A pair of very surprising 4-3 teams will square off Sunday afternoon, as both the Dolphins and Colts will look to prolong their hopes of landing a playoff berth in the new year. Not much was expected from either Miami or Indianapolis, especially since they’re both led by rookie quarterbacks. But both Ryan Tannehill and Andrew Luck have fared admirably through the first eight weeks of the regular season, and will be looking for a key victory in Week 9. This game undoubtedly has playoff implications, and whichever team is fortunate enough to go to 5-3 on the season should have a decent shot come January.
Tannehill has been a huge surprise this season for the Dolphins. Many pundits scoffed at his selection in the NFL Draft this past April, and questioned his experience and readiness. But the former Texas A&M stud has proven the doubters wrong, and has been a solid leader for a surprisingly decent Dolphins squad. Though Tannehill enters this key clash against Indianapolis a tad banged up, all accounts say he should be ready to go for Sunday afternoon. ESPN’s Ed Werder reported he is “better than 50-50” to suit up, and will most likely be a game-time decision. Personally, I’d expect the kid to play. Tannehill has had his knee drained twice since last week’s victory and is improving. If he doesn’t end up starting, Miami is blessed to have a solid back-up quarterback in Matt Moore. Moore is a former starter in this league and is one of the top second-stringers in the NFL. Every game is big in the NFL, but a huge win against the Colts would give them their fourth-straight victory. And with games against the Titans and Bills on the horizon, a real opportunity for a playoff run could be facilitated with a victory in Indy.
Meanwhile for the Colts, they too sit at an impressive 4-3 record entering this contest. Andrew Luck has been as good as advertised thus far in 2012, and he is especially solid when playing on his home turf. Luck boasts a nearly 3:1 touchdown to interception ratio in the friendly confines of Lucas Oil Stadium, though going against a stout Miami defense will present a new challenge for the rookie quarterback. The Colts were dealt with a big blow this week as key cornerback Vontae Davis will miss Sunday’s game with a sprained knee. Davis was acquired from Miami in the pre-season, so it’s certainly a tough game to sit out for him. His replacement Cassius Vaughn has been shaky this season and will need to be better against an elusive receiving corps like Miami’s. Indy will also be without key tight-end Coby Fleener, and perhaps outside linebacker Robert Mathis, though recent reports suggest he should play. Despite their injuries, the opportunity to play at home against a conference foe with playoff implications should provide for an intense atmosphere at Lucas Oil Stadium. Whether or not the youthful Colts can handle the pressure, that we’ll find out on Sunday.
Dolphins vs. Colts Betting Odds:
Miami Dolphins -2 (-110)
@ Indianapolis Colts +2 (-110)
Over 43.5 (-110)
Under 43.5 (-110)
Betting odds taken from Bovada.lv
Dolphins vs. Colts Pick:
Expect this to be a very tightly contested affair, between two teams who would’ve never imagined being in this position back in August. The fact that the winner of this game can improve their record to 5-3 is pretty shocking given the pre-season predictions surrounding both camps. Andrew Luck and Ryan Tannehill are two of the most impressive rookie quarterbacks of recent memory, and we’ll see how the handle what should be a pressurized environment come Sunday.
Picking a side in this game seems like a coin-flip. With the uncertainty surrounding Tannehill, the Dolphins have split the reps in practice in the lead-up to this game. Add in the fact that the Colts are experiencing a wealth of injuries on both sides of the football, and selecting a winner won’t be easy.
For me, the value in this game lies on the Under. The Miami defense has been surprisingly stout in 2012, and that should continue against Indianapolis. Indianapolis does have success moving the football, but rank 24th in scoring offense. They’re inefficient in the red-zone and have been hurt by turnovers all season long. Going against a very opportunistic Dolphins’ defense won’t be an easy task for the inexperienced Colts. Miami is the NFL’s best team on third-downs, number two in the red zone, and fifth in scoring defense. Look for Cameron Wake to pressure the rookie Luck all day long, perhaps forcing the kid into some bad mistakes. This is a defense that hasn’t allowed more than two touchdowns in a single game since September, and expect a similar outing from Miami on Sunday.
On the other hand, Indianapolis has a great pass defense and will make moving the chains hard for whoever is at the helm for Miami. Even though Vontae Davis will miss this game, getting Mathis back will allow the Colts to pressure either Tannehill or Moore. Add in the fact that Miami’s run-heavy approach should kill valuable clock time, and a lot of signs point to a low-scoring affair on Sunday. Expect Miami to test what’s considered a vulnerable Colts’ run-defense, but given their improvements in recent weeks, the Dolphins, like the Colts, will have difficulty putting points on the board.
Look for a very see-saw, back-and-forth affair on Sunday afternoon. The crowd will be loud for what promises to be an intense game between AFC playoff rivals. Offenses will be stagnant however, combining to produce a low-scoring game, likely finishing in the mid-30’s range. If I had to pick a winner, I’d lean with the hometown Colts, especially considering the uncertainty at quarterback for Miami, but the Under 43.5 points seems like the more solid proposition in this one.
PICK = Under 43.5 (-110)