Hidden behind a few Week 6 contender matchups stands an NFL game notable for a different reason: The 0-4 Miami Dolphins host the 0-5 Washington Redskins in a Sunday battle at 1 p.m. ET (Fox) that pits the NFL’s two worst teams according to point differential (Dolphins at -137 and Redskins at -78).
Welcome to the 2019 Winless Bowl. And this week, the zero must go to one team — barring a tie.
Miami, which has lost each of its first four games by 20-plus points, is finally having a quiet October after jettisoning many of its best players the past two months as part of an extreme rebuild. Washington, which has shuffled between quarterbacks Case Keenum, Colt McCoy and Dwayne Haskins over its first five games, fired coach Jay Gruden on Monday.
ESPN NFL reporters Cameron Wolfe (Dolphins) and John Keim (Redskins) break down the Winless Bowl, including the impact it will have on the 2020 NFL draft, plus a glimpse into each team’s long-term direction.
How each team got here:
Dolphins (0-4): Miami made a coaching change in February, then underwent a talent teardown in hopes of collecting assets for future drafts as well as cleaning up its shaky salary-cap situation. Dolphins owner Stephen Ross said he is willing to withstand pain to become a championship contender. That first step, combined with the trades of Laremy Tunsil, Kenny Stills and Minkah Fitzpatrick for picks, has made Miami’s on-field product tough to watch.
Redskins (0-5): This season has been a shock to the Redskins. Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams remains a holdout; tight end Jordan Reed hasn’t played because of a concussion; and starting running back Derrius Guice injured his knee in Week 1. No quarterback has stood out. Washington lacks discipline and urgency and has faced four 2018 playoff teams in the first five weeks. It’s a bad mix. The defense, a supposed strength, has been terrible.
What’s more important for each team’s future over the final three months: avoiding 0-16 or securing the No. 1 overall pick?
Dolphins: The best-case scenario is going 1-15 or 2-14 while securing the No.1 overall pick. If forced to choose, securing the top pick, which could become potential franchise-changing Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, is more important to this team’s future, even if it comes with the embarrassing pain of going 0-16.
Redskins: Some fans would probably like 0-16 because it might be the only way to get the changes they desire. The Redskins would have the No. 1 pick and might get a front office led by someone other than team president Bruce Allen. But, it’s so difficult to recover from 0-16 — and a team that finds itself in this abyss might not be one that can climb out. It would also destroy the team’s belief that it has a good young talent base, making it more challenging to attract a good coach.
Dolphins: Josh Rosen‘s 43.0 QBR ranks 24th among quarterbacks. Rosen has flashed aggression by taking deep shots to Preston Williams and DeVante Parker early in games, but he has led only one touchdown drive in two starts. Rosen’s 2019 play could show his value to Miami or other teams that could trade for him in 2020.
Redskins: Keenum will get the start after McCoy started for a week. McCoy didn’t have much of a chance against The Patriots last week because of some issues with the line and receivers. Keenum threw seven touchdown passes in his first three-and-a-half games, but also turned it over five times and failed to hit multiple open downfield throws. He did throw for 601 yards and five touchdowns in the first two weeks.
Through five weeks, this statistic stands out:
Dolphins, 81-0: That’s how badly Miami has been outscored in the second half this season. For perspective, no other NFL team has been outscored by more than 78 points (Washington) throughout the entire season. It’s a sign of poor halftime adjustments and a lack of second-half energy and performance.
Redskins, 130.0: That’s the passer rating for opposing quarterbacks on third down, highest in the NFL. The Redskins rank last on third downs in opposing quarterback completion percentage (83.7), passing yards allowed (504) and rank 31st — ahead of only Miami — in conversions (56.5 percent). Epic failure.
How each team could win Sunday:
Dolphins: Keep it an ugly, low-scoring affair. Kenyan Drake looked on the verge of breaking a big run last week, and a touchdown from him and Williams could lead to a Dolphins victory. On defense, the formula could be stuffing Washington’s Adrian Peterson and Chris Thompson on early downs behind “establish the run” interim coach Bill Callahan, which in turn could force chaotic third-and-longs and turnovers.
Redskins: The coaching change provides energy as some players had grown tired of the situation under Gruden. Callahan, who designs the run game, wants to run more with Peterson. Miami allows 4.75 yards per carry. Washington could connect with oft-open receiver Terry McLaurin again down the field against a bad pass defense. The Redskins’ defense could capitalize against a team ranked 30th on third downs.
Best quote that sums up this 0-fer matchup:
Dolphins: “This team is going to compete their asses off. We’re going to go out on Sunday and go to win. As much as I’m sure everybody wants us to lose to secure that No. 1 overall pick, I don’t give a damn.” — Daniel Kilgore, Dolphins center
Redskins: “This is uncharted waters for me. I’ve never been in this situation as a coach — assistant or head — so, there’s a lot of work to be done. There’s really no magic formula to make this thing turn. We’re working on it day by day, week by week, just focus on what we need to do, and that’s getting prepared for Miami.” — Bill Callahan, Redskins interim coach
General fan morale on team’s direction:
Dolphins: Surprisingly hopeful. Despite being a legitimate early challenger to become the worst team in NFL history with their -137 point differential after four games, the Dolphins are selling large batches of hope — endure one bad year in order to land a franchise QB and undergo a fruitful rebuild. Many are OK with it because it’s at least different from the mediocrity they lived through over the past two decades.
Redskins: Despondent. Angry. Apathetic. The Redskins sold hope for years, with coaching hires, free-agent moves and splashy first-round quarterbacks. But we’re two decades into owner Dan Snyder’s ownership and it’s been 14 seasons since their last playoff win. The fans try to hang on, but they’re staying away from home games. To borrow an old campaign phrase: They want hope and change (in the front office).
What is each team’s light at the end of the tunnel?
Dolphins: Three main streams of light are flickering: (1) Tagovailoa or the Dolphins’ favorite QB in the 2020 draft; (2) a war chest of draft picks in 2020 and 2021, including three first-round picks in 2020 (their own, Pittsburgh’s and Houston’s); (3) an expected $100 million-plus in salary-cap space that general manager Chris Grier plans to be aggressive with starting this offseason.
Redskins: A new coach always brings some level of light, even in a place where no coach has consistently won. Washington has seven defensive starters who are 25 years old or younger. Haskins has upside, but for now, he’s a work in progress. The Redskins could double their approximately $40 million in cap space with a handful of cuts. With compensatory picks, they should have eight picks in the draft and could — should — trade tackle Williams to add more.