Los Angeles Rams (5-2) at Miami Dolphins (3-3)
This is a tough one to pick. Both teams have played easy schedules, but the Rams have played significantly better against their easy schedule, ranking 2nd in the NFL in first down rate differential at +3.27%, even when adjusted for schedule, while the Dolphins rank 22nd at -0.72%. However, offenses tend to be much more consistent than defenses and the gap between these two teams on offense hasn’t been much, with the Rams ranking 15th at +0.90% first down rate over expected and the Dolphins ranking 17th at +0.61%.
The Rams have the significant edge on defense (+2.37% vs. -1.33%), but that might not necessarily continue, especially the Dolphins are arguably as healthy as they’ve been all year on defense, after cornerback Byron Jones and defensive ends Kyle Van Noy and Andre Branch all missed time early in the season and have since returned. If the Rams don’t continue being significantly better on defense, the Dolphins are a good value as 3.5-point home underdogs.
At the same time, it’s fair to wonder if the Dolphins will be as good offensively going forward, given that they are switching quarterbacks from veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa has obvious upside long-term and Fitzpatrick is in his age 38 contract year, but Fitzpatrick has been a big part of the reason for the Dolphins’ success this season and was coming off of back-to-back strong games in big wins for the Dolphins prior to being benched. It seems that starting Tagovailoa after their bye week 7 was always the plan (although no one told Fitzpatrick), as it’s pretty unusual for a quarterback to be benched when he’s been playing as well as Fitzpatrick has.
Whether that’s the right move in the long-term remains to be seen, but in the short-term, it could easily hurt this team. The Dolphins still have a lot of problems on the offensive line and, at the very least, the rookie Tagovailoa may have a lot more trouble with that than the veteran Fitzpatrick. The Rams don’t have any pre-season tape of Tagovailoa, which may put them at a disadvantage against the rookie in his debut, but it still wouldn’t surprise me if he struggled, especially with the Rams having a strong defensive front led by game wrecker Aaron Donald. If Fitzpatrick was still playing, the Dolphins would be the right side, but with Tagovailoa in the lineup, I think I like the Rams, albeit for a no confidence pick.
Los Angeles Rams 20 Miami Dolphins 16
Pick against the spread: LA Rams -3.5