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Oct 12, 2017

NFL preview: Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons

Live Dolphins vs. Falcons odds

Will Matt Ryan continue to impress?

Dolphins vs. Falcons betting: Is there only one winner?

NFL preview: Miami Dolphins at Atlanta Falcons

Week 6 in the NFL could be a season-defining week for some teams. The Miami Dolphins, currently 2-2 and bottom of the AFC East, travel to Atlanta for the weekend’s highlight fixture. The home team are heavy favourites in the Dolphins vs. Falcons betting, but is there value elsewhere in the Dolphins vs. Falcons odds? Read on to find out. 

Live Dolphins vs. Falcons odds

Post Super Bowl syndrome

For those who wish to factor in psychological aspects into their NFL betting, no side in the 2017 NFL would appear to have greater sporting demons to overcome than the Atlanta Falcons, the defeated team from Super Bowl LI - the currently sit second in the NFC South with a 3-1 record.

A 28-3 lead over the New England Patriots, midway through the third quarter was transformed into a 34-28 overtime defeat in one of the most extraordinary comebacks in the history of sport, never mind just the NFL.

The evidence from subsequent performances from other defeated Super Bowl teams since the advent of the four divisions per conference in 2002, also appears to show teams struggling to overcome a possibly career defining defeat in that year’s most important game.

While it would be unprecedented for Miami’s efficiency ratings to remain as low as they currently are, based simply on 2017, Atlanta’s money line advantage improves to around 85%.

Eleven of the 14 defeated sides recorded inferior win/loss records in the season immediately following their Super Bowl loss. But are we merely seeing the natural regression associated with very good teams who also enjoyed a degree of unsustainable luck or is there a real Super Bowl hangover? 

Results are rarely determined by single factors and two of the worst performing teams after suffering Super Bowl disappointment, Oakland in 2003 and Philadelphia in 2005, did so without their respective Super Bowl quarterbacks for half of the subsequent regular season.

The median number of wins in their Super Bowl year for defeated sides was 13, falling to 10 in the next season.

So in general Super Bowl losers were still good and their decline appears much more in keeping with a more usual distribution of randomness than a genuine outcome related decline from highly trained, motivated and paid, professional sportsmen.

While it’s easy to find individual examples of a Super Bowl losing slump, Carolina in 2015 going from 15-1 to 6-10 is the most recent instance, the general experience is that losing teams remain as contenders in the next season.

Dolphins vs. Falcons betting: Will Matt Ryan continue to impress?

The star of the 2016 Falcons was quarterback, Matt Ryan, the 3rd overall pick in the 2008 draft.

Years of consistently excellent passing play culminated in an MVP season where he posted regular season career highs for every relevant stat from pass completion, yards per pass, interception rates, touchdown rates and overall quarterback rating.

Helped by a dynamic supporting cast and excellent schemes devised by the now departed Kyle Shanahan, Ryan’s stunningly efficient passing generated nearly two yards per play of extra passing yardage compared to the average allowed by the defences he faced.

Although Cutler’s career never quite rose to the heights of a top-flight passer, he does retain a decent passing arm and overall career performance levels that were similar to those Tannehill used to secure a postseason berth.

The ground game was also above par and the whole package demanded that opponents played catch-up against an offense that scored nearly 34 points per game compared to an opponent average allowed of just 24.

Defensively, the Falcons allowed nearly two points more than par and they were poor against the run, although the ground game was a luxury few teams could choose to exploit as they were often playing from behind.

Their eleven regular season wins were only slightly above that merited by the points scoring and conceding records, although a +11 turnover differential, fuelled by Ryan’s career best interception rate is unlikely to persist at such elevated levels.

In short, they epitomised the current pass dominant NFL, albeit with individual career highlights for Ryan that are likely to cool simply through natural regression.

Will this season be the same as the last?

The four 2017 regular season games so far have shown the Falcons will have to work hard to emulate last season’s success. The offence is still very good, although the running game apart, some way off the career highs posted in 2016. While the defence is performing to the similar, slightly below par levels seen in 2016 and turnovers have also been less kind. 

Statistically, they appear around a nine or ten win team, in keeping with the experience of Super Bowl losers under the current league structure.

A tough season for Miami

The Miami Dolphins are coping with the devastating fallout from the hurricane season. Disrupted infrastructure, a postponed game and constant road trips that have taken in London, until they finally came home to play, and beat Tennessee on Sunday finds them with a wholly respectable 2-2 record, despite relatively poor underlying statistics. 

A pre-season, potentially season-ending injury to quarterback Ryan Tannehill forced the Dolphins to turn to then retired, former Bronco and Bear’s passer, Jay Cutler - the 34 year old reunites with former Bears and current Miami head coach Adam Gase.

Although Cutler’s career never quite rose to the heights of a top-flight passer, he does retain a decent passing arm and overall career performance levels that were similar to those Tannehill used to secure a postseason berth in a division containing the New England Patriots.

Matt Ryan’s stunningly efficient passing generated nearly two yards per play of extra passing yardage compared to the average allowed by the defences he faced last season.

Also, the fact that his personal best season came as recently as 2015 in Chicago under Gase is worth considering. However, such a late change is far from ideal. 

Cutler took just 14 snaps in pre-season. His performance metrics, along with his pass attempts have generally shown a decline through the first four games of the 2017 regular season and both the Dolphins’ passing and running efficiencies are also way below par.

Ten points per game on offence against defences that are allowing 23 points per game on average, is only partly mitigated by a poor Wembley surface, where Miami was kept scoreless in a wet throwback to the first London based regular season game, also featuring the Dolphins in 2007.

Miami’s running game was their jewel in 2016, but that is also well below par in 2017 with lack of support of a consistent passing game.

Last season’s playoff appearance was partly built on sand. It ended, emphatically and quickly with a 30-12 defeat in Pittsburgh, came courtesy of six more wins than defeats in narrowly decided games and a point differential that suggested seven or eight regular season wins, rather than Miami’s actual 10.

To heap even more on the Dolphins’ plate, Atlanta is coming off their bye week and so will be both rested and prepared, but after which they travel to face New England.

Dolphins vs. Falcons odds: Is there only one winner?

Sunday’s game might be between two playoff teams from 2016, but circumstance has likely made it one of the most lop-sided matchups of the season. 

Based on 2016, Atlanta would be around a 75% chance on the money line, the equivalent of just over a touchdown start for the visiting Miami side. And while it would be unprecedented for Miami’s efficiency ratings to remain as low as they currently are, based simply on 2017, Atlanta’s money line advantage improves to around 85% and a Miami start a point shy of two touchdowns (they are currently +11.5).

Despite Miami's low scoring season, the totals mark sits at 47 points (with the over priced at 1.952*) - perhaps emphasising the expectation of a dominant Falcons win.

Odds subject to change

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