Toward the end of a dismal St. Louis Rams season, just before the Mountain Goats relocated back home to Los Angeles, I attended an NFL game in the Gateway City and got hit slap in the face with irony.
The Rams ran a halftime PR video on the Jumbo-tron of “a Sunday in the life” of St. Louis player. In the footage, a defensive lineman warmed-up and did his level best when called onto the field, but sat alone or next to 1 other athlete (always the same guy) and quietly small-talked. An NFL team was running a video to try to make fans forget that it was losing. Instead, the footage itself defined why the club was losing. Players were uninterested and un-involved, forming small cliques on the sidelines instead of coming together.
There’s a thing that happens to all NFL teams with poor records late in the season, defined as “going through the motions.” Players on 2-9 or 1-10 squads can still have amazing personal days. But there’s a lack of passion in practice and less leadership exhibited on the field. Bad professional teams can become ghost-teams of a sort, there for opponents to run through as if they’re invisible.
Miami appeared to be an exception to the rule in 2019. Chips on their shoulders after being called “tankers” early in a then-winless year, the cellar-dwelling Dolphins ignored a player-personnel fire sale and put a short hot streak together.
But recent woes have set the ‘Fins right back where they were – double-digit underdogs against a below-.500 visitor to Magic City.
Who: Philadelphia Eagles at Miami Dolphins
When: Sunday, December 1st, 1 PM EST
Where: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami, FL
Lines: PHI (-10) at MIA (+10) / O/U Total: (45)
With the Cowboy loss to the Bills on Thanksgiving, the 5-6 Eagles can tie Dallas for tops in the NFC East with a win in Miami. Philadelphia is coming off of a pair of rough home losses against Seattle and New England, and after a 6-week stretch of tough opponents, the schedule softens and may even be favorable down the road for Doug Pederson’s squad. After Miami, the Eagles still face the New York Giants twice, and have 1 more meeting with the Washington Redskins.
The Dolphins may help to define what a “soft” NFL rival looks like these days. Brian Flores’ team is back to getting beaten to a pulp after consecutive losses to the Browns and the Bills. Ryan Fitzpatrick and the offense are putting up points, but a weak defense is failing to keep scores close enough for a methodical QB to make a difference.
There’s little doubt Fitzpatrick is trying to win ballgames. In the loss to Buffalo, the bearded veteran QB was efficient despite not throwing any TD’s, finishing 32-of-45 for 323 yards. In the 41-24 loss to Cleveland last week, Fitzpatrick was average through the air but added 45 yards and a TD on the ground.
It’s a wonder there’s a rush on Philly-ATS wagers considering the injuries that the Eagles are suffering from. Tailback Jordan Howard is still not cleared for contact and is unlikely to play on Sunday, leaving Boston Scott, Miles Sanders, and former Dolphin Jay Ajayi as Pederson’s options in the backfield for the 4th straight game.
Carson Wentz also must deal with a banged-up receiving corps. Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor missed last week’s 17-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks, while TE Zach Ertz fought through his hamstring ailment to catch 12 passes for 91 yards and a score. Jeffery and Agholor have practiced in a limited fashion this week and each is expected to return, but Ertz has not practiced, and his status remains up in the air:
Zach Ertz is “doing fine” as he deals with a sore hamstring but will still be limited at practice Friday, head coach Doug Pederson said. Pederson said Ertz got hurt in the Seattle game. He didn’t miss any snaps but “felt a little bit coming out of the game, so with that in mind just wanted to make sure he’s 100 percent going into this game.”
Ertz has twice as many receiving yards as anybody else on the team and nearly twice as many catches. Ertz has missed only five games in his seven NFL seasons. He has 30 catches over the last three weeks and on Sunday became the first tight end in NFL history with 9 or more catches in three straight games. Ertz was seen warming up and running with his teammates during the brief open warm-up period before practice Friday.
The Eagles officially list Ertz as questionable.
A bright spot for Philadelphia comes on special teams in the form of outstanding kicker Jake Elliott. The Eagles spent a 5th-round pick on the now 24-year-old, in 2017 and although he has missed a couple of extra points this season, he is a perfect 14-for-14 on field goals. Elliott is also 8-of-12 on 50+ yard attempts in his NFL career.
The kicking game makes Philly a reasonably-safe wager at (-10) even following line-movement in the Eagles’ direction.
However, I’m liking the Over (45). Pederson’s best weapon on offense is still Wentz, and Miami has few weapons other than Fitzpatrick. Expect a few more passes than usual in a lengthened game and a point-scoring total above the number.