4:25 PM EST, FOX – Line: Dolphins -1.5, Over/Under: 51.5
For those looking for an early gift on Christmas Eve, feast your eyes on South Beach this evening, where a pair of division leaders clash with major postseason implications on the line as the Miami Dolphins play host to the Dallas Cowboys from Hard Rock Stadium. Here we go again with the Cowboys (10-4, 1st in NFC East) who after utterly dominating the opposition during their recent 5-game win streak have once again failed in a stiff road test against an elite opponent, causing the sporting world to openly question their legitimacy among Super Bowl contenders. That was the case in last weekend’s trip to Buffalo, in which (Head Coach) Mike McCarthy’s troops entered a hostile environment under wintery conditions against a quality opponent desperate to build momentum. Indeed, if there was a game that would have bought this team plenty of good will with their detractors, it was THIS matchup: an interconference affair ripe with history given their back-to-back encounters in Super Bowls XXVII and XXVIII, which launched their dynasty during the early 90s. Well, perhaps last Sunday’s 10-31 loss at Orchard Park was three decades of karma in the making, but no matter how you slice it, Big D laid a BIG egg, which could very well keep them from earning the number one overall seed in the NFC and maybe even the division crown. This one was about as one-sided as it gets, folks, as the visitors punted on five of their first six drives of the evening before (veteran Quarterback) Dak Prescott was intercepted early in the fourth quarter. Apart from amassing sixty-one yards on eleven plays to get on the board with a field goal in the second quarter, the only other possession that McCarthy’s troops managed to amass more than twenty-three yards was their final drive of the day, a 15-play, 80-yard march that mercifully ended with a consolation courtesy of (Pro-Bowl Receiver) CeeDee Lamb. In the end, the highest-scoring offense in the NFL was relegated to a mere 195 total yards on fourteen first downs, converting just 5-of-13 third downs, and possessing the football for only 24:55 of game time. Defensively, (Defensive Coordinator) Dan Quinn’s unit couldn’t stop the Bills in shipping 351 total yards on twenty-eight first downs, including a ridiculous 266 rushing yards on forty-nine carries, which proved to be the most rushing yardage given up since Quinn arrived back in 2021. Prescott (pictured below), who had been playing an MVP level for around two months, really struggled in this tilt, completing 21-of-34 passes for a mere 134 yards and an interception, while suffering three sacks and seven hits along the way. It really was a jarring showing from a guy who been on a real tear; over the previous eight games, the 30-year-old had completed an efficient 69.3% of his throws for an average of 305.5 yards on a healthy 7.89 net yards per attempt, with TWENTY-FOUR total touchdowns in comparison to just two turnovers. The offense during that period had ascended to the top spot in the league, scoring 35.8 points per contest on 415.3 total yards, posting 40+ points on four different occasions and converting nearly half (49.1%) of their third downs. Critics will be quick to point out that the bulk of that stretch came at home, with five of those games coming at AT&T Stadium, whereas they are quite a different side away from North Texas. In seven road games thus far, the Cowboys are 3-4 with a point differential of -4 and a turnover margin -6, in which they have been outscored by a whopping SEVENTY points against the Niners, Eagles, Bills, and yes, even the Cardinals. Now, McCarthy & Co will remain on the road for a clash with the other highest-scoring team in the NFL, who must be licking their chops after Buffalo trampled them on the ground. Here comes another test, Dallas… Will you pass it?
