Redskins host the undefeated San Francisco 49ers (coached by former Redskins assistant Kyle Shanahan) before playing the Minnesota Vikings (3-2) and Buffalo Bills (4-1) in back-to-back road games. Maybe they get a win or two after their bye, with home games against the Jets and Detroit Lions followed by a road game against the Carolina Panthers in Week 13. But then they close the season with games against the Packers in Green Bay, the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants at home and then the Cowboys in Dallas.
That is by far the most challenging remaining schedule among the league’s worst teams. Against that slate of games, we can expect the Redskins to finish 4-12 or worse.
And so, even with the winless Dolphins looming, the Redskins have the second-best chance at landing either Tagovailoa or Herbert.