The Pittsburgh Steelers host the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, January 8th in the AFC wild card round. This will be a rematch from an October 16th showdown in which the Dolphins upset the Steelers 30-15 as 7.5-point home underdogs.
Pittsburgh (11-5) went on a seven-game winning streak to close out the season. The Steelers even managed to beat the Cleveland Browns in Week 17 in overtime despite playing without several key starters. That kept their winning streak alive and the momentum going into the playoffs.
Miami (10-6) was one of the most improved teams in the NFL this season. The Dolphins rallied from a 1-4 start to go 9-2 down the stretch and punch their tickets to the playoffs in Adam Gase’s first season. It will be a success no matter what happens in the playoffs.
Kickoff inside Heinz Field is set for 1:05 EST Sunday afternoon with CBS providing the television coverage. According to the NFL odds, Pittsburgh is a 10-point favorite over Miami with a total set of 47 points.
The Steelers have really turned it on since their four-game losing streak midseason. They have now won seven straight games while going 5-1-1 ATS in the process. They outgained nine straight opponents before resting many of their starters last week against the Browns in a meaningless contest.
The Dolphins might be the most overrated team in the NFL. Yes, their record shows 10-6, but this is more like a 6-10 team when you look at the numbers. They have been outgained in five of their last six games. The Dolphins rank 29th in yardage differential on the season, getting outgained by 49.8 yards per game. Only the Rams, Browns and 49ers have been worse, so they are in some poor company.
This game will be a complete reversal of the first time these teams played back in October. In that game, Ben Roethlisberger was banged up. Now it’s the Dolphins with a banged-up starting quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, meaning Matt Moore will get the nod in the rematch. He has been serviceable to this point, but to ask him to go into Pittsburgh and go score-for-score with Roethlisberger is asking too much.
The Dolphins rank 29th in yardage differential on the season, getting outgained by 49.8 yards per game. Only the Rams, Browns and 49ers have been worse, so they are in some poor company.
This game fits one of my favorite playoff systems. It involves betting on teams who played the tougher schedule during the regular season. Wild card teams who played the tougher schedule are 40-16 SU & 40-15-1 ATS over the last 14 seasons. When there is a difference of 10 or more in strength of schedule, those teams are 23-4 SU & 22-4-1 ATS. The Steelers played the 11th-toughest schedule this season, while the Dolphins played the 27th.
The Dolphins have one of the worst defenses in the league. They give up 140 rushing yards per game and 4.8 per carry. They allow 383 total yards per game and 5.8 per play. Look for Le’Veon Bell to have a field day against the Dolphins here. Also, Antonio Brown and Big Ben rested last week, so they should come in firing on all cylinders and ready to go.
While the Steelers’ offense gets all the credit, it’s the improvement from the defense that makes this team a real Super Bowl contender. The Steelers only give up 20.4 points per game this season. They have allowed 20 or fewer points in five of their last seven games overall. And I think you can throw out the Cleveland game at the end in which they gave up 24 points because they weren’t interested.
Miami is 5-18 ATS in its last 23 games after allowing 400 or more total yards in its previous game. Pittsburgh is 9-1 ATS in its last 10 home games off a game where both teams score 24 or more points. Mike Tomlin is 9-1 ATS as a home favorite of 7.5 to 10 points as the coach of the Steelers. Pittsburgh is 7-0 ATS vs. poor defensive teams who allow 350 or more yards per game in the second half of the season over the last two years. The Steelers are 6-1 ATS in their last seven playoff home games. The Dolphins are 0-4 ATS in their last four playoff games.