Miami Dolphins (1-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1)
The Dolphins are off to a disappointing 1-3 start, a year after surprisingly winning 10 games, but I don’t think the public quite realizes how bad they are yet. They could easily be 0-4 if the Patriots didn’t fumble twice in a 1-point Miami win, a game in which the Patriots won the first down rate and yards per play battle by significant amounts (+2.56% and +0.63, respectively). The Dolphins did take the Raiders to overtime a couple weeks and could have won that game, but they needed a long defensive touchdown to keep it close and lost the first down rate battle by 6.50% and the yards per play battle by 1.91. So far, the Dolphins rank 30th in first down rate and their defense hasn’t been nearly good enough to compensate.
The Dolphins are also starting from a lower base point than most realize, as they were not nearly as good as their record a year ago. They faced a very easy schedule and they benefited from an unsustainably high turnover margin (+11), opponent’s field goal percentage (3rd lowest at 73.91%) and 3rd/4th down conversion rate allowed (33.02%), actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL).
On top of that, they did not bring back by far their best quarterback option Ryan Fitzpatrick, who departed as a free agent this off-season. They were hoping for a big second year from Tua Tagovailoa, but he struggled before getting hurt and being replaced by backup Jacoby Brissett, who has also been a significant downgrade from Fitzpatrick. If the Dolphins hadn’t won that many games a year ago and were 0-4 right now, they would be viewed as one of the worst teams in the league right now, but instead we’re still getting some line value with the defending Super Bowl champions against them.
The Buccaneers aren’t quite as good as they were a year ago, due to some injuries in their secondary, but they are still one of the best teams in the league, while the Dolphins are one of the worst right now. The Buccaneers should be favored by at least a couple touchdowns, given the gap between these two teams, but instead they’re only favored by 10. Ordinarily, I would jump on that line value, but I don’t like the spot the Buccaneers are in this week and we might not see their best effort, which could allow this game to be closer than the talent gap between these two teams.
Not only are the Buccaneers coming off of an emotional win in one of the most hyped regular season games of all time, but they have to turn around and play again in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. Favorites cover at just a 43.4% rate all-time before a Thursday game and it’s not hard to see how the Buccaneers could look past a 1-3 non-conference team, especially given how big the win they got last week was. That’s enough to deter me from betting on the Buccaneers at -10, even though my calculated line is 15.5, but the line value might be too good if this line was to drop down to 9.5.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26 Miami Dolphins 13
Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -10