Baltimore Ravens (3-4) at Miami Dolphins (4-2)
The Dolphins are 4-2 and went 10-6 last year, but both of those records were the result of close wins and an easy schedule. Last season, 8 of their 10 wins came by a touchdown or less and 5 of them came against the Jets, 49ers, Browns, and Rams, who were among the worst teams in the league last year. Of those 5 wins, just one came by more than a touchdown. They did defeat the Steelers by double digits in week 6 of last season, but that was their only win over a playoff team and it came in a game in which Ben Roethlisberger got hurt. With a healthy Roethlisberger, the Steelers defeated them 30-12 in the first round of the post-season. They also lost by double digits to the Patriots, Titans, Bengals, and Ravens in the regular season.
This season, their 4 wins have come against the Chargers, the Titans, the Jets, and the Falcons, by a combined 14 points. The Falcons were a tough opponent, but they got caught looking forward to New England the following week. The Chargers missed 2 makeable field goals in a 2-point loss. The Titans were without starting quarterback Marcus Mariota and the deciding score was a return touchdown. The Jets, meanwhile, are one of the worst teams in the league. Despite that, the Jets were still able to beat the Dolphins by 14 in their first meeting. The Dolphins’ other loss came in London against the Saints by 20, so they have a point differential of just -20, 25th in the NFL. In first down rate differential, they rank 29th at -4.10%.
In their victory last week against the Jets, the Dolphins had to come back from down two scores in the second half and likely would not have been able to if Jay Cutler had not gotten hurt. That injury allowed Matt Moore to take over at quarterback and he should have been their starter since Tannehill tore his ACL in the pre-season. Paying Jay Cutler $10 million to come out of retirement to be their starting quarterback was a questionable move, considering Moore is an experienced backup who knew the system with whom they had no drop off in offensive performance in 4 starts in 2016, and that move looks even more questionable given how much Cutler has struggled thus far this season. Moore isn’t the best quarterback in the world, but he should be an upgrade given how poorly Cutler was playing.
That being said, I still have the Ravens about a point and a half better than the Dolphins, given that the Ravens got key defensive lineman Brandon Williams back from injury last week. They should also be healthier in the receiving corps this week after being without their top-3 wide receivers in Minnesota last week. At the very least, they should be getting #1 receiver Jeremy Maclin back from a 2-game absence. The Ravens are far from a great team, but they are the better of these two teams. This line suggests they’re about even at -3, so we’re getting some line value with the hosts.
The Ravens are also in a good spot as the hosts in a non-divisional matchup on Thursday Night Football. Non-divisional home favorites are 28-15 ATS all-time on Thursday Night Football as long as both teams are on short rest, which makes sense because it’s very tough for a team to travel on a short week to face a comparable or better opponent, unless that opponent is a familiar divisional opponent. The Dolphins are relatively unfamiliar with the Ravens, so they should be at a huge disadvantage on the short week, especially since they are installing a new starting quarterback. This is worth a small bet if you can get the line at -3.
Also, by request, I’m going to be posting lines I lock in early in the week during my Thursday Night writeups this season, so readers can lock them in before they move. These are not all my picks for the week, just picks where I think the line may move in an unfavorable direction (usually underdogs). The rest of the writeups will continue to be posted over the weekend as normal.
DEN +7.5 @ KC (I would also take +7)
OAK +3 @ BUF
Baltimore Ravens 19 Miami Dolphins 13
Pick against the spread: Baltimore -3