The Dolphins were supposed to tank in 2019, and the Jags were meant to do the same this year, but things don't always go as expected in the NFL, writes Mark Kirwan...
"Their defence is a shadow of its Sacksonville heyday, with little pass-rush to speak of and lots of young starters, but the Jags offence looks capable of keeping them in games under second-year starter Gardner Minshew."
Miami Dolphins @ Jacksonville Jaguars
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Tank for Trev?
The Jacksonville Jaguars were supposed to be the whipping boys of the 2020 NFL season.
They've completely dismantled the team that was a Myles Jack fumble recovery TD away from winning a first AFC title back in January 2018. Running back Leonard Fournette and pass rusher Yannick Ngakoue were moved on in recent weeks, moves that seemed to confirm that the Jags were "tanking" this season.
And why wouldn't they? 2020's worst record in the league would "earn" the first overall pick in nect year's draft and highly-touted QB prospect Trevor Lawrence to lead a franchise that has long suffered a lack of star talent.
But then the season started and the Jags didn't look all that bad.
Sure, Indianapolis will wonder how they played Week 1's match-up and never punted yet still somehow lost to the Jags. Last Sunday's 33-30 defeat to the Titans in Nashville was also encouraging, where Jacksonville were double-digit underdogs but went blow-for-blow with last season AFC Championship runners-up.
Their defence is a shadow of its Sacksonville heyday, with little pass-rush to speak of and lots of young starters, but the Jags offence looks capable of keeping them in games under second-year starter Gardner Minshew.
A sixth-round pick in 2019, the QB became a cult hero last season when replacing Nick Foles. Indeed, his care-free image and jokey media appearances might even obscure the most important thing about him - that he's actually pretty good. He was a legitimate contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, threw for 19-of-20 versus the Colts in Week 1, and was arguably more impressive against Tennessee's mean defence last Sunday.
He has formed a connection with top receiver DJ Chark and makes the most of the other assembled talent around him. With better protection behind his line this season and the play-calling nous of new OC Jay Gruden, who has made both Kirk Cousins and Andy Dalton into better-than-average starters at points in their careers, the Jags may have found their franchise QB by accident.
Dolphins make a splash
The irony of this match-up is that the Dolphins were supposed to be the league's tanking team in 2019.
The story was that they were "tanking for Tua" in the last campaign as they stripped the meagre assets from their roster and opened the season taking a series of heavy beatings.
Only the players that were still around didn't like the idea so much, nor did their rookie coach Brian Flores, who lifted them to a 5-11 record after opening the season 0-7.
And Miami still got their man in Tua Tagovailoa after he fell to the fifth pick in 2020's draft.
During that late-season run Ryan Fitzpatrick did what he's done several times before, emerging as the starter having signed up to be the experienced back-up, and remains in situ this season while their rookie adjusts to the NFL and recovers from injury.
Mike Gesicki is developing into a solid tight end option for Fitz, and Tua to come. He led the team with a career-best performance of eight receptions for 130 and a TD against the imposing Bills defence on Sunday in a very close loss. Devante Parker and Preston Williams have the potential to be a very exciting pair one-two punch at wide receiver too.
The picture is murkier at running back, where Matt Breida and Jordan Howard were recruited in the offseason, while Miles Gaskin has also contributed through their two divisional losses.
On defence, there's been significant turnover, with six new starters this season. They were gouged by Josh Allen for 417 yards and four touchdowns through the air on Sunday, 328 of which came in the first half. Injury to cornerback Byron Jones did not help and the quick turnaround here for a Thursday game means rookie Noah Igbinoghene could face another tough assignment covering Chark in this.
Both of these teams have had reasonable opening fortnights, with the Jags a field goal away from being 2-0 and top of the AFC South and the Dolphins playing a fancied Bills team close in Week 2 after a 21-11 loss to the muscular post-Brady Patriots in Week 1
It's a bit of a surprise still to see the Jags getting favoured by 3 points given how low expectations were two weeks ago. The line has swung on this game, with Miami opening in Vegas as slight favourites, and if this goes to 3.5, I really couldn't recommend taking it, but their play with Minshew leading them - he hit eight different receivers on Sunday - and rookie James Robinson filling the Fournette-shaped gap at running back justifies the backing they are getting from the public.
I'd also expect the Jags to win this game based on their performances so far, and with the line at a field goal, it makes sense to take them to cover at 1/11.98 or better, especially with Miami's defence struggling and Minshew looking sharp.
The Jaguars defence isn't all that convincing either, so the QB will have to continue his strong play in all likelihood. Indianapolis marched all over them and squandered chances in Week 1, while the Titans put up 33 points in Sunday's win. Miami can score here too, so I'd look at the over on 47.5 points at 10/111.91.
For player bets, there are few star names on show here, which means we can probably look to a bigger price option, and rookie Laviska Shenault carries some appeal against Miami's retooled defence.
The second-round pick has already shown glimpses of his potential for a Jags team lacking star power by breaking his TD duck in the season opener, and his combination of speed and physicality should trouble a Dolphins rearguard still in flux. I'd look at him in TD markets here, with First TD odds of 10/1 standing out, and 21/10 as an Anytime option also appealing.
1pt on Jacksonville -3 on the Handicap @ 1/11.98 on the Exchange
1.5pt on Over 47.5 Total Points @ 10/111.91 on the Exchange
1pt on Laviska Shenault Anytime Touchdown Scorer @ 21/10 on the Sportsbook
.5pt on Laviska Shenault First Touchdown Scorer @ 10/1 on the Sportsbook