Just a month ago, things were quite different for both the Miami Dolphins and the San Diego Chargers. Miami began the season with a 1-4 record and many thought the Dolphins were one of the worst teams in the NFL. Since then, the Dolphins have won three consecutive games to move from last in the AFC East to second behind the Patriots.
San Diego also had a 1-4 record after their first five games. Since then, the Chargers have won three of their last four, including victories over the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos and one of the NFC’s best teams, the Atlanta Falcons.
This Sunday, the Dolphins and Chargers will meet for the third straight season and second consecutive time at Qualcomm Stadium. Miami has a slight advantage over San Diego in the all-time series 16-15. But the Chargers have won three straight over the Dolphins in San Diego, including a 30-14 victory last season.
Miami at San Diego
Kickoff: Sunday, Nov. 13 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: San Diego -4
Three Things to Watch
1. Jay Ajayi
The recent resurgence of the Dolphins hasn’t happened by accident. Miami’s starting offensive line is finally healthy and that has had a lot to do with the recent emergence of Ajayi running the football.
In his first four games (inactive in Week 1 against Seattle), Ajayi rushed for a combined 117 yards and two touchdowns. During the Dolphins three-game winning streak, Ajayi has racked up 529 yards and four touchdowns on the ground in wins over Pittsburgh, Buffalo and the New York Jets.
San Diego comes into this game seventh in the NFL in rushing defense. The Chargers want to slow down Ajayi, which will force quarterback Ryan Tannehill to throw the ball more. History shows when Tannehill throws the ball a lot, good things have not happened for the Dolphins.
2. Joey Bosa
The third overall pick of this year’s draft, Bosa did not play in the team’s first four games as he was dealing with a contract dispute and a hamstring injury. Since making his debut in Week 5 against the Raiders, Bosa has been one of the best pass rushers in the league.
Bosa has 14 tackles, four sacks, 16 quarterback pressures and a forced fumble in five games. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Chargers are 3-2 with Bosa in the lineup.
San Diego has 18 sacks this season, as Bosa has provided the defense with a consistent pass-rushing threat, which has added depth to the defensive line and also made things easier on the linebackers and a depleted secondary.
3. Cameron Wake
Coming off of an Achilles injury, Wake was put on a snap out by Miami head coach Adam Gase and defensive coordinator Vance Joseph. But because of the lack of production from the other defensive linemen, notably free-agent signee Mario Williams (10 tackles, sack in eight games), Wake has seen more snaps over the past four games and he has delivered in a major way.
In the Dolphins’ last three games, Wake has registered four sacks and two forced fumbles. In last week’s win against the Jets, Wake was an absolute terror, collecting two sacks and forcing two fumbles. For the season, Wake has 12 tackles, five sacks and three forced fumbles. San Diego has given up 22 sacks, which is the sixth most in the league, so Philip Rivers and his offensive line will certainly need to keep an eye on Wake at all times.
Both the Dolphins and Chargers are completely different teams since the start of the season. The difference in this game could be the play of San Diego’s QB-RB tandem of Philip Rivers and Melvin Gordon.
Even in victory, Miami has had a tendency to give up big plays. Last week, New York Jets running back Matt Forte had a 32-yard touchdown run and a 31-yard touchdown catch. The Dolphins rank 30th in the NFL against the run at 136.1 rushing yards per game allowed. That could be a problem with Gordon sitting third in the league in rushing (768 yards) and coming off of a career-best 196-yard effort against Tennessee.
The Chargers should be able to move the ball against Miami provided the offensive line gives Rivers time to throw. Unless Jay Ajayi has another spectacular performance against San Diego’s fifth-ranked rush defense, the Chargers should be able to pull off a close victory to improve to .500.
Prediction: San Diego 31, Miami 24
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.