At this stage of the season, there are a plethora of games this weekend that have plenty at stake but there aren’t many more where the result is vitally important than this matchup between the Dolphins and the Ravens.
The Ravens would be sitting pretty with a win, as a victory would clinch the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. After the Browns won Thursday night, the Ravens need a win to clinch the AFC North.
The Dolphins can also clinch their division Sunday, as a win or a Bills loss locks up the AFC East. A win would also give the Dolphins a solid shot at locking up the No. 1 seed (55.7%), with a loss eliminating that possibility. A loss and a Buffalo win sets up a Week 18 matchup for the division crown, with a 55.5% chance of the Dolphins winning the AFC East title.
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This is a showdown between the NFL’s highest-scoring offence in the Dolphins (29 offensive points per game) and the league’s stingiest defence in the Ravens (16.3 points allowed per game). It’s the fourth time that the No. 1 scoring offence has faced the No. 1 scoring defence in the final two weeks of the regular season since the 1970 merger. The team with the highest-scoring offence has won three of the four meetings.
The teams meet for the first time since one of the wildest games of the 2022 season when Baltimore blew a 21-point lead in the 4th quarter against Miami. That game in Week 2 of last season came when we were still finding out what sort of offence the Dolphins ran and in fact it was only the second game for head coach Mike McDaniel in charge. The game came alive in the 4th quarter with Miami erasing a 35-14 deficit after a big start from the Ravens to win 42-38 with 14 seconds left on the clock when the Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa threw his 6th TD pass. His opposite number Lamar Jackson had arguably the best game of his career in a loss with 21-of-29 passing for 318 yards, 3 touchdowns, no picks, or sacks, and he ran for 119 yards and another touchdown.
Both teams went on to make the playoffs, but each lost its postseason opener. By then, Jackson was out with a knee injury and Tagovailoa’s concussion problems left him unavailable, too. They’ve both played every game this season.
Both teams enter the game with injury concerns over key players especially on the Miami side of the equation. They also enter this game with a telling statistic against them – the Dolphins are 0-3 this year on the road against winning teams, losing convincingly to the Bills (48-20), Eagles (31-17), and Chiefs (21-14). In fact, McDaniel hasn’t won on the road against a playoff team since that 21-point comeback in Week 2 against Baltimore last year.
Miami come into this having beaten Dallas 22-20 last Sunday but can they be trusted to score points and beat a good team on the road, which becomes the $64,000 dollar question here and it comes with huge AFC playoff seeding implications.
As mentioned earlier Miami enter the game with injury worries not least to their quarterback Tua Tagovailoa who is dealing with injuries to his quad and left (throwing) thumb and he’s been limited in practice for most of the week. He comes into this game in good form though but he does face a Baltimore defence yielding an NFL-low 16.3 points per game and ranking No. 1 in sacks (54). The key to Tua’s play this season has been delivering the ball quickly on Sunday he led the league in time to throw again getting rid of the ball within 2.5 seconds on 73.7% of his passes.
The league average in Week 16 was 45.1% and delivering his passes quickly is a good way to negate a fierce Ravens pass rush. This Miami offence has done wonders to circumvent an offensive line that has lost several pieces throughout the season. However it’s hard to see Tua matching the numbers that he put up last time against the Ravens as this is a much different Baltimore defence, put in at 11-1 in the Star Sports Specials Market “Most Pass Yards On Sunday” the more appealing options are Matthew Stafford 11-1 (Rams, vs Giants), Baker Mayfield 18-1 (Buccaneers, vs Saints) and Brock Purdy 11-1 (49ers, vs Commanders).
For all their explosiveness through the air the Miami offence has shown equal firepower on the ground also although they appear likely to be running by committee in this game with their two main RBs – Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane carrying injuries and it won’t be a surprise to see Jeff Wilson used as part of the run game mix. Mostert is currently tied with Christian McCaffrey for the league lead in touchdowns at 21, having broken the Dolphins’ franchise record for touchdowns in a season in Week 15 against the Jets. He has six games with multiple touchdowns this season and has scored in all but three games. The early Sunday morning news is that Mostert looks a big doubt to play which will enhance the roles of both Achane and Wilson.
