Cleveland Browns (4-7, 4-6-1 ATS) at Miami Dolphins (6-5, 7-4 ATS), Week 13 NFL, Sunday December 5th, 1:00PM Eastern Sun Life Stadium Miami, F.L.
By Jay Horne, Professional Sports Handicapper of Predictem.com
Betting Odds: Clev +4.5/Mia -4.5
Over/Under Total: 43
The Miami Dolphins scored a big victory last week 33-17 over the Oakland Raiders. The Dolphins entered that game as slight underdogs but exploded on the offensive side of the ball for 471 yards. As a result, the Dolphins climbed their way back above the .500 mark on the season at 6-5 and could possibly improve that record again this weekend when they host the 4-7 Cleveland Browns at Sun Life Stadium. The Browns barely escaped falling to the pitiful Carolina Panthers last week 24-23. The Panthers were actually in position for a game winning field goal, but John Kasay bounced a 42 yard field goal off the left upright which allowed the Browns to escape with the win.
Cleveland actually entered their meeting against Carolina as large 8 point favorites but failed to cover for their 3rd straight game. On the season, the Browns offense has been a disappointment averaging just 19.6 points per game. In fact, the Browns have not scored 20 plus points in any of their losses this season. Most of those problems start at the quarterback position where Colt McCoy, Seneca Wallace, and Jake Delhomme have all shared snaps behind center.
Delhomme filled in for the injured McCoy last week by hitting 24 of 35 passing for 245 yards, 0 scores, and 2 picks. Even though Delhomme moved the ball effectively, he still showed that he is subject to turning the ball over which has been his major concern since day 1. As a result, expect to see McCoy back as the starter after recuperating an ankle sprain this week against Miami. So far this season, McCoy has showed the most upside at the quarterback position completing 63% for 975 yards, 3 scores, and 3 picks.
Even with McCoy behind center, the Browns still must protect the football. One way the Browns have been effective even with trouble at the quarterback position is by getting the ball in the hands of running back Peyton Hillis. Hillis has been the main weapon for the Cleveland offense this season racking up 905 yards on the ground and also an additional 414 receiving yards. Hillis had a big game last week rushing for 131 yards and 3 scores in the Browns victory over Carolina. Therefore, the Miami defense will definitely have to focus on stopping the Browns number 1 offensive threat by knowing where he is on the field at all times.
The good news for Dolphins fans is that their defense has been solid all season ranking 6th in the NFL allowing just 305 yards per game. Miami has an excellent pass defense that has only given up 201 yards per game and a pass rush that has been equally effective led by DE Cameron Wake who is 2nd in the NFL with 10.5 sacks on the season. Therefore, if the Dolphins can play strong against the run I believe they will have the opportunity to rattle the inconsistent quarterback play of the Browns. If Cleveland does not get the ball moving on the ground, they will have their work cut out on the offensive side of the ball if they have to resort to the air attack.
On the Miami offensive side of the ball, the Dolphins have only averaged 18.6 points per game this season which ranks a miserable 29th in the NFL. However last week even without Dolphins star wide out Brandon Marshall, the offense came to life behind QB Chad Henne. Henne has battled a knee injury over the last few weeks but connected on 17 of 30 passing for 307 yards, 2 scores, and 1 pick. Receivers Brian Hartline and Davone Bess picked up the slack on offense. Hartline caught 4 passes for 75 yards while Bess racked up 111 receiving yards in the victory. With Marshall still questionable again this week, look for both receivers to try and step up again this Sunday.
Up front on offense, Miami has definitely had a disappointing season running the football. Ronnie Brown leads the team with just 539 rushing yards while Ricky Williams has tallied an additional 496 yards. Cleveland has not been the best defense against the run this season, but I’m still not convinced that Miami can rack up a ton of yards on the ground as well. However if the Dolphins offense can get another big performance from Henne, I believe they will have the chance to put up another big number on the scoreboard. More importantly I expect the Dolphins defense to put the offense in good field position often in this game. Let’s face it; the Browns are just not playing well and I think that will result in another failed cover.
Jay’s pick to cover the point spread: Miami -4.5.