Carolina Panthers (5-6) at Miami Dolphins (4-7)
The Dolphins started this season 1-7, but they have won three straight to push their record to a somewhat respectable 4-7. That, combined with the Dolphins being 10-6 a year ago, has caused the public to think this is no longer one of the worst teams in the league, but that is a flawed assessment for a couple reasons. For one, their three wins haven’t been impressive, as one came on a short week against an exhausted Ravens team who played an overtime game the week before, a spot in which just 16% of teams cover the spread, while their other two wins came by one score against arguably the two worst teams in the league the Texans and the Jets, with the latter coming in a game in which the Jets won both the yards per play and first down rate battle, which are the most predictive metrics.
The Dolphins rank 31st, 22nd, 27th, 30th in offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively, which are based on yards per play and first down rate and adjusted for schedule, showing them to still be one of the worst teams in the league from a statistical standpoint, even though they are 4-7. The Dolphins did win 10 games a year ago, but 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), so they were not nearly as good as their record suggested.
The Panthers, meanwhile, rank 30th, 2nd, 20th, and 18th offensive, defensive, special teams, and mixed efficiency respectively this season. Their offensive performance is concerning, especially because offensive performance tends to be the most predictive of the three phases, but they should be at least somewhat better now that they have feature back Christian McCaffrey back from an extended absence and now that they have probably their best quarterback of the year under center, with Cam Newton returning to the team a couple weeks ago. The Panthers defense, meanwhile, is legitimately one of the best in the league now that linebacker Shaq Thompson and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, two of the best players in the league at their respective positions, are both back healthy.
The Panthers are 5-6 despite having arguably the worst quarterback play in the league and being without their best offensive player for about half of the season, so with Newton and McCaffrey now in the lineup, the Panthers should be at least an average opponent going forward. Newton is certainly not without his faults, but, as bad as the Panthers’ quarterback play has been this season, it won’t be hard for Newton to be an upgrade and he could easily be a significant upgrade.
The Panthers lost at home to Washington in Newton’s first start last week, but that was a one score loss against a decent opponent and Newton should be more comfortable with the playbook this week, in what is a much easier matchup in Miami. Despite that, the Panthers are just 2-point favorites, which shows how much the Dolphins are overrated. My calculated line has the Panthers favored by 5.5 points and, in a game in which the Panthers basically just have to win to cover (about 8% of games are decided by 2 points or fewer), the Panthers are an easy choice against the spread, as long as the line stays under a field goal.
Carolina Panthers 23 Miami Dolphins 17
Pick against the spread: Carolina -2