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Monday Night Football Preview: Miami Dolphins at New Orleans Saints

Monday Night Football Preview


Line: Dolphins -2.5, Total: 37


Tua Time?

Quietly the second-hottest team in the NFL – behind Kansas City – is the Miami Dolphins, who have won six games in a row following a 1-7 start. While the playoffs are still unlikely (17% chance according to FiveThirtyEight), it’s been a remarkable turnaround by a team that was basically left for dead. Plus, they traded their first-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft as part of the trade-up deal made with the Eagles (the pick Miami used to draft wide receiver Jaylen Waddle), meaning they wouldn’t even reap the benefits of a poor season. There was also talk about the job security of the GM, Chris Grier, the head coach Brian Flores and the quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.

While discussion around Grier and Flores has quieted considerably, there are still questions surrounding whether Tua is the guy moving forward. The Dolphins are expected to pursue Deshaun Watson in the offseason if there is clarity on his legal situation. Tagovailoa’s numbers don’t provide the best measure of his abilities either, and he has one of the more unique stat lines of any NFL quarterback. For example, Tua’s average air yards per attempt of 6.8 is the second-lowest mark in the league; only Detroit’s Jared Goff averages fewer yards per pass at 6.6.

Generally, passers who utilize more short-game tosses are not “aggressive passers” because defenders generally aren’t in tight coverage that close to the line of scrimmage. However, Tua is the second-most aggressive passer in the league according to Next Gen Stats, with a 19.2% aggressive pass rate (defined as a pass thrown to a receiver whose nearest defender is within one yard at pass arrival). Only Ben Roethlisberger is higher at 19.4%. Interestingly, Roethlisberger also utilizes shorter passes (7.0 IAY); Daniel Jones is the only other qualified passer with an aggressive rating above 16% and an IAY under 7.5.

Additionally, quarterbacks who utilize the short passing game have low marks in terms of xCOMP % +/- since they are expected to complete a higher percentage of throws. However, Tua ranks third in the NFL in that category, posting a +3.1 mark so far this season; only Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow (+5.5) and Arizona’s Kyler Murray (+3.9) are better. Tua ranks just ahead of Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers (+2.9), Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins (+2.4) and Dallas’ Dak Prescott (+2.2) – pretty good company for the second-year signal caller. However, his 14 touchdown passes to eight interceptions leaves a lot to be desired. The list of quarterbacks who have fewer than 15 touchdown passes and at least eight interceptions includes less-impressive company: rookies Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Davis Mills plus less-than-stellar veterans Mike Glennon, Mike White, and Sam Darnold. Is Tua the guy in Miami? After nearly two seasons, the answer appears to still be “we don’t know.”

*All ranks are entering Week 16


Trending in Opposite Directions

With Miami currently on a six-game winning streak, it stands to reason the team has been strong against-the-spread. The only game during the winning streak that the Dolphins failed to cover was last week against the Jets when they won 31-24 as 10-point favorites. Through its first eight games, Miami was 2-5-1 ATS, and the recent hot stretch brings them to 7-6-1 on the season. New Orleans was initially favored in this game but after quarterbacks, Taysom Hill and Trevor Siemian were ruled out and it was announced that rookie Ian Book would make his first career start, the line flipped in Miami’s favor. That’s bad news for the Dolphins because they are 2-5 ATS in their last seven games as a road favorite, but 10-4-1 ATS as road underdogs in their last 15. However, Miami remains a great bet in the colder months, going 17-7 ATS in the second half of the season since 2019.

On the other side, the Saints had been struggling with a five-game losing skid from the start of November through the first week of December but have won two straight including a 9-0 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday night. It’s been an up-and-down season that has resulted in a perfectly even 7-7 record against-the-spread. The change from Saints favored to Dolphins favored also benefits New Orleans, which is 8-3-1 ATS in the last 12 as a home underdog (though it has failed to cover the last two) but 7-11 ATS in its last 18 as a home favorite. Another reason to side with the Saints is their 18-6 ATS mark since 2019 when facing a poor passing defense (allowing 235+ yards per game). The tickets that have been placed thus far are leaning slightly toward Miami (54%), but the money is heavily on the Dolphins (83%) and that includes sharp action.