Submitted by Kelso Sturgeon on Wednesday, November 16, 2016 at 3:43 PM
The Miami Dolphins have played their way back into the hunt for a postseason spot by thriving on the underdog role. While the Dolphins’ overall ATS record matches their 5-4 straight-up record, it’s the six games where they’ve been a dog that stand out. Miami has covered the number in four of those games, won three outright and should have won all four.
The trend started in Week 1 when Miami went to Seattle getting (+10.5), had the outright win seemingly in the bag before the Seahawks stole a 12-10 win. But Fish bettors got the money. In their current four-game winning streak, Miami has three outright upsets. They beat the Steelers 30-15, a spread blowout where they were getting (+7.5). The Dolphins knocked off the Bills 28-25 while getting (+2.5). And their most recent road trip to San Diego saw them get (+4) and win the game 31-24.
As good as Miami has been as an underdog, they’ve been just as shaky in the handful of games they’ve been favored. The ATS record as the favorite is 1-2. One of those was a 30-17 loss at home to Tennessee. The other was an overtime escape against woeful Cleveland in a situation that was the reverse of the Seattle game—the Dolphins richly deserved to lose against the Browns, managed to escape, but still cost their backers money at the window.
Is there anything that explains why Miami plays better in underdog situations? We can start with the fact the run the football extremely well. Jay Ajayi needs to start getting more attention league-wide His 725 yards rank sixth in the league and his 5.7 yards-per-attempt is easily the highest of the top 30 running backs. Miami’s overall ground game, as measured in yards-per-carry, is as effective as the one in Dallas.
Miami’s offensive line does an effective job sealing the edges of the pocket. This is a unit whose strength is at the tackles and they’re in the upper half of the league at keeping Ryan Tannehill upright. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, Ndamakong Suh and Cameron Wake are having big years on the defensive front.
When you can run the ball and protect the quarterback, that’s a good starting point for keeping games close as an underdog. Add a couple disruptors like Suh and Wake and you’re in business.
The negatives in the Dolphins start with taking care of the ball. Ryan Tannehill has thrown seven interceptions and is still a mistake-prone quarterback. This team also fumbles the ball too much. Turnovers are a good way to prop up an inferior team, something Miami is also all-to-familiar with.
When you break down the personnel, Miami is abnormally weak on the interior of the offensive line. It begs the questions of whether Ajayi can continue his strong performance as the year wears on, his body wears down and the ability to compensate for subpar blocking from the guards starts to decrease. It’s a lot to ask.
We’re about to find out how the Dolphins can handle the favorite role when they host the Rams this Sunday and give (-1.5). The next game is at home with the 49ers where Miami is likely to be favored by significantly more. If this recent surge is for real, we’ll see the Dolphins take care of business and put money in the pockets of their bettors. If not...well, a road trip to Baltimore is after that and they can return to the preferred role of the underdog.