Last Updated: 2017-12-05
The NFL may pause just a few seconds longer before locking in next year’s Monday Night Football schedule. We’ve really had some duds this season and the line for this week’s New England Patriots vs. Miami Dolphins MNF matchup suggests that we’re likely to have another. The Patriots are laying double digits on the road at Hard Rock Stadium. We saw a mild adjustment to the line with the announcement that Rob Gronkowski is suspended and it moved the number from -12 to -11.
The Patriots are just rolling right now and the spreads don’t even seem to matter. New England played Miami two weeks ago in Foxboro and won 35-17 as a 16.5-point favorite. The Patriots have covered six straight as a favorite of a touchdown or more in four of those games. Remember when this team was 2-2 and people were wondering what was wrong with the Patriots? LOL. Since that point, New England hasn’t allowed more than 17 points in a game. The Dolphins were actually 4-2 once. They did snap a stretch of five straight losses with a blowout win over the hapless Denver Broncos this past week. The 35 points were a season-high for the Dolphins and the nine points allowed was a season-low.
Turning 40 made no difference to Tom Brady. The future Hall of Famer owns a 26/4 TD/INT ratio with a 65.5 percent completion percentage and 3,632 passing yards in his age-40 season. He’s simply a freak of nature. Brady has spread the ball around really well this season, as four different players have at least 45 receptions. Rob Gronkowski leads the team with 55, but will be unavailable for this week after a disgusting cheap shot on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White. To be honest, one game isn’t enough, but I digress. Brady will have to adjust without his top target. Brandin Cooks is one target behind Gronk and two catches behind, so he should be able to pass him in this game. James White is the third-leading receiver with 51 catches and the running backs for the Patriots have 89 catches total. That is more or less how the Patriots run the football, though they do have 4.2 yards per carry this season as well. New England is tied for third with 6.1 yards per play and third in points behind the Saints and Rams. No passing attack has been more potent than this one with 8.2 adjusted net yards per pass attempt. The Patriots have only turned it over eight times, which is why they are so good and why the defense has had time to adjust.
This New England defense looked awful for the first six games of the season. The year-to-date numbers haven’t recovered, since the Patriots have still allowed the third-most yards per play in the league, but this is a group that hasn’t allowed more than 350 yards in a game over the last six games while forcing nine turnovers. This could be a little bit of a look-ahead spot for New England with Pittsburgh on deck for the team’s third straight road game on a short week, but the defense does benefit from facing a Miami offense that only has 4.8 yards per play on the season. The Patriots have the league’s worst rush defense with 5.1 yards per carry allowed and just gave up 183 to the Bills, so there are still a lot of things for Matt Patricia to work on in that respect.
Adam Gase isn’t belittling his offense publicly as much as he was early on in the season, so that probably represents progress. To be fair, nobody could really fault Gase, as the Dolphins managed more than 300 yards just twice in their first seven games. On the year, Miami has only converted 33.1 percent of its third down attempts, which is a sign of how much this team has struggled on first and second down. One-year fill-in Jay Cutler has been up and down, with a 63.9 percent completion rate and a 15/11 TD/INT ratio. Kenyan Drake has enjoyed his timeshare with Damien Williams, as Drake has 4.9 yards per carry. Williams only has 3.9 yards per pop and is out with a dislocated shoulder. The Dolphins, as a team, only have 3.7 yards per carry, including 138 subpar efforts from Jay Ajayi, who was traded to Philadelphia. There is a lot of skill position talent here, but Jarvis Landry has dominated the targets and the receptions. He has 80 grabs on 123 targets. Kenny Stills and DeVante Parker have each secured less than 60 percent of their targets. Some of the blame falls on Cutler, but it also falls on those two talented wideouts for not getting open enough. The problems run deep for a team with only 4.8 yards per play and the fourth-lowest adjusted net yards per pass attempt at 4.6.
The Miami defense isn’t a bad group, per se, with 5.5 yards per play allowed. The problem is that there haven’t been enough explosive plays. The Dolphins only have 13 takeaways. Only the Bills, Colts, and Buccaneers have fewer sacks. The Dolphins rank in the bottom 10 in yards per carry allowed. It is really hard to defend without creating negative plays and takeaways. Injuries have played a role, with season-ending losses of Raekwon McMillan, Nate Allen, and Tony Lippett, who had 10 pass breakups and four picks last season. For a defense with guys like Reshad Jones, Kiko Alonso, Ndumakong Suh, and Cameron Wake, there just haven’t been enough game-changing plays. Miami has held the opposition to just 36.9 percent on third down, but the Dolphins have allowed too many first downs early in the sequence.
Free NFL Pick: New England Patriots -11
The Patriots are in a pretty bad spot for those looking to lay big chalk. The Pittsburgh game is on deck and this is a second straight road game. That being said, New England has covered every number thrown its way for the last six weeks. The Dolphins still don’t have much of an offense and the Patriots defense has held everybody to 17 points or less in eight straight games. With big numbers, you have to ask yourself how many points the favorite needs to cover. If your answer is 28, what’s to stop New England from getting there? The Patriots have been dominant and it’s best to ride that train until it stops.