From a betting perspective, the Cowboys may be 10-4 straight-up, but they have been almost as rewarding against the spread this Fall, posting a 9-5 record in that regard. This is a team that has suffered all four of their outright losses away from the friendly confines of AT&T Stadium, while owning a 3-4 mark against the spread on the road thus far. Coincidentally, the tougher teams that they’ve encountered in such tilts have given them all kinds of problems; the likes of San Francisco (+3.5), Philadelphia (+3.5), and most recently Buffalo (+2.5) have hammered them by a combined score of 101-43. Furthermore, McCarthy’s troops have failed to over FIVE consecutive games overall as an underdog along with five in a row as a road dog, while also posting five straight non-covers on the road against teams with winning records. With that said, it isn’t all doom and gloom for Dallas on this front, for they have been a team that generally bounced back well following a poor defensive performance, posting a stellar 8-0-1 mark against the spread in their past nine games after allowing thirty or more points, which is the case this evening. Looking at this particular matchup, these sides historic franchises have met just five times since the turn of the century, with the Cowboys dominating the series with four consecutive victories (3-1 ATS). When they last crossed paths, Dallas ran roughshod in a 31-6 affair back in 2019, which saw Big D head into halftime with a narrow 10-6 lead only to erupt with TWENTY-ONE unanswered points in the second half. The hosts outgained the visitors 476-283, outrushed them 235-72, and relegated them to a combined 4-of-18 on third and fourth down. Dallas was so unstoppable in this one, that they posted all of that yardage despite being flagged eight times for a loss of 100 yards. In his only encounter with Miami, Prescott completed 19-of-32 passes for 246 yards, two touchdowns and an interception, while rushing for another score to boot, but the stars of this show were the Tailbacks. Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard each crossed the 100-yard threshold, with the latter needing just thirteen carries to earn 103 yards and a touchdown. On the injury front, (veteran Defensive Tackle) Jonathan Hankins (ankle/knee) is expected to miss his second consecutive contest, while both (veteran Receiver) Brandin Cooks and (veteran Cornerback) are both listed as questionable after recovering from an illness that swept through the locker room. Furthermore, (versatile Safety) Malik Hooker is in the same boat, though with a tender ankle after missing the trip to Buffalo as well. Looking ahead, the gauntlet ends next weekend at home against the NFC North-leading Lions, in matchup that figures to be ripe with postseason implications, as McCarthy & Co look to remain ahead of Philadelphia in the race for the division crown, with both teams nipping at the heels of the Niners for the number one seed in the NFC.
Meanwhile, they may not have drawn as much criticism as their opponent of late, but the Dolphins (10-4, 1st in AFC East) have been in a similar boat this Fall. In 2023, Miami has emerged as the most prolific offensive side in the NFL, racking up a whopping 424.8 total yards per game, while overtaking Dallas as the highest scoring to boot at 31.5 points. With that said, like their counterpart this evening, Miami has quickly developed a reputation for steamrolling weaker competition, while coming up short against the league’s elite. Of their ten victories, NONE of their opponents are currently over .500, though the only one without a losing record is Denver, whom they utterly embarrassed in a 70-20 affair back in September. In those wins, they averaged 36.3 points on 450.2 total yards with a margin of victory of 19.7 points. Again, this production has come at the expense of some of the weakest teams in the NFL, including two victories apiece over the Patriots and Jets, who are a combined 8-20 thus far. Now, if we look at their four losses, we will see a very different story. Apart from a wild27-28 loss on Monday Night Football to the lowly Titans two weeks ago, (Head Coach) Mike McDaniel’s troops have been bested by the Bills, Eagles, and Chiefs, with all three of those teams winning their division last season and the latter two competing in Super Bowl LVII. In these tilts, the Dolphins found it much more difficult to carve up their opponents, posting just 17.0 points per game on 309.7 total yards, which is a stark contrast to what they’ve done to everyone else. So, what in the name of Larry Csonka has happened in these games, you ask? Well, those particular teams are not only good, but they are balanced on both sides of the football, possessing offenses that can not only keep pace with the ‘Fins, but patiently maneuver their way downfield while keeping that offense on the sideline. They also have defenses that can apply pressure to (young Quarterback) Tua Tagovailoa, forcing him to speed up his decision-making process; in those three losses, the league’s leader in both completion percentage (71.0%) and passing yards (3,921) was held to an average of 230.3 passing yards on 8.9 net yards per attempt, with three touchdowns in comparison to a pair of interceptions, with ten sacks and a plethora of pressures. Another reason for their struggles in those contests is that Buffalo, Philadelphia, and Kansas City were able to force them to play in a proverbial phone booth, which quite frankly is not what this team is built for. Sure, they rank fourth in in rushing yards () and first in yards per carry (5.1) and rushing touchdowns (26), but that is in large part due to their scheme and overall team speed, which is downright lethal. No team in the NFL is capable of putting more speed on the field play after play like Miami does, which when coupled with McDaniel’s effective play calling and pre-snap motion causes a wealth of problems for opposing defenses. At the root of all is (All-Pro Wideout) Tyreek Hill, who is unequivocally the premier vertical threat in the league. With NINETY-SEVEN receptions for 1,542 yards and a dozen touchdowns, no player alters a defense like the cheetah does, dragging coverage wherever he goes. Essentially, opposing defenses have to play so deep to anticipate his speed, that they leave all kinds of open space for the rest of the attack to exploit, particularly the ground game, which features two of the fastest Tailbacks in (veteran) Raheem Mostert and (electrifying rookie) De’Von Achane, with the former recently breaking the franchise record for most scrimmage touchdowns in a season (20), while the latter has averaged an insane 8.5 yards PER CARRY. Even without the presence of Hill (pictured below), the unit had their way with the lowly Jets last weekend, shutting them out in a 30-0 drubbing at Hard Rock Stadium. Despite being held below 300 total yards, the hosts made plays when they needed to, as Mostert breached the end zone twice, while Achane needed just twelve touches to amass sixty-two yards from scrimmage. As for Tagovailoa, he was deadly accurate in completing 21-of-24 passes for yards and a beautiful 60-yard touchdown to (third-year Receiver) Jaylen Waddle in perfect stride. Furthermore, the defense gets plenty of love in this one too, as (Defensive Coordinator) Vic Fangio’s unit has been playing very well of late, relegating New York to a scant 103 total yards on eleven first downs, including twenty-three rushing yards on twelve attempts, with SIX sacks and FOUR takeaways. (Pro-Bowl Edge-Rusher) Bradley Chubb had himself a performance for the ages, with THREE sacks, two forced fumbles, and seven tackles, while (veteran Safety) Brandon Jones intercepted Trevor Siemian twice. Turnovers have been a HUGE component of their success on this side of the football, with THIRTEEN of them in the five weeks since their bye.
From a betting perspective, the Dolphins may be 10-4 straight-up, but they too have been almost as rewarding against the spread, posting a 9-5 record in that regard. Like their opponent this evening, they too have generally struggled on the road against stiff competition, with three of their four outright defeat coming against away from Hard Rock Stadium against the likes of the Bills (20-48), Eagles (17-31), and Chiefs (14-21). Coincidentally, those were the only games this Fall in which they were either an underdog or favored by less than two points, which is notable given that they once again face such a spread against Dallas. Granted, this time they will have the benefit of playing at home, where they are 7-3 against the spread over their last ten outings on South Beach. That run against elite teams aside, Miami has typically been a solid bet against winning teams, covering FIVE consecutive home games versus opponents above .500. Looking at this particular matchup, this has been a very one-sided series of late, as the ‘Fins haven’t beaten Big D since a 40-21 blowout back in 2003. Since then, they have lost four straight encounters over the course of twenty years, covering just one of those meetings. When they last crossed paths in that 6-31 affair back in 2019, this was a franchise that was starting over in many respects, losing each of their first seven games of the Brian Flores era. Dallas was their third stop along the way, and despite keeping things relatively close (trailed 6-10 at halftime) for a bit, they ultimately couldn’t keep pace with a home side that rung up nearly 500 yards of total offense. Looking back, there aren’t that many faces leftover from that particular Dolphins side, what with the likes of Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick quarterbacking the visitors. (Defensive standouts) Christian Wilkins (5 tackles) and Xavien Howard (2 tackles) featured in this one for a defense that at times looked helpless to slow down the high-powered hosts. On the injury front, (Offensive Lineman) Robert Hunt is expected to miss another game due to a lingering hamstring strain, while a whole host of players are listed as questionable with various ailments. Achane was limited throughout the week of practice with a sore toe, while (Left Tackle) Terron Armstead (knee), (Linebacker) Andrew Van Ginkel (oblique), (Right Tackle) Austin Jackson (oblique), (Safety) Javon Holland (knee), Mostert (knee), and Howard (hip) are all in the same boat. Of course, the name to monitor is that of Hill, who missed last weekend’s drubbing of the Jets with a tender ankle, which once again has him listed as questionable to participate in this potential Super Bowl preview. Looking ahead, McDaniel & Co will continue their hellish stretch run next week at Baltimore, before returning home to host Buffalo, which very well could decide the AFC East depending on how the previous two weeks plays out.