This Article was originally written for AccuScore.
This Sunday, two surprise AFC teams will meet in Miami that could ultimately determine which starting rookie quarterback will make the playoffs. The Indianapolis Colts and Miami Dolphins, thought to be rebuilding projects, both enter Sunday’s matchup with 4-3 records and playing for a potential playoff wild card. While many analysts projected Colts QB Andrew Luck to eventually become one of the league’s elite, no one believed Luck or his counterpart Miami’s Ryan Tannehill to bring instant success to their respective franchises. Unfortunately for Dolphins fans, there is an estimated 50% chance that Tannehill will miss this upcoming game due to bruised knee, which forced him out of last Sunday’s road victory over the hapless New York Jets. However, he is expected to start and play unless he is severely hampered by his lack of mobility. Head Coach Joe Philbin would likely be forced to substitute in Matt Moore, who was 11 for 19 and recorded a 97 quarterback rating in his relief effort.
Both are fairly young squads who are excelling a midst their rebuilding. I expect a close game, and AccuScore’s simulations have Miami winning 57% of the time, with an average score of 21-18. It’s a close spread; AccuScore predicts a 57% chance that Miami covers. Both teams are expected to not cover the combined score, with a near 60% probability they will be under the 43.5 combined team points. Miami almost has a 58% of beating the money line.
Like every NFL game, this will game will come down to whomever turns the ball over less as each team sports a large probable win percentage if they commit fewer turnovers. Miami has a clear advantage in our simulations as they committed fewer turnovers in 62% of the games, winning 74% of those matchups. When the Colts commit fewer turnovers than the Dolphins, they showed a 70% chance of winning.
Luck had early struggles, failing to find the open man and often forcing throws that resulted in turnovers. His maturity has already shown as he led the Colts to two 80 yard drives which resulted in a 19-13 overtime victory on the road against Tennessee Titans. In the team’s four victory, he has a 87 quarterback rating and a 5:2 touchdown to interception ratio. His play is clearly dictates how this team performs as he has an underwhelming 60 quarterback rating and a 3:6 TD to INT in the team’s three losses. While he is just one game away from breaking Peyton Manning’s rookie record of four 300-yard passing games in a season, AccuScore projects a modest 240 passing yards and both a touchdown and interception. Luck comes into Sunday’s game 10th in the league in passing yards and ranks as the 11th best fantasy quarterback.
Luck has done a fantastic job spreading the ball around to his limited supporting cast, as he’s had little help from the running game through seven games. The Colts have failed to sustain a consistent running game; they’re currently the 17th best rushing team at 107.1 yards per game. Interim Head Coach Bruce Arians has been forced to play rookie running back Vic Ballard in heavy doses due to early season injuries to starter Donald Brown. Ballard, a 2012 5th round draft pick, has struggled to the tune of just 3.4 yards per carry and no rushing touchdowns. When healthy, Brown has proven to be an upgrade, as he’s averaged 4.3 ypc, but has only averaged a little over 60 yards a game. AccuScore predicts just around 70 yards combined for the two running backs, and even less than a TD, so fantasy owners should stay away. However, if Brown has a great game and rushes for at least 1 TD (don’t hold your breath, he only did in 19% of simulations), it’ll would help his team win 65% of the time.
The Colts have shined in the passing attack, particularly veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who is among the league leaders in receiving yards (757, 1st), receptions (54, 3rd), and reception yards per game (108.1, 1st). While our game projects show that Wayne averages drastically below his season numbers, I wouldn’t be surprised if he exceeds his expectations of 75 receiving yards. The Dolphins have been without offseason acquisition cornerback Richard Marshall, who had a breakout campaign in 2011. Marshall recorded 3 interceptions and 69 solo tackles last year, but sustained a back injury in late September that has sidelined him since. It’s unknown if he’ll play, and even if he does the Dolphins’ secondary still isn’t among the elite in the NFL or even the conference. However, they do have three linebackers who play every defensive down, quite the rarity among modern defenses. DE Cameron Wake has been an absolute force so far this season, as he’s averaged more than a sack a game (7.5 on the season) and has a favorable matchup against the below average LT Anthony Castonzo. The Miami defense as 22 sacks on the season; their pass rush ranks among the top in the league. AccuScore projects Miami to gain more than two sacks and create almost two turnovers, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they surpass these figures as the Colts feature one of the worst and inexperienced offensive lines in the NFL.
On the other side of the ball, Miami’s offense will be determine on how long and if Tannehill plays. While his stats strong show he has a long development ahead of him (4 TDs, 6 INT, under 60% completions), Tannehill has shown a knack for big play ability in play action passes. Tannehill has been helped by the emergence of a strong running game, as RB Reggie Bush (when healthy) has shown that last season’s career highs were no fluke. Bush has contributed nearly 100 total yards a game in 2012, with a 4.4 ypc and 3 TDs. Backup RB Daniel Thomas had 40 yards rushing against the Jets; he also added a touchdown on the ground. While Bush averaged 75 yards rushing and half a touchdown in AccuScore simulations, the Colts have a fairly mediocre run defense; he could meet projections by halftime if the Dolphins take pressure off of Tannehill. Indianapolis’ defense has given up over 137 yards rushing a game, and have had that average drop by playing largely poor rushing offenses like the Packers, the Jets, and the Browns (held star rookie RB Trent Richardson to just 8 yards on 8 carries).
Going into the 2012 season, many believed that Tannehill would struggled due to limited playmakers on his offense. However, both wide receivers Brian Hartline and Davone Bess have surprised and could finish this year with 1,000 yard campaigns. While neither have found success in the endzone (just one combined TD), TE Anthony Fasano already has three
TDs and ranks ahead of established TEs including New Englands Aaron Hernandez, Jacksonville’s Mercedes Lewis, and Green Bay’s Jermichael Finley in this category. Indianapolis will be without their number one cornerback Vonte Davis, a former Dolphin, as he is out with a knee injury. While touchdowns may be scarce, both Hartline and Bess should reach 50 yards each.
The Colts defense, playing without defensive maistro Head Coach Chuck Pagano, must contain the Dolphins’ rush attack. If they limit Miami’s ability to run, the play action won’t be as dangerous and the strength of Indy’s defense can get after the quarterback on 3rd and longs. OLBs Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis need to bring heat on Tannehill or Moore; AccuScore projects just two sacks and around a turnover and a half for the Colts defense. That won’t be enough to win this close game. I predict Miami winning this match up 21-17.