Miami Dolphins (5-7) at San Francisco 49ers (8-3)
The 49ers lost to the Rams last week in St. Louis, which has gotten a lot of Alex Smith supporters saying “I told you so,” questioning Jim Harbaugh’s decision to bench Alex Smith for Colin Kaepernick. These people seem to be forgetting that Smith was losing to those same Rams at home when he got hurt and that he also lost to the Vikings. Oh, and if David Akers had hit a makeable field goal or Delanie Walker hadn’t dropped a very catchable touchdown, the 49ers would have won and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.
Kaepernick gives the 49ers the biggest ceiling and the best chance to win the Super Bowl. He allows them to use the entirety of their complex playbook with his running ability and deep play ability and he hasn’t seemed fazed by the mental part of the complex playbook each, which was formerly Smith’s greatest advantage. He also helps open things up on the ground even more for their tough running game, which is already one of the best in the league because of Frank Gore’s talent, their play calling and playbook, and more importantly their offensive line, which might be the best run blocking offensive line in the NFL. According to ProFootballFocus they are by far the best run blocking offensive line in the league. They were never really winning, with a few exceptions, because of Alex Smith.
Harbaugh absolutely made the right decision benching Smith and going back now would be really stupid and create even more unnecessary controversy, potentially a divide in the locker room, and would generally give the impression to his team that he doesn’t have a plan. If Smith struggles, is it back to Kaepernick? A team can’t succeed like that. And that’s why Harbaugh, a very intelligent coach, wasted no time re-affirming Kaepernick’s status as the starter after the loss.
The 49ers’ season has followed a bit of a pattern. They won their first 2 games against incumbent playoff teams and were anointed early favorites at 2-0 with two impressive wins. Then they lost in Minnesota and people started to back off. They followed that up by destroying the Bills and Jets by a combined score of 79-3 over a two week stretch, before getting blown out at home by the Giants. They bounce back from that loss with a home win over the Seahawks and a blowout win in Arizona, which they followed up by tying the Rams at home as huge favorites.
They bounced back from that tie with a blowout win of the Bears and an impressive double digit victory in New Orleans, before last week’s loss. I expect that pattern to continue at least another week, meaning the 49ers will probably blow out the Dolphins here in San Francisco. I say at least another week because the 49ers play the Patriots next week, certainly a winnable game, but also a game they could play very well in and still lose.
Jim Harbaugh always seems to bounce back off a loss very well, as the great coaches do. Bill Belichick is 35-19 ATS off a loss since 2000. Mike McCarthy is 22-13 ATS in that spot since 2006. Mike Tomlin is 17-11 ATS in that spot since 2007. Sean Payton is 20-12 ATS in that spot since 2006. Of the current NFL Head Coaches who have won a Super Bowl with their current team, only Tom Coughlin (27-24 ATS) doesn’t have a very impressive ATS record off a loss.
Jim Harbaugh doesn’t have a Super Bowl ring yet like the 5 I just mentioned, but everything he’s done so far suggests he’ll be in that group someday. He’s already got a very impressive, albeit limited resume off a loss or tie, going 6-1 ATS and 7-0 SU. That one ATS loss was only because he declined a safety late against Seattle and it could have been a push depending on the line you got (it opened at -7, but went towards -9 before the game and the 49ers won by 7).
Not only is he 7-0 in those games, but he’s doing it in impressive fashion, winning by an average of 18.3 points per game. The 49ers have also only allowed a combined 46 points in the 7 games off those 7 non-wins (losses, ties). That’s an average of 6.6 points per game and 22 of those 46 points were scored by the Packers, who are tough to keep off the scoreboard in any situation. If we exclude that game, the 49ers have allowed 4.0 points per game in the other 6 games, two shut outs, 3 points, 6 points, 7 points, and an 8 point “outburst” by the Bengals way back in week 3 of last season.
The Dolphins have the league’s 6th worst scoring offense at 18.9 points per game and now have to travel across the country to face the 49ers off a loss. They might not score all game. I’m not kidding. This is a big line, but I think the Dolphins are unlikely to get out of single digits. The 49ers really only need to get 20 at most to cover I think.
We’re also getting line value with the 49ers here. They rank 2nd in the league in net points per drive at 0.92, while the Dolphins rank 18th at -0.1. If we take the difference, multiply by 11 (the average amount of drives per team per game), and add 3 points for home field advantage, we get a real line of San Francisco -14. That checks out with DVOA, which is net points per drive based, but takes into account things like strength of schedule, as San Francisco ranks 3rd and 4th in regular and weighted DVOA respectively, while Miami ranks 21st in both.
The trends do paint a mixed picture, aside from the Jim Harbaugh off a loss trend. Home favorites tend to struggle off an overtime loss on the road since 2002, going 10-24 ATS. However, things are a little bit better when the overtime loss was as road favorites. Teams in that situation are 4-7 ATS since 2002, 10-16 ATS if we go back to 1989 to get a bigger sample size, which isn’t awful. This is because teams tend to bounce back well off a loss as road favorites like that. Going off that, teams are 13-7 ATS off a close loss (1-3 points) as touchdown plus divisional road favorites since 1989.
Meanwhile, teams are 102-57 ATS as dogs before being favorites since 2011, including 114-57 ATS since 2008 when opponent will next be dogs, and 34-14 ATS when all 3 games (current game, next game,and opponent’s next game) will be non-divisional. The 49ers will be dogs in New England next week, while the Dolphins host the lowly Jaguars, a game they’ll be favored in. And all 3 of those games are non-divisional.
However, the Dolphins are coming off a loss to the Patriots, a situation they are 3-8 ATS in since 2002. That makes sense. The Patriots have been the toast of the AFC East over the past decade and arguably the Dolphins’ biggest rival. Last week, they put everything into that game and came up just short, losing by a touchdown. That was their Super Bowl. They’re big dogs here, but they could easily be flat. Even if they’re not, they’re going to have a tough, tough time scoring here if history is any indication, so as big of favorites as the 49ers are, I think they’re the right side. I hate laying this many points though, so it’s not a huge play.
Public lean: San Francisco (60% range)
Sharps lean: SF 8 MIA 5
Final thoughts: Worth noting that the sharps rarely back a double digit favorite, so it’s good to see they do here, even if it’s only a small lean.
San Francisco 49ers 23 Miami Dolphins 6
Pick against spread: San Francisco -10 (-110) 2 units