Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers: 2016 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Miami Dolphins (10-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (11-5)

The Dolphins made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 thanks to a 10-6 record, but they still have a lot of problems and are not as good as their record suggests. Many of their wins were close, while many of their losses were not. They went 8-2 in games decided by a touchdown or less, meaning they had just two wins by more than a touchdown, while 4 of their losses came by 13 points or more. That’s despite the fact that they had the easiest schedule in the league this year in terms of opponents’ combined record. In some order, the Rams, 49ers, Jets, and Browns were the worst 4 teams in the league this season and the Dolphins played all 4 of them, including the Jets twice. The Dolphins won all 5 of those games, but just 1 of them came by more than a touchdown (a 34-13 win week 15 in New York), meaning they had a tough time beating some of the worst teams in the league.

Ironically, their other victory by more than a touchdown came against their opponents this week, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who they beat 30-15 back in week 6. The Steelers are also the only playoff team the Dolphins have beaten. When you look at the Dolphins’ season, it’s a lot of close wins against bad teams and big losses against capable or better teams (15 point loss vs. Cincinnati, 13 point loss vs. Tennessee, 32 point loss vs. Baltimore, and 21 point loss vs. New England). The Dolphins’ week 6 home victory over these Steelers was easily the best game they’ve played this season and a major outlier in their season on the whole.

This game will be in Pittsburgh and the Steelers will have Ben Roethlisberger healthy for the whole game, after he was knocked out midway through the game last time, but if the Dolphins can repeat easily their best game of the season they have a good shot in this one. Much more likely, they’ll be unable to repeat their best performance of the season, especially given all of the injuries they have. Since that week 6 victory, the Dolphins have lost both safeties, Reshad Jones and Isa Abdul-Quddus, and talented center Mike Pouncey for the season with injury, while top cornerback Byron Maxwell and starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill will also be out for this game. The Steelers, meanwhile, aren’t missing any key players that played in the first matchup and are definitely in the better injury situation overall. This one seems like it’s going to be a Pittsburgh blowout, but I’m not confident laying 10 points with them.

Pittsburgh Steelers 31 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Pittsburgh -10

Confidence: Low

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New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins: 2016 Week 17 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (13-2) at Miami Dolphins (10-5)

In a league with few top level teams, the Patriots have to stand out atop the league. Not only are they the Patriots and they’ve done this before, but they rank 1st in the NFL in first down rate differential and point differential, despite not even having quarterback Tom Brady for the first 4 games of the season. They rank 5th in points, first in points allowed, 8th in first down rate, and 3rd in first down rate allowed. Their +22 offensive touchdown margin is double any other team’s offensive touchdown margin except the Dallas Cowboys (+17).

However, this line moved from 6 to 9.5 in the past week as a result of the Patriots’ 41-3 victory over the lowly Jets, so I think the Patriots’ hype is a little bit out of control right now. The Patriots have had a pretty easy schedule since Brady returned, with their only even somewhat tough games coming at home against the Seahawks, on the road in Denver, at home against the Ravens, on the road in Buffalo, and at home for the Bengals. Other than the Seahawks, the Dolphins might be the toughest team they’ve faced since Brady’s return, so I don’t think the Dolphins should be 9.5 point home underdogs, especially since the Broncos were just 3.5 point home underdogs two weeks ago. The Patriots could win big again here (9 of their 13 victories have come by double digits), so there’s not enough here for me to bet money against them, but this should be a closer game than this line suggests.

New England Patriots 27 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Miami +9.5

Confidence: Low

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Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: 2016 Week 16 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (9-5) at Buffalo Bills (7-7)

These two teams finish their regular seasons in pretty much completely opposite fashions next week. While the Bills get an easy road game in New York against the lowly Jets, the Dolphins have to go home and host the New England Patriots. Teams are 73-58 ATS since 2012 before being 4.5+ point road favorites, which the Bills should be next week, and 43-93 ATS over that time period before being 4.5+ point home underdogs, which the Dolphins should be next week. In addition, the Dolphins are in a much worse injury situation.

