- Over the past six weeks, Miami’s defense ranks No. 2 in success rate against the run, and No. 3 against the pass
The Dolphins are my pick for most overlooked storyline this season, and I guess it makes some sense. They’ve played a reasonably soft schedule, and they’ve done some unconventional things. Rookie Tua Tagovailoa took over for veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick midseason despite the Dolphins being on a mini winning streak. Since then, Tua hasn’t come in and exactly lit up box scores with huge numbers, which makes it tougher to build a narrative.
The Dolphins are winning more because of an underrated defense that’s come together to be legitimately one of the better units in the league. Over the past six weeks, Miami’s defense ranks top three in success rate against both the run and the pass, and for the season no team has allowed fewer points than Miami’s 257 against. That has helped this Dolphins team to an 8-2 straight-up record over their past 10 games, and at 9-5 for the season, they’ve locked in their first winning season in four years.
Unfortunately, in the hypercompetitive AFC, that grants them very little in terms of the playoff hunt. Miami is tied for the seventh and final spot with the Ravens at present, one game behind the Browns, Colts, and Titans, who are all 10-4. But Baltimore gets the Giants and Bengals to close their season, so if Miami wants any shot at qualifying for the postseason, they might need to win out on their own.
The Raiders are also technically not eliminated, but at 7-7, their path is extremely thin. An overtime loss last week against the Chargers all but sealed their fate, and even if they were to win their final two games, it’s hard to see a scenario where 9-7 will be good enough this year.
Vegas got a spark last week from Marcus Mariota taking over for Derek Carr, who left with a groin strain, but Carr is good to go and on track to start here in Week 16. The Raiders will certainly play this game competitively, but the Dolphins frankly look like the better team. And while betting on rookie quarterbacks on the road can be dubious, Tua doesn’t have to win games for this Dolphins team. He just needs to not lose them, and in that regard he’s been solid all season.
That’s not to say the upside hasn’t been there from Tua, who has thrown for 296 and 316 yards in two of his past three games when forced to air it out more. The Dolphins are still very banged up at wide receiver and tight end, but Tua has been getting by finding guys like fellow rookie Lynn Bowden. If he gets any of DeVante Parker, Mike Gesicki, or Jakeem Grant back — all of whom are questionable for this one — the passing game could look promising against a very beatable Raiders secondary.
The market isn’t missing that the Dolphins are a better team than expected, and they are road favorites here. This should be a competitive game that could have a playoff intensity, but I like Miami to extend their playoff hopes and cover the 2.5.
NFL Expert Picks
Miami -2.5 @ -108
NFL Free Picks
It's a festive week and we have plenty of football to get stuck into. There was no Thursday Night Football this week but we had the Vikings travel to New Orleans to face the Saints on Christmas Day. Saturday gives us a triple threat of football to wager on. The Bucs can secure playoffs if they beat the Lions. Elsewhere the Dolphins face the Raiders and the 49ers play the Cardinals.
Sunday sees a number of matches with playoff implications, the Rams @ Seahawks being the most important. We'll also see the Jets and Jaguars play, with fans of the New Yorkers praying that Jacksonville wins and puts them back in the hotseat for Trevor Lawrence. The Titans face the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. Monday's game is a dead rubber in all reality, as the Bills travel to play the Patriots, with New England officially out of playoff contention.
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