The Dolphins in fact may be rueing the fact that their run game could be at less than full power due to the injuries as the Ravens are no longer elite against the run, ceding 4.4 yards per carry (22nd) while holding opponents to the fewest net yards per pass attempt this season (4.6).
The Dolphins also look likely to be without one of their main wide receivers in Jaylen Waddle so they will be glad to see their other main receiving weapon Tyreek Hill good to go although he too has been dealing with ankle injury issues. Despite those ankle doubts Hill turned 14 targets into 9 catches and 99 yards receiving in last week’s win. When Waddle is absent Hill has a target share of around 39% and he’s sure to see a lot of the ball here and his receiving yards line of +92.5 (10-11) with Star Sports could be under threat. Behind Hill Cedrick Wilson is likely to step into the No2 receiver slot.
With the history surrounding the last game between these two you could have expected the match points line at +45.5 (10-11) with Star Sports to be pitched a little higher but there’s no doubt that the defences on both teams have improved since then.
Priced at 13-2 in the Star Sports Specials Market “Highest Scoring Game On Sunday” there look to be better option that this match up with the Tampa Bay/New Orleans game at 12-1 making some appeal to outrun the price.
The Ravens offence which like the Miami version is capable of scoring points quickly, especially at home does face a difficult task facing a Dolphins defence that ranks No. 1 in total defence since Week 5 and are first in quarterback hits, second in sacks and fifth against the run. They had four sacks against the Cowboys last week to give them a franchise-best 52 on the season. All of that spells danger for Baltimore QB Lamar Jackson who is the current MVP favourite.
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Jackson is at the helm of an offence that have attempted just 29.6 passes per game but at the same time they rank fourth in points per game at 27.8, scoring more than a full touchdown more at home than on the road. Jackson as we all know is a very modern dual threat QB able to do plenty on the ground and through the air if the opportunity arises. Jackson and another very similar QB, the Eagles Jalen Hurts feature in an interesting boosted Star Sports Special “Mobile QBs” where Jackson and Hurts are priced at 12-5 to score a TD each and that looks a price that would be of great interest given how those two QBs play.
The Dolphins will be looking to pressure Jackson and not let him get outside the pocket where he can improvise and play off the cuff, that’s when he’s at his most lethal and dangerous. It’s a great shame that the Ravens have lost electric rookie RB Keaton Mitchell for the season as it’s seen them revert to a running back duo with Gus Edwards and Justice Hill sharing the workload. Against this Dolphins defence that pair may find it tough going as Miami have allowed just nine total touchdowns to the position. Considering the tendencies of the offence this season, the fact that the Ravens aren’t pushed very often, and the loss of Mitchell, it’s not hard to tentatively expect a more pass-focused approach from the Ravens here.
If that’s the case then they could be without their top wide receiver in Zay Flowers who has been very limited in practice this week having already lost their alpha TE Mark Andrews for the season. Flowers is the only pass catcher on this offence to play nearly every offensive snap, while Rashod Bateman, Nelson Agholor, Odell Beckham, and tight end Isaiah Likely have been the “bit part” players. If Flowers can’t go here then we are likely to see a mix of all those who have played, to this point rather peripheral roles this season so far.
Although he faces a tough matchup it’s Likely who is expected to see the most targets. Likely only had four targets on Monday night, but he did catch three of them for 56 yards, anchored by a 34-yard catch and run. Likely has now run a route on 86.9% of the team dropbacks over the past four weeks since the team lost Mark Andrews. Likely is 2-1 with Star Sports to score a TD, whilst his receiving yards line of +42.5 (10-11) looks attainable also.
This game like the one the Dolphins played last week against the Cowboys, has a wide range of outcomes induced by the presence of two top offences and two top defences although now both teams are dealing with significant injuries in probably their most important game of the season so far. It’s a tough one to call but until the Dolphins have proved they can win on the road against a top team then the lean has to be towards the Ravens.
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PROFIT/LOSS (DEC 2023): LOSS -10.69 points