New Orleans Saints (1-2) vs. Miami Dolphins (1-1) in London
The Saints are only 1-2, but they’ve had a tough start to the season, facing the Vikings in Minnesota week 1 when Sam Bradford was still healthy, the Patriots back at home in New Orleans week 2, and then a 2-0 Panthers team in Carolina last week, where they won by 21 points (34-13). Carolina was banged up offensively, but the Panthers had been playing excellent football on the defensive side of the ball, so that was a pretty impressive win. The Saints picked up first downs at a 11.66% higher rate than the Panthers in that game.
Now the schedule gets significantly easier for the Saints, as they enter their bye week with a trip to London to play a Dolphins team that is easily their weakest opponent of the season. The Dolphins won 10 games and made the playoffs last season, but they played arguably the weakest schedule in the league and won 8 of their 10 games by 7 points or fewer, including near losses against the Jets, 49ers, Browns, and Rams. Those were arguably the four worst teams in the league last season and the Dolphins struggled with them. They also lost 4 regular season games by a combined 81 points and lost by 18 to the Steelers in the playoffs.
Making matters worse, the Dolphins lost starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill for the season before week 1 and had to bring in the previously retired Jay Cutler, who has been a noticeable downgrade so far this season. The Dolphins won in Los Angeles against the Chargers week 1, but that’s because the Chargers have no homefield advantage and because the Chargers missed two makeable field goals. Last week, the Dolphins lost to the lowly Jets by 14 points in New York. They enter the week dead last in the league in first down rate differential (-9.17%) and they haven’t had a tough schedule.
The Saints are arguably the best team the Dolphins have faced so far this season because they’re finally getting guys back that have been out. Not only is the Saints schedule getting easier, but their roster is getting more talented too, so they could be a smart bet going forward. Top cornerback Marshon Lattimore returns from a one game absence, while right tackle Zach Strief will return to the lineup for the first time since being knocked out in the first half against the Vikings week 1. They could also get back slot cornerback Sterling Moore back from his one game absence, wide receiver Willie Snead back for the first time this season, and, most importantly, left tackle Terron Armstead back for the first time this season. I have this line calculated at about -7 in favor of the Saints, so we’re getting significant value with New Orleans.
The Saints are also in a better spot than the Dolphins because they get a bye week next week, while the Dolphins have to travel back home to face a tough Tennessee team. That game will actually by the Dolphins’ season opener, as they’ve started their season with a brutal stretch. Their week 1 game was moved to week 11 by Hurricane Irma and since then they’ve had to play games in Los Angeles, New York, and now London in a 3-week stretch, before ever getting to play at home. The Saints could be more focused for this game and are a significantly better team overall, so they should be able to win by a field goal or more. If this line drops to 2.5, I’d move this up to a high confidence pick, but they’re still worth betting at 3.
New Orleans Saints 31 Miami Dolphins 24
Pick against the spread: New Orleans -3