Miami Dolphins (8-7) at Tennessee Titans (10-5)
The Dolphins started the season 1-7, but have since won seven straight games and have become a trendy sleeper pick. It’s understandable why, as the Dolphins seem to have a knack for getting better as the season goes under third-year head coach Brian Flores, starting 0-7 in Flores’ first season in 2019 before going 5-4 in their last 9 games, and starting 1-3 in 2020 before going 9-3 in their last 12 games. However, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
For one, the Dolphins were not as good as their 10-6 record suggested last year, 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). On top of that, the Dolphins’ winning streak this year is largely the result of them having a very easy schedule.
During their 7-game winning streak, the Dolphins have faced just two teams with a record better than 5-10, one being the Baltimore Ravens, who were in a near impossible spot playing on a short week after an overtime game, a spot in which teams have covered just 3 out of 28 times historically, and the other being the New Orleans Saints last week, who were starting a fourth string quarterback behind a skeleton crew offensive line, also a near impossible situation. Aside from the Saints and Ravens, the other five teams the Dolphins have beaten on their winning streak are a combined 21-54.
Despite the easy schedule on their long winning streak, the Dolphins are still negative in point differential and, in terms of schedule adjusted efficiency, they have been even worse as, not only have they faced a relatively easy schedule overall, but they have significantly overperformed expectations on third downs on offense, ranking 13th in third down conversion rate, but just 30th in both first down rate and in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency. Over-performing on third downs tends not to be sustainable long-term and, while the Dolphins do rank 11th in schedule adjusted efficiency on defense, their poor offensive rank drags their overall mixed efficiency down to 26th in the NFL.
The Dolphins’ schedule gets tougher this week, as they take a trip to Tennessee. The Titans’ 10-5 record is in part due to a 5-2 record in one-score games and they haven’t been nearly as good on offense since losing feature back Derrick Henry, averaging about a yard per play less in the seven games since he got hurt, but they have gotten back top wide receiver AJ Brown, starting left tackle Taylor Lewan, starting left guard Rodger Saffold, and starting right guard Nate Davis, who have all missed time in recent weeks as well, so they are still significantly healthier than they have been even if Henry remains out.
The Titans might also have wide receiver Julio Jones available for this one, another key offensive player who has missed time recently, but he is still in COVID protocols, as is Denico Autry, a key player on the defensive side of the ball. My calculated line even without Jones and Autry in the lineup favors the Titans by 4.5, so we are getting line value with them as 3.5-point favorites either way, but, at the same time, even if Jones and Autry play, I don’t see there being enough line value for the Titans to be worth betting on unless this line drops to 3, as a field goal win by the Titans is definitely a strong possibility.
Tennessee Titans 24 Miami Dolphins 19
Pick against the spread: Tennessee -3.5