Last Updated Aug 30, 2021, 9:56 AM
MNF - Dolphins at Steelers
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Miami at Pittsburgh (-14, 43.5), 8:15 pm ET, ESPN
Every season, we seem to get a couple of those games that leave us wondering how they were included among the NFL’s marquee Monday night offerings. Don’t they want us to watch?
There was no way to envision that Ben Roethlisberger would be sidelined for the season, leaving the Steelers (2-4 SU, 3-2-1 ATS) in dire straits. The Dolphins (0-6, 2-4) opted to turn themselves into one of the worst teams in league history once the schedule was already announced, executing their fire sale in the preseason to suck the life out of their remaining players.
Still, someone should apologize for sticking the nation with Miami at Pittsburgh as if it were ever worthy of such a stage. The NBA should send thank you notes and has to be pleased with its decision to still have their free preview of League Pass in place as it will likely attract some eyeballs it may not have gathered if the night’s game were, say, Packers at Chiefs.
The last time these teams met on Monday Night Football, the Steelers won 3-0, scoring with 20 seconds left. They were a heavy favorite that night too in a QB matchup that featured Big Ben against John Beck. Let's cross our fingers that we don't see a revival of that type of game from 12 years ago.
The on-field product should ideally benefit from both of these teams coming in after arguably their top performances of the season.
The Steelers went out to Los Angeles in Week 6 and took a 24-0 lead on the Chargers before holding on for a 24-17 win as a six-point underdog (+235 ML) in a stadium packed with fans clad in black and yellow. Despite undrafted rookie Delvin “Duck” Hodges making his first pro start, the Steelers’ defense capitalized on an early L.A. turnover and overwhelmed Philip Rivers and his unit over the first three quarters before holding on for a 24-17 win.
Pittsburgh, which is 3-0-1 against the number in its last four, was on its bye last week, allowing Mason Rudolph to heal effectively enough from a concussion to reclaim his starting job.
Miami hosted Buffalo eight days ago and led in the second quarter for the first time all season, actually holding an advantage into the fourth. It then surrendered 22 points in a 31-21 win that doesn’t properly indicate how close the game was since Bills’ DB Micah Hyde took an onside kick into the end zone for the game’s final points with 1:38 left. The Dolphins covered a 17-point spread and have actually cashed in each of the last few weeks.
First-year head coach Brian Flores has been put in an awful position by the organization but has managed to put together a team that now looks willing to compete after appearing dispirited through the first few weeks. Guys openly asked out after the front office traded a number of their leaders and most talented players just before the regular-season began, clearly turning the page and attempting to position themselves to finish with the league’s worst record.
In ending up a successful two-point conversion shy of beating visiting Washington in Week 6 after nearly erasing all of a 17-3 fourth-quarter deficit, Miami nearly deviated from its tank job thanks to the effectiveness of backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. The veteran came on for an inconsistent Josh Rosen and generated offense with some accurate passes downfield. In a puzzling move given the state of the franchise, Flores awarded Fitzpatrick back the job he lost entering Week 3. He correctly believes that gives the Dolphins their best chance to win, which goes against the point of the entire season.
Free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick, one of the players who was exiled after being unhappy with the team’s direction, will now lineup against Miami as a key member of the Steelers’ secondary, having already picked off a pass and forced a fumble. The No. 11 pick in the ’18 NFL Draft wasn’t thrilled with being a rover in Flores’ alignment and hated playing for a team that was essentially mailing it in, so he requested a deal and ended up being moved in a package that includes the Steelers’ first-round pick in April.
Pittsburgh is certainly in a state of flux due to the offseason cutting of ties with receiver Antonio Brown on the heels of a well-publicized contract dispute with RB Le’Veon Bell, now with the Jets. Roethlisberger’s season-ending elbow injury after a 28-26 Week 2 loss in Seattle compounded matters, but the acquisition of Fitzgerald and the win over the Chargers on the heels of an OT setback against the rival Ravens suggests the Steelers have a lot of fight left. This is the first of three straight home games, so holding serve as a heavy favorite against Miami will put them in position to get back to .500 on Sunday against the visiting Colts.
Following an 0-3 start, that would be quite an accomplishment given the adversity to date. Rudolph hasn’t taken the field in over three weeks after being knocked out cold by Baltimore safety Earl Thomas but put together a solid run as a starter, playing effectively in a 24-20 loss at San Francisco that the Steelers covered in before beating the Bengals 27-3 on Sept. 30 in a Monday night debut that featured 24-for-28 passing and TD tosses to James Conner and rookie Diontae Johnson.
Although he’s operated mostly out of shotgun and hasn’t been asked to run the no-huddle look that has become customary under Roethlisberger, Rudolph has looked like one of the most effective members of the 2017 quarterback draft class featuring Lamar Jackson, Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen and Rosen.
The third-round pick will be trying to take advantage of a Dolphins’ inexperienced secondary that has contributed to surrendering 417 yards per game, which ranked 30th of 32 entering the week. Rudolph has seven TD passes and has been picked off twice, so this will be an opportunity for him to pick up where he left off before taking a vicious hit and leaving Heinz Field via cart on Oct. 6. He has no memory of the incident.
