Miami Dolphins (4-3) at Arizona Cardinals (5-2)
The Dolphins made the surprising decision during their week 7 bye to bench veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick for rookie Tua Tagovailoa. Tua is the obvious long-term franchise quarterback for this team, but there was speculation he wouldn’t play at all as a rookie, working his way back from a serious leg injury that ended his collegiate career, and, with Fitzpatrick playing well in the first 6 games of the season, including back-to-back 24+ point wins in weeks 5 and 6, it seemed like Tua would be stuck with mop up duty for the foreseeable future. Instead, those two starts ended up being Fitzpatrick’s last as, seemingly sticking to a plan decided in the off-season, the Dolphins installed Tua as the starter during their bye and he made his season debut last week at home against the Rams.
I had a lot of concern that this offense would take a step back in the short-term with Tua under center, because Fitzpatrick was playing well and doing a great job of being successful despite poor offensive line play in front of him, something I didn’t expect Tua to be able to do as well right away. That concern was legitimized against the Rams, as Tua finished as PFF’s 2nd worst ranked quarterback for the week and led the Dolphins to just 8 first downs/touchdowns on 48 snaps, but that’s largely been ignored because the Dolphins won the game 28-17 on the strength of a +2 turnover margin and a whopping three return touchdowns, something they definitely won’t be able to count on every week. I would expect this offense to continue to struggle and for the Dolphins to not be able to compensate for that nearly as well going forward.
The Dolphins have the edge on defense in this matchup in Arizona against the Cardinals, as they rank 18th in first down rate allowed over expected at -0.92%, while the Cardinals rank 22nd at -1.64% and have some significant absences on that side of the ball as well, but offense is a much more consistent, predictable side of the ball and the Cardinals have an enormous offensive edge, ranking 2nd in first down rate over expected at +3.36%, while the Dolphins rank 23rd at -1.04% and will likely be even worse than that going forward because of their quarterback switch. This also could be a tough spot for the Dolphins because they are coming off of a big home upset win and now have to travel cross country to face a team coming off of a bye. Teams only cover at about a 42% rate all-time after a win by 11+ points as home underdogs of 3.5+ points.
Despite that, the Cardinals are just 4.5-point favorites because the general public sees the Dolphins being 4-3 and coming off of a big week and ignores that they’ve likely downgraded their quarterback, that they’re in a tough spot, and that they’ve faced a relatively easy schedule thus far this season, with two of their wins coming against the two worst teams in the league in the Jets and Jaguars and a third win coming against a banged up 49ers team that had to bench a hobbling Jimmy Garoppolo for CJ Beathard (and the fourth win being last week’s fluky game). Arizona should be favored by at least a touchdown (my calculated line is Arizona -7.5), so we’re getting good line value at Arizona -4.5. This is a high confidence pick for now, but it’s one I am considering for Pick of the Week. If I decide to upgrade this game, I will do so on Saturday.
Arizona Cardinals 31 Miami Dolphins 23
Pick against the spread: Arizona -4.5