Houston Texans (1-7) at Miami Dolphins (1-7)
The Texans’ season got off to a good start, as they won their week one game by multiple scores, but they have yet to win a game since. It also hasn’t been close most of the game, as they have been outscored 220-82 since that week 1 game, giving them a point differential of -122 which is the worst in the league. That margin looks even worse if you take out a 25-22 point loss to the Patriots, in a game in which the Patriots were missing most of their offensive line but still won the first down rate battle by 8.67%, and if you take out the meaningless 22 points they scored in garbage time against the Rams last week, after trailing 38-0 through 3 quarters.
The good news for the Texans is they will get quarterback Tyrod Taylor back this week, for the first time since the first half of their week 2 game against the Browns. That game was actually 10-10 at the time Taylor went down, with all of their subsequent struggles coming with raw rookie quarterback Davis Mills under center. Taylor doesn’t return to quite the same roster around him, with left tackle Laremy Tunsil, arguably the Texans’ best player, being the most notable absence, but with Taylor back under center, the Texans at least have a serviceable starting quarterback and they have had some success with him this season, so it was surprising to me that this line didn’t shift more than it did, with the Texans still being 5.5-point underdogs in Miami.
The Dolphins have also lost seven straight games since winning week one. They haven’t gotten blown out quite as much as the Texans have, but they still have lost by an average of 13.7 points per game and their win wasn’t as impressive as the Texans’ week one win. They did beat a more competitive team in the Patriots, while the Texans’ win came over the lowly Jaguars, but the Texans at least won convincingly, while the Dolphins won by just one point in a game in which the Patriots lost a pair of fumbles and won the first down rate and yards per play battle. If not for one of those two fumbles, the Dolphins could easily be winless right now.
The Dolphins were 10-6 a year ago, but a dropoff always seemed inevitable, as 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%), which was actually lower than the 34.07% conversion rate they allowed on 1st/2nd down (4th highest in the NFL). The Dolphins also aren’t getting any key reinforcements back this week, unlike the Texans, who get Taylor back.
We’re still not getting much line value with the Texans, who, even with Taylor back, have such a bad roster that they are still a few points behind the Dolphins in my roster rankings and they are on the road as well, but with Taylor back the Texans are at least bettable in the right situation. This seems like that situation, as the Dolphins have to play a much tougher opponent next week (Baltimore) and they have to do it on a short week.
Favorites cover at just a 41.5% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football, while favorites of 5+ cover at just a 42.8% rate all-time before facing a team with a winning percentage that is over 60% higher than their current opponent’s winning percentage, both of which should work against the Dolphins this week. I am hoping we get a +6 because I’m not sure I am going to bet on the Texans at +5.5, but I still may end up taking them at that number if we can’t get a better number. This is a low confidence pick for now, but that could easily change.
Update: It doesn’t look like we are getting 6 and, in fact, this line has dropped to 5 in some places. Taylor is a significant upgrade under center for the Texans and should make them more competitive than they’ve been without him, but when you consider that they have lost by multiple scores in 6 of their last 7 games, with the exception being a game against a team missing their whole offensive line, even capable quarterback play is unlikely to save this team. The Texans are still the pick for pick ’em purposes, but I don’t think they’re bettable unless we happen to get 6.
Update: Tua Tagovailoa is surprisingly inactive for the Dolphins, meaning they will start Jacoby Brissett under center. That doesn’t make a difference though, because they’re comparable quarterbacks, so nothing changes here.
Miami Dolphins 20 Houston Texans 17
Pick against the spread: Houston +5.5