For those of us who are gluttons for punishment, the Miami Dolphins will grace our television screens in prime time once again. Just a week after playing the Raiders at home on Sunday night, the Fins travel to Carolina to play the Panthers on "Monday Night Football." There's no telling what you are going to get from the team out of Florida as Miami has lost two straight after winning three in a row.
Jay Cutler had his best game as Miami's quarterback last week, completing 34-of-42 passes for 309 yards, but it wasn't enough as the Dolphins fell 27-24 to Oakland at home. The run game didn't hold up it's end of the bargain in the first game since Jay Ajayi was traded to Philadelphia. Miami's defense has actually not been that bad so far this season holding opponents to under 100 rushing yards per game. Baltimore has been the only team to really run the ball at will (174 yards) against the Dolphins' defense.
In some ways, these two teams are very similar as the Carolina defense has been the stronger, more consistent unit. Opponents are scoring just 17.7 points per game and putting up less than 300 total yards of offense. This side of the ball has been able to stay healthy for the most part and the cornerbacks are improving after taking their beating last year without Josh Norman. The ultimate question is which Cam Newton shows up and can this offense find big plays without injured tight end Greg Olsen and the recently dealt Kelvin Benjamin.
Miami at Carolina
Kickoff: Monday, Nov. 13 at 8:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ESPN
Spread: Panthers -9
Three Things to Watch
1. Who will find their run game first?
Cam Newton and Jay Cutler are both capable of winning games by themselves, but each would greatly appreciate a run game to help take the pressure off. For Carolina, Jonathan Stewart had two fumbles last week which led to Christian McCaffrey getting a season-high 15 carries. The problem for the first-round pick is that he's averaging only 2.9 yards per carry and his only successful spot is split wide where the Panthers can use his elusiveness in the open field. Now, I'm sure head coach Ron Rivera will give Stewart another shot, but it’s probably just a matter of time before McCaffrey takes over the bulk of the carries. Cameron Artis-Payne also is slowly being worked as a third backfield option. On the Miami side, you've got Damien Williams and Kenyan Drake who are trying to fill Jay Ajayi's shoes. Both running backs saw their fair share of touches last week against Oakland, but the offensive line continues to be an issue in getting the running game started. New Orleans was the last team to have a fair amount of success running the ball on Carolina (149 rushing yards) and that was back in Week 3.
2. Will there be a wild card stepping up on offense for Carolina?
Carolina's trade of wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin shocked a lot of fans considering what he brought to the offense. Greg Olsen's injury also took away a very big piece to the puzzle. Benjamin's trade was supposed to open things up for McCaffrey in the slot and he had five catches for 28 yards in last week’s win over the Falcons. Fellow rookie Curtis Samuel is getting an extended look at wide receiver, but he has yet to do much (three catches on five targets last week). Devin Funchess has taken over as the No. 1 wide receiver, and he’s put up decent numbers (38 rec., 443 yds., 3 TDs). The Panthers really need Olsen back, and he should be ready to return in a few weeks, but until then someone else is going to have to step up and make plays.
3. Shootout vs. defensive struggle
Vegas has set this total at around 40 which means they expect this to be a lower-scoring affair. These two teams have combined to go under the total in 10 of their 17 contests. I think a lower-scoring contest benefits the Panthers more because they don't have the weapons to keep up in a back-and-forth affair. They had a stretch in late September where the defense allowed 24 points or more and they went 2-2 over that span. With the return of DeVante Parker, I think Miami could handle a shootout more if it got to that. The problem is that it would require Jay Cutler to be on the mark with his passes, something that he has not been able to do consistently over his career. Cutler has thrown an interception in all but two starts this season.
I really don't know what to expect from Miami. I thought the Dolphins were going to beat the Raiders last week and unfortunately they lost by three at home. Jay Cutler is coming off his best game as a Dolphin, but asking him to do that again under constant pressure is a tall order. The low total means this game won't feature a ton of touchdowns. I think most of the few we see will come from Carolina as Christian McCaffrey finds the end zone in a Panthers win.
Prediction: Panthers 22, Dolphins 15
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.
(Jay Cutler photo courtesy of www.miamidolphins.com)