St Louis Rams vs Miami Dolphins: MIA -3
Despite the Miami Dolphins competitive start to the season, the markets are increasingly respecting the St Louis Rams. Back in the offseason Vegas had the Dolphins favored -4.5 in this game. Before Week 5, it was adjusted to -3.5 in the look-ahead line. As of today, it's sitting at -3.25 thanks to early money coming in on the Rams. This essentially means we can grab -3 at an affordable price.
I understand the love for St Louis because not many people were higher on them entering the season than I was, but I don't think the early money on them can be justified statistically or situationally.
Before I get to the X's and O's, let's consider how the Rams play at home vs on the road. They have three wins at home over the Seahawks, Cardinals, and Redskins. When they travel, they've lost to the Bears and Lions.
I'm not going to say there is a dramatic difference between the two, because St Louis was very competitive in both of their road games. Yet, the wins they've had at home weren't scrape and claw type games either. With the help of the crowd noise, their defense completely shutdown Arizona and Seattle, and gave them a boost of momentum in their comeback over Washington.
For a team that needs all the help it can get, the aid of a home dome crowd isn't something they have on the road. I think as the season plays out, we'll see a wider split between the Rams at home vs the Rams on the road.
Offense: Advantage Dolphins?
I never thought I'd be making an argument in favor of the Miami offense this season, but the stats don't lie. Ryan Tannehill is progressing faster than everybody expected and Brian Hartline is emerging as a legitimate threat on the outside (despite what the owner says). Beyond the stats, Tannehill is also passing the eye-ball test. He seems fearless in the pocket and isn't afraid to take chances against the rush. These are the kind of characteristics you want from a rookie quarterback going forward.
Conversely, Sam Bradford has lost his favorite (and most important) target for the foreseeable future. Danny Amendola went out with a scary injury last week, so Steve Smith is expected back in the lineup for this game. I like Smith and think he's servicable, but Amendola was perhaps the most underrated receiver in the game. He caught everything thrown his way, moved the chains on key downs, and bailed Bradford out when plays broke down. For a team already short of established wideouts, this loss could be devastating.
Yet, the biggest advantage for the Dolphins offense has nothing to do with skill position players. The Rams D-line went to town on the Arizona tackles last week, but won't have the same advantage in Week 6. The Miami O-line ranks near the top of the list in pass protection thus far, while the Rams rank near the bottom. It's always hard to trust a rookie QB, but when he's getting superior protection his chances for success improve considerably.
I talk a lot about this statline because it is so consistently linked to wins and losses in this league. If you want to know what the true identity of a team is, look to see how they perform on third down and in the red zone on both sides of the ball.
One of the primary reasons I haven't gone against the Dolphins this year is because of these numbers. I don't think anyone would be surprised that Miami ranks in the top 10 in third down/red zone defense, but put up your hand if you think they rank in the top half of the league offensively, too. Naturally, the offense hasn't been as consistent, but the Dolphins haven't achieved these stats against a weak schedule either.
Defensively, the Rams match up very well against the Dolphins, but the same can't be said for their offense. Offensively, St Louis rank near the bottom in these critical categories. When you consider Amendola is out, and Steven Jackson isn't running like he used to, this is a big advantage for Miami. The home crowd is only going to compound the issue.
If I was setting this line I'd actually have Miami favored by five points. With a little luck, this Miami team could easily be 4-1. Grab the key number of three and ride the home team.
NFL Pick: MIA -3.