Lions, Dolphins making the playoffs? Signs actually look promising

November 08, 2016 3:12 AM
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Detroit’s stunning overtime win at Minnesota put the Lions in the thick of the NFC North race. The Lions (5-4) are a half game back of the Vikings. The Lions have managed to overcome a ton of injuries on the defensive side of the football. Ezekiel Ansah and Haloti Ngata have missed time among other big injuries along the defensive front.

The changing personnel on defense is a key reason why the Lions rank in the bottom half of the league in most defensive categories. Detroit’s upcoming bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. Calvin Johnson’s retirement really hasn’t impacted the offense. Matthew Stafford has been able to better spread the field to a variety of targets, including Marvin Jones, Anquan Boldin and Golden Tate.

Tight end Eric Ebron has started to evolve into a reliable option. All told, Detroit has five players ranging from 32 to 49 catches this season. On the ground, Theo Riddick has been serviceable (4.0 ypc) and posted 70 yards on 14 carries against Minnesota. Skeptics will point out Detroit has won a lot of close games with all five of their victories coming by margins of six points or less. However, Stafford has shown an ability to lead his team to victory with multiple fourth quarter drives to either tie or win the game.

The Miami Dolphins have inched back to .500 on the strength of three straight wins both straight up and against the spread. Correlate that to the improved health of the offensive line. Miami’s entire left side, tackle Laremy Tunsil, guard Branden Albert and center Mike Pouncey, all missing at least a game early on. With all three healthy, the Dolphins averaged 28 ppg and 400 ypg in wins vs. Steelers, Bills and Jets.

During that span, running back Jay Ajayi posted three straight 100-plus yard efforts. And perhaps most important, quarterback Ryan Tannehill didn’t throw an interception after tossing seven the previous four games.

Defensively, the Dolphins feature Ndamukong Suh and Cameron Wake. The secondary, led by cornerbacks Bobby McCain and Byron Maxwell, anchors the 8th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. They’ve also endured an above average schedule with Seattle, New England, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh (all but one was on the road).

The remaining schedule is road-heavy (five road, three home) but manageable with only New England currently above .500. What we saw during Miami’s 1-4 start and the current product on the field are two completely different entities. Miami’s health up front and statistical profile suggest its current success could continue.

Ian Cameron has been handicapping and betting sports year-round for over a decade. He has been with Sportsmemo.com since 2012, using his knowledge and handicapping techniques to make insightful winning selections.