While Hodges got the job done in L.A., Pittsburgh’s realistic chances to win the AFC North and return to the playoffs for the fifth straight season hinge on Rudolph staying healthy and improving, so his performance here is what most bears watching in this MNF dud. Inclement weather won’t be a factor with a clear night featuring temperatures in the mid-50s expected.
The total on this game opened at 43 and most books are holding 43 ½ as of Monday morning. The Steelers and Dolphins have both leaned to the ‘under’ this season, producing 4-2 records in their first six games.VegasInsider totals expert Chris David offered up his total thoughts on the Monday night matchup.
“The Dolphins offense has shown a little more pop recently with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback but he’s still hit or miss and can often kill drives with key turnovers, something we saw twice in last week’s loss at Buffalo," said David. "Pittsburgh will be playing with rest and this is the first of three straight games at Heinz Field, so avoiding a letdown shouldn’t be in the cards. The Steelers have scored 20-plus points in five consecutive games since losing 33-3 at New England in Week 1, but the defense has helped that cause with touchdowns and creating short tracks.”
Bettors should note that Pittsburgh has watched the ‘over’ go 3-2 in its last five games off the bye and the Steelers have averaged 25.8 PPG. Digging into those numbers further, the Steelers played two of those games at home and they scored 33 and 32 points.
“Pittsburgh has thrived under the lights at home, averaging 32.6 PPG in their last five from Heinz and that includes a 27-3 domination over Cincy in Week 4 on a Monday night," said David. "The so-called sharps and pros started buying Miami with the points early and while the Dolphins have covered two straight games, I’m not sold. The defense is terrible and the front-seven has been abysmal. They only have seven sacks in six games and while I’m not high on the backup QBs for Pittsburgh, I expect the chains to get moved tonight."
The Team Total on Pittsburgh is a little rich at 28 ½ or 29 depending where you shop," David added, "but I expect the Steelers to hit 30-plus points here."
Going back to last season, the Dolphins have watched the ‘over’ go 3-1 in their last four road games and the defense 36.3 PPG.
Projected season win total: 4.5 (Over +100, Under -120)
Odds to win AFC East (pre-Week 1/current): 125/1 to 2000/1
Odds to win AFC (pre-Week 1/current): 250/1 to 25000/1
Odds to win Super Bowl (pre-Week 1/current): 500/1 to 50000/1
Projected season win total: 9.5 (Over -110, Under -110)
Odds to win AFC North (pre-Week 1/current): 13/10 to 15/4
Odds to win AFC (pre-Week 1/current): 9/1 to 50/1
Odds to win Super Bowl (pre-Week 1/current): 18/1 to 100/1
Caesars' Senior Oddsmaker Alan Berg provides insights from behind the counter.
"Early sharp action came in on Miami but it seems like there are various opinions on this one. Right now (Sunday night), we'd need the Steelers," said Berg, whose terrific observations can be found on Twitter at @PercentBerg. "There probably won't be as much volume as a great matchup, but the Steelers are popular and should generate interest."
Although he's not injured, RB Kenyan Drake didn't travel with the Dolphins to Pittsburgh and is to be traded to Arizona as the team's fire sale continues. Mark Walton and Kalen Ballage are expected to get the bulk of the work at running back. Safety Reshad Jones (chest) won't play but corner Xavien Howard will return. Center Daniel Kilgore (knee) has also been ruled out.
The bye week came at a great time for Pittsburgh, which lists LBs T.J. Watt (abdominal) and Mark Barron (hamstring) as probable and will also get back fullback Roosevelt Nix (knee). Top backs James Conner (quad) and Jaylen Samuels (knee) are probable too, as is WR James Washington. DE Stephon Tuitt (pectoral) remains out.
(Steelers 6-2 SU, 4-4 ATS last eight, OVER 5-3)
1/8/17 Steelers 30-12 vs. Dolphins (PIT -11, 47.5)
10/16/16 Dolphins 30-15 vs. Steelers (MIA +7.5, 40.5)
12/8/13 Dolphins 34-28 at Steelers (MIA +3, 40.5)
10/24/10 Steelers 23-22 at Dolphins (MIA +3, 40.5)
1/3/10 Steelers 30-24 at Dolphins (PIT -3, 46)
11/26/07 Steelers 3-0 vs. Dolphins (MIA +16, 38.5)
9/7/06 Steelers 28-17 vs. Dolphins (PIT -1.5, 34.5)
9/26/04 Steelers 13-3 at Dolphins (PIT +2.5, 31)
NEXT WEEK'S NUMBERS POSTED
The Westgate opens its advance lines for the following week on Tuesdays and Week 9 currently has the Steelers as a pick'em against Indianapolis, which comes in atop the AFC South and on a three-game winning streak. The Dolphns return home to face AFC East rival New York. The Jets are a 6.5-point favorite in South Florida.
Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA