In the early hours of a football Sunday, London will be treated to another instant classic, this time watching the 1-4 Miami Dolphins take on the 0-5 Jacksonville Jaguars. The Dolphins opened up their season with an extremely tough schedule, and looking ahead they can convince themselves that they can still be a playoff team. But they will need to win this game for that dream to stay alive. The Jaguars have been written off by the public and relentlessly ridiculed after some negative publicity around their head coach, but on the field they have been improving in each game as they attempt to rebuild around Trevor Lawrence. They are playing with passion and I see no evidence on the field that this team has given up on its coach. It’s not the most exciting set-up, but a little wager can make any game exciting. So that’s what we’ll do here.
The Dolphins have played abysmal football all year and rank 32nd in performance. The Jaguars have at least shown signs of life in recent games and currently rank 29th. In other words, my numbers suggest the wrong team could be favored here, unless Tua elevates the Dolphins significantly above what they were with Brissett.
Baseline: JAC by 2.94.
The JAC Offense
The Jaguars looked lost in their opening game against Houston. The game was too fast for Lawrence and, instead of relying on James Robinson (an excellent running back), Meyer put the game entirely on his young quarterback. This was a mistake. He did the same thing against Denver. But since then, this team’s offense has found its identity. They can really run the ball when they win the line battle, and they’ve had several touchdown drives were they just pounded it down the defense’s throat. This has allowed Lawrence to get much more comfortable, and his talent is beginning to show. He looks more fluid and confident, like the game has slowed down for him. He is reading pressure much better and when given time in the pocket he has thrown all over the field.
The Jaguars offense boils down to whether they can be successful on the ground. So it’s a good thing for them that the Dolphins allow the 6th-highest yards per carry. They do not have the size and strength on the defensive line to overpower the Jaguars, and so Robinson should have a good day. The Dolphins also rely on blitzing to get pressure, but without Xavien Howard I don’t think they have the coverage on the back end to get away with it, unless Lawrence is totally blindsided and folds under pressure. His mobility will help him out here, as I think he will get away from pressure a fair amount and extend plays with his legs.
Provided Lawrence can avoid key mistakes, the Jaguars should be able to move the ball well and get in the end zone. That’s a gamble, of course, as Lawrence has played far from mistake-free football to date and the Dolphins do love to pressure. But I lean in his favor, because the Jags have improved every week and I expect that to continue with such a promising young player at the helm.
Projection: JAC offense will meet expectations.
The MIA Offense
I expect Tua to start for Miami, which is good news for the Dolphins. Brissett was aggressive under center, looking downfield, trying to escape pressure and make plays happen. This would have been fine, except the offensive line is one of the worst in the NFL and the receivers weren’t getting consistent separation. So Brissett ended up getting pressured too frequently and holding the ball too long. Tua is more accurate and more decisive than Brissett and should give his team a chance to move the ball against a weak secondary.
But Tua has yet to prove that he can consistently throw downfield. Last year the offense was as vanilla as it gets. He frequently only looked at half the field, threw short, and did not progress through reads. He only had one game against the Patriots and two drives against the Bills to show his improvement this season, but his offensive line did not allow him to evolve. He is not particularly mobile and struggles with pressure. Not a great combination when playing behind a bad offensive line. And he won’t get much help from the run game, as the 26th-ranked Miami rushing attack faces off against the 6th-best rushing defense of the Jags.
So it will come down to whether Tua, coming off injury, can take the heat in the pocket and throw accurately downfield. I would have some hope for this, except his two best receivers (Parker and Fuller) will not be playing. He will need to rely on rookie Jaylen Waddle, tight end Mike Gesicki, Preston Williams, and the running backs. There is some talent there, and I expect some big plays against a poor defense. But this is not an offense built for consistent success. Drives will stall, with a sack or a tipped pass at the line, or a drop, or a throw into coverage. This could be the Dolphins best offensive performance of the season and it still would not be great.
Projection: MIA offense will meet expectations.
The Game Flow
I think this will be a tight game that sees plenty of neutral game scripts. But if the Dolphins take the lead, I do not anticipate they will be able to bury the Jags as they will not be able to run well and they lack the defensive backs to prevent a comeback. This leaves open the possibility that the Jags will come back and win, or at least cover 3 points as an underdog. If, on the other hand, the Jags take the early lead, they could lean on James Robinson and keep the ball away from Tua. Tua’s accuracy helps him in garbage time, but in a tight game I see the Jags causing him trouble.
The Jaguars are the better team and win their first game of the season, 26-20. Lawrence continues to improve as he gets comfortable, and Tua continues to struggle under pressure. But the real difference in the game is that the Jags generate three times more rushing yards than the Dolphins, helping them achieve balanced success that carries them to the win.
I gave this bet to my Members earlier in the week and added to it today, so my official bets on this game include: JAC +3.5 (-110) (1 Unit), JAC Moneyline (+165) (0.5 Units), and JAC +3 (-112) (1 Unit).
I would play this up to JAC +3 (-120) or play the money line up to (+125).
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