Free NFL Picks: Miami Dolphins at Pittsburgh Steelers Odds and Expert Predictions
by Alan Matthews - 1/5/2017
The Dolphins and Steelers are two of the marquee franchises in the AFC and both have rich playoff histories. It's just that the two haven't been good together in a long while as they meet in the first of two wild-card games on Sunday. The two franchises have played three times in the postseason, with the Dolphins holding a 2-1 edge.
But they haven't played since the AFC Championship Game following the 1984 season. The Dolphins were quarterbacked by some second-year kid named Dan Marino, who grew up in Pittsburgh and went to Pitt. Marino had a 1984 season for the ages in setting then-NFL records with 5,084 yards and 48 touchdowns. The Dolphins won that game, too, 45-28 at the old Orange Bowl. Marino threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns to reach his first Super Bowl. Pretty much everyone thought it would be the first of many Super Bowl trips for Marino, but of course he never got back.
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This Miami team is the No. 6 seed and in the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Adam Gase has done a fantastic job in his first year as head coach and deserves Coach of the Year consideration, although he won't win it. Pittsburgh is the AFC North champion and No. 3 seed. The Steelers were my preseason choice to win the AFC title, and I'm not getting off that yet even though they will have to win in Kansas City and then almost surely New England the next two weeks assuming they beat Miami. This is only the Steelers' second home playoff game since 2011. They were upset at Heinz Field by Baltimore following the 2014 season.
Dolphins at Steelers Betting Story Lines
Let's start with the primary news surrounding this game: whether Dolphins starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill will return from his sprained ACL and MCL in his left knee after missing the past three games. The answer: no as Tannehill still hasn't practiced once since the injury and Gase decided not to even risk further injury. Tannehill might play next week if the Fins pull the upset. So will be long-time backup Matt Moore, who actually has a better QB rating (105.6) than Tannehill does (93.5) this season. Moore hasn't ever played in a postseason game, but then neither has Tannehill.
Because I think Miami will lose here, it's probably the final game as the team's defensive coordinator for Vance Joseph. Reports are he's likely to be hired by the Broncos to replace retired head coach Gary Kubiak. He originally wanted to bring Joseph on as his defensive coordinator when he took the job in 2015, but the Bengals wouldn't let Joseph out of his contract when he was their defensive backs coach. Miami actually only ranked 29th in total defense but 18th in points allowed and Joseph is highly regarded around the NFL.
Take nothing from either team's Week 17 result as neither had anything to play for. The Dolphins were crushed the Patriots 35-14, which officially clinched the AFC's top seed for New England. Those two would play again next week in Foxboro should the Fins pull the upset here. It was only the Dolphins' second loss in their past 11 games.
Pittsburgh totally mailed it in by resting most of its starters in a 27-24 overtime comeback win over Cleveland. That's about all I have to say about that. It was the Steelers' seventh straight win, however. In the last 10 seasons, 13 teams entered the postseason on a streak of six-plus wins. Only seven won their first playoff game, just three reached the Super Bowl and none won it all. The one injury concern for Pittsburgh is tight end Ladarius Green, who is in the NFL's concussion protocol. But he has been practicing, so it seems like he will play barring a setback. Green was quite productive the few times he was healthy this year.
These teams met in Miami in Week 6. The Dolphins were 1-4 and written off for dead. But their season changed that day with a dominant 30-15 victory. Ben Roethlisberger injured his knee in the game, missing the final series of the first half. He was back after intermission but just wasn't the same and threw for only 189 yards with two picks. Miami running back Jay Ajayi was the star with 204 yards (fourth-most ever vs. Pittsburgh) and two touchdowns on 25 carries. Tannehill was solid with no turnovers.
Dolphins at Steelers Betting Odds and Trends
At 5Dimes , Pittsburgh is an 11.5-point favorite (+115) with a total of 46. On the moneyline, the Steelers are -470 and Dolphins +375. There are many alternate lines. Some interesting ones: Steelers -9.5 (-120), -10 (-110), -10.5 (+100) and -15 (+170); Dolphins +6.5 (+165), +7.5 (+124) and +14.5 (-190). Miami was 9-7 against the spread (5-3 on road) and 12-4 "over/under" (5-3 on road). Pittsburgh was 9-6-1 ATS (4-3-1 at home) and 6-10 O/U (4-4 at home).
The Dolphins are 6-2 ATS in their past eight vs. the AFC. They are 3-7 ATS in their past 10 vs. teams with a winning record. The Steelers are 6-1 ATS in their past seven home playoff games. They are 4-1-1 ATS in their past seven after a win. Pittsburgh is 0-3-2 ATS in its past five playoff games overall. The over is 6-0 in Miami's past six. It's 4-1 in the Dolphins' past five vs. teams with a winning record. The under is 14-6 in Pittsburgh past 20 overall. The underdog is 4-1 ATS in the past five meetings.
Dolphins at Steelers Betting Prediction
The Steelers' past two postseasons ended without at least one of their stars on the field. Last year in the divisional round in Denver, Antonio Brown was out with a concussion suffered on a dirty hit the week before vs. Cincinnati. And Le'Veon Bell had suffered a season-ending injury earlier. In the 2014 season, the Steelers lost at home to the Ravens without an injured Bell, so this will be his playoff debut. Bell might have been in the MVP discussion this season if he wasn't suspended four games as he rushed for 1,268 yards and seven touchdowns and caught 75 passes for 616 yards and two scores in 12 games.
I don't see Moore leading an upset here. But 11.5 points seems rather high. So I'll take the points. The weather in Pittsburgh on Sunday afternoon calls for highs of just 20 but little chance of snow. Needless to say, the warm-weather Dolphins won't much like that. Go under the total.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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