Saturday’s primetime matchup inside MetLife Stadium will be the second meeting of the season between the Miami Dolphins (8-5) and New York Jets (4-9). The AFC East rivals last met on Nov. 6 in Miami with the Dolphins edging out the Jets 27-23.
On the surface, the Jets' come-from-behind victory over the 49ers last week did little more than improve on an already hopeless record. However, it did illustrate that this is a team that is not ready to give up the good fight. Which is something that seemed far less apparent following an embarrassing 41-10 loss to the Colts the week prior.
The Jets also hope to glean some momentum from their first win since Week 8. Momentum they will surely need with rookie quarterback Bryce Petty making just his third NFL start against a very good Miami team. New York has been eliminated from playoff contention, so a win against the Dolphins would be meaningless in that respect. However, it would further serve to prove the Jets’ resiliency in an otherwise lost season.
The Dolphins, however, have now won seven of their last eight contests and remain in the thick of the AFC playoff hunt. Unfortunately, the loss of starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (knee) in last week’s win over the Cardinals will make the Dolphins’ bid for a wild card berth that much more of a challenge.
The Dolphins were lucky that their franchise quarterback did not tear his ACL. But Tannehill’s injuries are still severe enough to likely end his season. That leaves long-time backup Matt Moore with the daunting task of trying to lead Miami to its first playoff appearance since 2008. Moore’s first test against the Jets on the road will be a critical one, as the Dolphins look to salvage a promising season with three divisional games remaining.
Miami at New York
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 17 at 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Miami -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Matt Moore to the Rescue
While Saturday night will mark Moore’s 26th career NFL start, it will be his first since leading Miami to a 6-6 record in 2011. Moore has appeared sparingly in mop-up duty behind Ryan Tannehill since that time, including a successful game-winning drive against the Cardinals just last week following Tannehill’s knee injury.
Moore isn’t a guy that is going to put up flashy numbers, but his track record suggests that he is serviceable, particularly in a “game manager” role. The Dolphins would certainly prefer a healthy Tannehill, but while Moore has some rust to knock off, he may not be a significant downgrade. After all, the No. 27-ranked Miami passing attack wasn’t exactly the envy of the league with Tannehill under center.
As for Saturday night’s matchup, nothing will come easy for Moore in his first start in almost five years. But a Jets’ pass defense that ranks among the most generous in the league (253 ypg, 22nd) should help make the transition a little easier. And while Moore isn’t nearly as fleet of foot as Tannehill, he should be somewhat comfortable in the pocket against a lackluster pass rush that has generated the second-fewest sacks (22) thus far.
2. Bilal Powell: Emerging Star?
Although Matt Forte is considered a game-time decision for Saturday night’s game with a torn meniscus in his knee, it seems unlikely that the aging running back would be willing to risk further damage for a Jets team with no hope of making the playoffs. That opens the door for Powell to once again showcase his talents. Powell filled in as the Jets’ feature back after Forte’s early exit against the 49ers last week. And he made the most out of his opportunity, rushing for 145 yards and two touchdowns, while adding five catches for another 34 receiving yards.
Powell will look to parlay last week’s monster outing with yet another favorable matchup on Saturday night. Miami is 30th against the run, allowing 134 rushing yards per game. The Dolphins have been particularly generous over the last four contests, giving up 145 yards per game and three rushing touchdowns. Powell will be hard-pressed to duplicate the numbers he put up against the 49ers. However, the chance to exploit a leaky Miami run defense holds plenty of promise. With an inexperienced quarterback, Powell’s performance could weigh heavily on the outcome of the game as well.
3. Bryce Petty vs. Miami Pass Defense
Petty has all the tangibles one would look for in an NFL quarterback, but he has received his fair share of criticism following his first two starts. Some of the biggest critiques to this point are that he stands in the pocket too long, he stares down targets, and he ignores elite playmaker Brandon Marshall in favor of rookie Robby Anderson. But perhaps the most concerning early sign is that he makes far too many risky throws. While Petty has a solid skill set, he is not Brett Favre. As Petty gets set to make his third start, his gambling ways could prove costly against a solid Miami pass defense.
The Dolphins may not boast one of the top units against the pass, but they are top 10 in that regard, allowing 234 yards per game. More importantly, Miami has 13 interceptions on the season, while Petty has thrown four in as many games. The young quarterback also must be weary of a solid Dolphins’ pass rush that has produced 28 sacks. He went down six times last week against a fairly pedestrian 49ers pass rush, so he can ill afford to take too much time in the pocket against the likes of Cameron Wake, Ndamukong Suh and Andre Branch. The outcome of this game means little to the Jets’ season, other than wins actually hurt their draft positioning, but these last three games are crucial for Petty as he looks to show the coaching staff and team executives that he could be the long-term answer at quarterback. A step in the right direction towards this goal is to not give into his gun-slinging mentality when there’s no throw to make.
The big storyline for this matchup is the starting quarterback for each team. On one hand, you have Matt Moore. He’s more experienced and his track record suggests that he is better at managing a game than Bryce Petty, but he is sure to be a little rusty. Petty, on the other hand, is younger and possesses a skill set that Moore never even had in his prime. However, Petty’s inexperience and reckless style of play makes for a serious liability against a solid Miami pass defense.
The one area that the Dolphins struggle is against the run. Bilal Powell could be the great equalizer against a suspect Miami run defense. That being said, the Dolphins’ Jay Ajayi is no slouch in his own right, and he is capable of doing some damage against a middle-of-the-road Jets run defense.
Despite the fact that the Jets are pretty beat up on both sides of the football, they have a good shot to come away with the upset provided the effort is there. Regardless, the Dolphins desperately need this win to keep their playoff hopes alive. That should be enough to give Miami the edge on the road.
Prediction: Dolphins 20, Jets 17
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.