Denver Broncos (3-8) at Miami Dolphins (4-7)
The Dolphins have 4 wins, but they are are one of the worst teams in the league, as they rank 31st in both point differential (-115) and first down rate differential (-6.78%). Their 4 wins have come by a combined 14 points, while their 7 losses have come by a combined 129 points, an average margin of defeat of 18.43 points. They’ve been even worse since losing talented right tackle Ja’Wuan James for the season. He was their best offensive lineman and his loss is a huge blow to an otherwise weak offensive line.
The Broncos enter on a 8-game losing streak, but they are still the better of these two teams. They rank 24th in first down rate at -2.67%, not good, but significantly better than the Dolphins. Despite their long losing streak, they’ve actually won the first down rate battle in 3 of 7 games, against the Giants, Chiefs, and Bengals. They lost those games primarily because of turnover margin, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis. The Broncos rank 2nd worst in turnover margin at -16, but they could play turnover neutral football going forward if their defense can force more takeaways, after strangely forcing just 8 through 11 games. This week could be a good place to start, given their matchup.
In addition to winning the first down battle against the three aforementioned teams, the Broncos could have won the first down battle and the game last week against Oakland had Trevor Siemian started the game. Paxton Lynch was horrendous before going down with an ankle injury and Siemian was able to make it a one score game despite being down 21 in the 4th quarter. The only 3 teams that have beaten them convincingly on their losing streak are the Chargers, Eagles, and Patriots, who are among the best teams in the league.
Siemian will start this week for the Broncos. He hasn’t been good this season, but he’s probably Denver’s best quarterback, even if only by default. He was their quarterback when they started 3-1 and has shown he can win games in the past if the Broncos run the ball well and play strong defense, which they should be able to do this week against an inferior opponent. That being said, I wish the Broncos were not missing cornerback Aqib Talib and right guard Ronald Leary with suspension and injury respectively, as I have this line calculated at just Denver -2 with those two missing, meaning we aren’t getting much line value with Denver at -1.5.
The Dolphins are in a terrible spot though, with a huge home game against the Patriots on deck, as teams are 35-75 ATS since 2012 before being 6+ point home underdogs (Miami is -11.5 on the early line). Teams understandably struggle the week before a tough home game. The Broncos played their worst game of the season in Philadelphia the week before hosting the Patriots and the Dolphins could do so as well this week. This game is actually sandwiched on Miami’s schedule in between a pair of games against New England, so the Dolphins could definitely overlook the Broncos a little bit. The Broncos, meanwhile, have another easy game against the Jets on deck, so they should be focused this week. Given that, the Broncos are worth a small bet as long as the line stays under 3.
Denver Broncos 16 Miami Dolphins 10
Pick against the spread: Denver -1.5