Each week there are specific statistical mismatches in select NFL games that are wise to identify and analyze. For example, this week there is a really big one when Ezekiel Elliott, the league's leading rusher, takes on the Browns and the NFL's second-worst run defense (143.8 YPG). That's one of the more obvious mismatches of the Week 9 slate, but here are a few more to help with your handicapping.
New York Jets at Miami Dolphins (-3.5, 44)
Dolphins Pass Defense vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick
The only quarterbacks with a lower passer rating than Fitzpatrick's 68.0 for the season is wide receiver Terrell Pryor (67.4) and the washed-up Colin Kaepernick (66.2). Fitzpatrick, who's training camp holdout for a long-term contract gets more laughable by the week, has thrown a league-high 11 interceptions while completing just 56.1 percent of his passes. With little offensive support, Fitzpatrick has simply devolved into perhaps the worst QB in the league.
As for the Dolphins (3-4 SU, 3-4 ATS), they are riding a two-game winning streak both straight up and against the number. A big reason for this has been Miami's improving pass defense. Three straight games opponents have passed for 200 yards or less, which has lifted the Dolphins to 10th in the league against the pass (231.4 YPG).
Now with a respectable secondary, and the league's breakout star on offense in Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins are an intriguing option for the second-half of the season.
Detroit Lions at Minnesota Vikings (-6, 41)
Vikings Front Seven vs. Theo Riddick
The Lions (4-4 SU, 3-4-1 ATS) rank in the bottom-third of the NFL in total offense, and a big reason for this is their utter lack of a running game. Those fortunes don't figure to change this week against one of the league's dominant run defenses.
Detroit has averaged just 85.5 YPG on the ground this season, which is the fifth-fewest in the league, while the Vikings have allowed opponents just 92.6 rushing yards per game. Riddick leads the Lions in rushing despite averaging just 3.7 yards per carry, and he's reached the end zone just once on the ground all season. To add injury to insult, Riddick-who in fairness is an excellent pass-catcher out of the backfield-continues to deal with an ankle injury that's already forced him to miss two games.
Unfortunately for Detroit, establishing a semblance of a run game is a key for success against Minnesota. This is because the Vikings, who rank second in total defensive unit, have been even better against the pass. Opponents have averaged just 204.6 YPG through the air against Minnesota.
Given all that, it's easy to see why this game has such a low "over/under". It figures tough sledding for Matthew Stafford and the Lions. This one could turn into a slog.
Carolina Panthers at Los Angeles Rams (+3, 44)
Panthers Front Seven vs. Todd Gurley
Most wouldn't have foreseen Gurley being on the wrong side of a mismatch entering the season, but that's just what we have here. The former first-round pick has averaged just 3.0 YPC in his sophomore campaign. And despite 19.1 rushing attempts per game-which is the eight-most in the league-Gurley has reached paydirt only three times this season.
Of course, a big reason for Gurley's lack of production is because opponents are allowed to stack the box given the Rams sub-par passing game. This plays into the strength of the Carolina 'D'. While suspect on the back-end at times, the Panthers front seven has performed well this season. In addition to ranking in the Top 10 with 20 sacks, the Panthers front has held opponents to just 80.1 YPG on the ground. That's the third-lowest in the NFL.
For those still awaiting Gurley's breakout performance, it may be another week.
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