New England Patriots (0-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-0)
The Patriots are my top pick this week, for a number of reasons. For one, they are underdogs of 3.5 points, which is the line that covers most often, about 53.2% of the time historically. That’s not a coincidence. Games are decided by three points or fewer about 1 out of 4 times, with 1 out of 6 being decided by exactly a field goal, meaning that a line of 3.5 is actually much higher than most realize; in real probability terms it’s closer to 5.5 or 6 than it is to 3. As a result, odds makers will often use 3.5 to trap bettors into betting the favorite, as bettors don’t realize how high the line actually is, which seems to be the case here, with the majority of the public money coming in on the favored Dolphins.
It’s understandable why the public likes the Dolphins, as the Dolphins beat the Patriots twice last season and got better this off-season, while the Patriots got worse, but that’s based on some misconceptions. While the Dolphins did win both head-to-head matchups last season, the Patriots were actually the better team overall, finishing a game ahead of the Dolphins in the standings. Historically, teams fare pretty well in a rematch with a divisional opponent who had a worse overall record the previous season but who won both head-to-head matchups, winning the third matchup more often than not (51.5%) and covering at a 54.3% rate.
It’s true the Dolphins got better this off-season while the Patriots got worse, but, despite the result of their two head-to-head matchups last season, the Dolphins are trying to close a gap between these two teams this off-season, rather than trying to pull ahead further. That gap is also bigger than their records suggest, with the Patriots ranking 3rd in overall efficiency last season, while the Dolphins ranked 25th, despite facing an easier schedule.
There has been a lot of concern around the Patriots’ offense this off-season, with the departure of long-time offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, but I think that concern is overblown, putting too much stock into practice reports and the pre-season, and the Patriots have the talent on offense to be better than a year ago, with Mac Jones in his second season and a better receiving corps, even after ranking an impressive 7th in offensive efficiency a year ago. The Patriots are likely to be worse on defense without top cornerback JC Jackson, who signed with the Chargers this off-season, but they’re starting from a pretty high base point, ranking 5th in defensive efficiency a year ago.
The Dolphins, meanwhile, should be better on offense, with Tua Tagovailoa going into his third season, with Tyreek Hill and Cedrick Wilson being added to his receiving corps, Chase Edmonds being added to his backfield, and Terron Armstead and Connor Williams being added to his offensive line, but they’re starting from a pretty low base point, ranking 26th in offensive efficiency last season and if Tagovailoa doesn’t take a big step forward, the Dolphins are likely to be a middling offense at best.
The Dolphins had a solid defense last season, ranking 11th in defensive efficiency, and they return all of their key players from a year ago, but they could still be worse, losing defensive minded head coach Brian Flores and likely to have more injuries than a year ago, when they had the fewest adjusted games lost to injury on defense. The injury bug has already damaged this group in a significant way this season, knocking starting cornerback Byron Jones out for the start of the season, a big absence in this game.
Flores is also a former Patriots assistant which may have given the Dolphins the edge in their matchups with the Patriots last season, despite being overall a significantly worse team. The Dolphins are now coached by former 49ers assistant Mike McDaniel, who is coaching his first career game against Bill Belichick and doing so with a young (age 24) quarterback, two situations in which Belichick’s defenses have thrived throughout his tenure in New England. The Patriots have a good chance to pull this straight up upset, even on the road, and, if they lose, this should still be a close game, so I love getting the full 3.5. This is my Pick of the Week.
New England Patriots 23 Miami Dolphins 21 Upset Pick +155
Pick against the spread: New England +3.5
Confidence: Pick of the Week