The absence of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill is obvious, even if backup Matt Moore is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league, but they’re also without top cornerback Byron Maxwell, who has really been playing well in recent weeks. The Bills will be without left tackle Cordy Glenn, but they are definitely in the better injury situation overall. Even before injuries are taken into account, the Bills have played slightly better than the Dolphins this season, entering 15th in first down rate differential, as opposed to 20th for the Dolphins.

When this line opened at 3.5, I was hoping it would eventually come down to 3 by gametime. Instead, the opposite happened, as the line has since jumped to 4.5. I would have put money on the Bills as 3 point home favorites, but I’m not nearly as confident in them as 4.5 point home favorites, especially given that about 3 in 10 games are decided by 4 points or fewer. The Bills could easily outplay the Dolphins all game, but allow a late backdoor cover to give the Dolphins the cover. I’m still taking Buffalo, but it’s a low confidence pick.

Buffalo Bills 23 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -4.5

Confidence: Low

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Miami Dolphins at New York Jets: 2016 Week 15 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (8-5) at New York Jets (4-9)

The Dolphins pulled off the home upset victory last week over the Cardinals, despite being without a trio of key defenders, linebackers Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins and defensive end Mario Williams, all of whom return this week. It was a game they should have lost though, as the Cardinals lost 7 points on special teams, thanks to a missed field goal and two missed extra points, one of which was blocked and returned for 2 points. The Cardinals had the 21-15 edge in first downs and won the first down rate battle by +6.52%.

Teams also tend to struggle off of a home upset victory like that, going 61-80 ATS since 2012, as teams tend to be overrated and overconfident in that spot. However, we’re actually still getting good line value with the Dolphins because they lost quarterback Ryan Tannehill with injury, which dropped this line from 3.5 to 2.5, despite Miami’s upset victory. That might not seem like a big swing, but 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal so it’s a very significant point. Considering backup Matt Moore is one of the better backups in the league and the Dolphins are significantly healthier around the quarterback now than they have been for most of the season, I think the line is very fair.

With that in mind, I’m actually taking the Dolphins as the Jets have to turn around and go to New England next week, where they will almost definitely be double digit underdogs. Teams are just 41-66 ATS since 2012 before being double digit underdogs and the Jets could easily overlook the Dolphins with arguably the biggest game of their season on deck. Because Moore hasn’t made a start since 2011, there’s not enough here for me to be confident enough in Miami to put money on them, but they should be the right side. Even a field goal road victory covers this spread.

Miami Dolphins 20 New York Jets 16

Pick against the spread: Miami -2.5

Confidence: Low

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Arizona Cardinals at Miami Dolphins: 2016 Week 14 NFL Pick

Arizona Cardinals (5-6-1) at Miami Dolphins (7-5)

The Dolphins were shockingly blown out in Baltimore last week, the Ravens’ biggest win by point total since 2009. That almost definitely figures to be the worst game of the Dolphins’ season when all is said and done. Besides last week, they’ve played pretty well and are still a capable team that ranks 18th in first down rate differential. The Dolphins’ loss last week actually puts them in a good spot this week. That might sound counterintuitive, but teams are 92-54 ATS since 2002 off of an against the spread loss of 28 or more (the Dolphins lost by 32 as 3.5 point underdogs).

It makes sense when you think about it, as teams tend to be overlooked, undervalued, and embarrassed in that spot. On top of that, the Dolphins have a very easy game on deck as they head to New York to take on the Jets next week, a game in which they will almost definitely be road favorites. Home underdogs like the Dolphins are here (by 2 points) are 79-44 ATS since 2002 before being road favorites, as teams tend to be very focused in a tough home game before an easy road game.

