Miami at Baltimore (-3, 37), 8:25 pm ET, CBS/NFLN
It’s been nearly an entire decade since the Dolphins covered the spread of a game against the Ravens, last doing so in a 22-16 overtime win back in ’07. You’ve got to go back 20 years and a week for the last time the Dolphins picked up a win in Baltimore, way back in their first visit back in 1997.
Karim Abdul-Jabbar, the running back unrelated to the Hall of Fame center, scored three touchdowns to fuel the victory. That’s a blast from the past. While history may not be on Miami’s side as they visit Baltimore, the form the current Ravens have put on display of late could ease their burden.
In danger of missing the playoffs for the third straight season, something they’ve never done under John Harbaugh, the Ravens are hoping to even their record at 4-4 with a win over the Dolphins. Although Baltimore didn’t qualify for the postseason in its first four years after relocating from Cleveland, it has been part of the AFC playoff picture more than it hasn’t since winning Super Bowl XXXV in 2000. Harbaugh qualified in each of his first five seasons, but will need a strong finish to avoid missing out for the fourth time over his last five.
From that standpoint, there’s tremendous pressure to get off to a good start and pick up this win in a short week to move forward within striking distance of a playoff spot entering the season’s second half. Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti gave his GM Ozzie Newsome, Harbaugh and QB Joe Flacco a vote of confidence by stating his belief in their competence and his preference for patience, but since he felt the need to do that, there’s definitely cause for concern that the foundation is crashing.
Harbaugh is a perfect 5-0 at home on Thursday nights, and actually told his team’s fans this week that “there are going to be good times ahead for Joe Flacco. Stick with him.”
Flacco has yet to throw for even 250 yards this season, topping out at 235 in a 26-9 loss to Pittsburgh. He hasn’t trusted the offensive line since it lost its most valuable member, Marshal Yanda, in the opening month. The former Super Bowl MVP has thrown eight interceptions and just five touchdowns through the first seven games, so maybe facing the team he’s lit up most over the past three seasons will help him snap out of a season-long funk. Flacco threw four touchdown passes in last December’s 38-6 rout of the Dolphins, utilizing advantages the Ravens had against the linebackers and DBs to post a season-best 36 completions. Dennis Pitta, who was lost to a dislocated hip in training camp, scored two touchdowns among his nine receptions for 90 yards.
Injuries have continued to play a role in the demise of the Ravens offense, which comes off being held to just 16 points in Minnesota, which is misleading since they scored with no time left after driving down the field against a defense more interested in watching the seconds tick away. Had rookie Chris Moore not tapped his toe to get both feet in on the final play of regulation on Sunday, not only would the ‘under’ for that game have come in, but Flacco would carry a touchdown-less streak of 13 quarters into Thursday night’s game. As it is, he’s thrown two TD passes in his last 22 quarters.
The defense Miami will bring into town is much improved from the version Flacco dominated 10 months ago. Linebackers Rey Maualuga and Lawrence Timmons were elsewhere last season, while Kiko Alonso continues to make plays. Up front, Cameron Wake had 2.5 sacks to help put away the Jets last week as the Dolphins rallied from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit to win 31-28 despite losing starting QB Jay Cutler to broken ribs that will keep him out here. Backup Matt Moore, who threw for a pair of scores and 188 yards to help execute the comeback, will start for the first time since last season’s AFC Wild Card playoff loss to Pittsburgh.
The Dolphins are in position to join the Steelers, Chiefs and Patriots at 5-2 with a victory here, which would be impressive since they’re now on their third quarterback after losing Ryan Tannehill and now Cutler. This injury isn’t likely to keep him out long, but since the offense was inconsistent with him at the helm, it’s entirely possible that Moore can keep the job if he continues to excel.
Season win total: 7 (Over -130, Under +110)
Odds to win AFC East: 18/1 to 15/1
Odds to win AFC: 50/1 to 50/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1 to 100/1
Season win total: 8.5 (Over +130, Under -150)
Odds to win AFC North: 6/1 to 10/1
Odds to win AFC: 50/1 to 100/1
Odds to win Super Bowl: 100/1 to 200/1
Despite the comeback win over the Jets and the possibility of joining the AFC’s elite, record-wise, the Dolphins numbers remained the same as they were the previous week. The books clearly aren’t big believers in Cutler or Moore. Since they’re in the same division as New England, they’re not going to get much love. Still, merely from the standpoint that they’ve gotten off to a successful start and that injuries can pop up at any time to derail seasons, it might be worthwhile to get in on some Dolphins futures if you think they’re going to pick up a win here.
The Ravens are also potentially lucrative. Considering the coaching staff knows what it takes to be successful against the AFC’s elite teams, you can be confident in the leadership if nothing else. Flacco has been shaky and injuries have compromised any and all depth, so if I had to choose between these two longshots to back long-term, Miami gets my vote.
As far as this matchup is concerned, the Ravens were installed as a 4.5-point favorite when the Westgate’s early numbers were announced, opening the week at 3.5 at a few shops but quickly moving to 3, which is where at resides pretty much everywhere as of gameday morning. The total opened at 37-37.5, but is now most widely available at 37.
Baltimore is in the -160 range on the money line if you don’t want to lay the possession just to flirt with a push, while backing the Dolphins outright will get you +140.
Scott Cooley of Bookmaker.eu conveyed what his shop is seeing as of Wednesday afternoon.
“Currently, the action for TNF is fairly split. We took a little bit of sharp money on the Ravens early, but then received just about the sames sharp money on Miami at +3.5,” Cooley said. “The public likes the Dolphins with a 60-40 split. Smart money on the under as well. Despite the win streak, I don’t know if you can call the Dolphins ‘hot’ due to the nature of those victories, and this feels like a game Baltimore has to have.”
Beyond missing Cutler, the Dolphins have injury issues along the offensive line and at receiver. Left guard Anthony Steen has been ruled out, necessitating a reshuffling up front. Jesse Davis will start. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil (knee) is questionable but should play, which is fortuntate since Miami would really have to get creative if he can’t go. WR DeVante Parker has been absent for the better part of two games but is hoping to return from an ankle injury to push Jarvis Landry and Kenny Stills for targets. DE Andre Branch and DT Jordan Phillips are also questionable.