Miami Dolphins (3-3) at New England Patriots (5-2)
Tom Brady has not played well this season. A lot of people are giving him a pass because of the state of his receiving corps and that’s obviously been an issue, but you can’t give him a total pass. His arm strength is noticeably diminished, something that’s been a trend over the past few seasons, and his timing and accuracy have been off as well. He’s completed fewer than 50% of his passes 3 times this season, something he had previously done just 3 times since week 2 of the 2006 season. He has failed to throw a touchdown in 2 of his last 3 games, after throwing one in his previous 52.
ProFootballFocus grades him out as the 21st best passing quarterback this season, in between Michael Vick and Carson Palmer. Brady got Rob Gronkowski back last week, but still completed less than 50% of his passes in an eventual loss to the Jets. You can argue whether or not that pushing penalty should have been called, considering the stakes and how frequently it goes uncalled, and you can argue whether or not the Patriots would have won that game if it wasn’t called, but you can’t deny that Tom Brady really struggled.
Fortunately, Brady should have a much better game this week for 3 reasons. One is that his receiving corps will be the best it’s been all season. Again, his receiving corps hasn’t been the whole issue, but an improved receiving corps certainly won’t hurt him. Gronkowski will probably play a full set of snaps for the first time all season and his chemistry and timing with Brady should be improved in his 2nd game back. Danny Amendola also returns from a concussion. He might not play a full set of snaps and his timing and chemistry with Brady could be off, but, at the same time, he’s practiced all week and only missed a week, so he could be a real asset.
The 2nd reason is that he’s always better off of a loss. In his career, he is 27-15 ATS off a loss, including 17-8 ATS off a loss as favorites. Since 2003, he’s lost back-to-back games just 5 times, going 30-5 SU off a loss. Remember when he was terrible in Cincinnati and then bounced back to beat New Orleans the next week? He’s still capable of that kind of thing, even if he’s not playing like the quarterback we’re used to him being.
The 3rd reason is that, while the Jets have one of the best defenses in the NFL, the Dolphins have a below average stop unit. The Jets are allowing opponents to move the chains at a 68% rate, while the Dolphins are allowing opponents to do so at a 76% rate. The Patriots are moving the chains at an uncharacteristically bad 72% rate, slightly below league average, but it definitely helps to go from facing a dominant stop unit on the road to a mediocre stop unit back in Foxboro.
The Dolphins also have issues offensively, as they are moving the chains at a mere 70% rate, thanks largely to the fact that they’ve allowed 26 sacks on the season. In order to remedy the issue, the Dolphins traded for Bryant McKinnie, who will immediately be put in at left tackle, moving Jonathan Martin to right tackle, to take the place of the suddenly aging Tyson Clabo, who has looked completely out of place in the Dolphins’ zone blocking scheme this season.
However, I am very skeptical about how good he can be just 6 days after being traded for. He might need another week to get settled in. I also question how good the 34-year-old can be. There’s a reason why he was a healthy scratch towards the end of his time in Baltimore. I also question the 360 pounder’s fit on a Miami offensive line that is trying to do more and more zone blocking. Plus, a lot of the offensive line’s problem has been that Tannehill is taking too many sacks, taking one on 29.9% of pressured snaps, by far the highest percentage in the NFL. The Dolphins’ offense should continue to struggle this week, especially against a New England defense that is really carrying the team with the offense struggling. They are allowing opponents to move the chains at just a 70% rate and this week they get back Aqib Talib, who was sorely missed against the Jets.
The Dolphins -6% differential in rate of moving the chains is actually 29th in the NFL and I really believe they are not as good as their record. Given that, I don’t think this line is high enough at 6.5, as unspectacular as the Patriots have been this season. I like the Patriots chances of bouncing back at home and not just winning but covering the spread with a balanced attack. It’s not a high confidence pick though.
New England Patriots 24 Miami Dolphins 13
Pick against spread: New England -6.5