The Dolphins could easily bounce back with a strong effort this week, but all that being said I’m picking the Cardinals as long as this line is under a field goal. The Cardinals are at the top of my underrated teams list. Despite their 5-6-1 record, they’ve won the first down rate battle in 10 of 12 games and they could easily be 9-3 right now, as they could have beaten New England, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Minnesota if one or two fluky things had gone their way (missed field goal against New England, punt return against Rams, blocked punt against Seattle, pick six against Minnesota).

The Cardinals actually rank 1st in first down rate differential. They ranked 1st in that metric last year as well. Carson Palmer is having a down year and they aren’t the same on either side of the ball without injured left tackle Jared Veldheer and injured defensive back Tyrann Mathieu, but they still have a strong defense and running game and are one of the better teams in the league in a year where there are very few top level teams. Even if the Dolphins bring a strong effort, the Cardinals could win by a field goal on the road, especially with the Dolphins missing center Mike Pouncey, linebackers Kiko Alonso and Jelani Jenkins, and defensive end Mario Williams with injury.

Arizona Cardinals 23 Miami Dolphins 20

Pick against the spread: Arizona -2

Confidence: None

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Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens: 2016 Week 13 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (7-4) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5)

This line at 3.5 in favor of the hometown Baltimore Ravens suggests the Ravens are a slightly better team than the Dolphins. I think it’s the opposite. Both teams come into this game relatively healthy compared to most of the season, with the Dolphins getting left tackle Branden Albert and left guard Laremy Tunsil back this week, while the Ravens get cornerback Jimmy Smith back. However, the Dolphins rank 12th on the season in first down rate differential, while the Ravens rank 19th in that metric. This line should be around 2.5, which might not seem like a big difference from 3.5, but it is, considering about 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal. The Ravens are certainly no strangers to field goal games, as 4 of their 11 wins in the past 2 seasons have come by exactly a field goal. That makes sense, as the Ravens have a great defense, but a struggling offense. That’s not exactly a recipe for big blowout wins. The Dolphins are a quality opponent, so, if the Ravens win, it’ll likely be by a field goal or less.

The Dolphins are also in a much better spot than the Ravens, as they host the skidding Cardinals next week, while the Ravens have to turn around and go to New England, where the early line has them as 10 point underdogs. The Dolphins will be favored next week at home for the Cardinals and underdogs are 94-61 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs. On top of that, teams are 41-63 ATS since 2012 before being double digit underdogs, as upcoming big games like that tend to be a distraction for a team. As favorites, teams are 37-62 ATS since 2002 before being double digit underdogs. Combining the two, underdogs are 48-20 ATS since 1989 before being favorites when their opponents will next be double digit underdogs. I like the Dolphins a lot this week.

Baltimore Ravens 17 Miami Dolphins 16

Pick against the spread: Miami +3.5

Confidence: Medium

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San Francisco 49ers at Miami Dolphins: 2016 Week 12 NFL Pick

San Francisco 49ers (1-9) at Miami Dolphins (6-4)

The Browns haven’t won a game this season, but there’s an argument to be made that the 1-9 49ers are the worst team in the league this season. They don’t rank dead last in first down rate differential, but that’s only because of a 28-0 blowout win week 1 over the Rams. The Rams have not been good this year (one of two teams with a worse first down rate differential than the 49ers), but that win looks like a complete fluke given what’s happened since. Since that week 1 win, the 49ers have lost 9 straight games by an average of 15.22 points per game with all but 1 loss coming by double digits.

The Dolphins are a solid team that has a 6-4 record and that ranks 12th in first down rate differential, so they should be able to hand the 49ers another big loss. However, it’s tough to be confident in the Dolphins when they’re going to be missing at least their top-2 and maybe their top-3 offensive linemen. Center Mike Pouncey and left tackle Branden Albert remain out, while Laremy Tunsil is a gametime decision at best. Tunsil has played well this season at left guard and has also played left tackle well when Albert’s been injured, so that would be a huge loss for them if he can’t go. The Dolphins are the pick in pick ‘em pools, but I wouldn’t bet anything real on them.

Miami Dolphins 24 San Francisco 49ers 16

Pick against the spread: Miami -7

Confidence: None

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