By preseason win total NFL betting lines, the Miami Dolphins (projected for six wins) and Jacksonville Jaguars (projected for 4.5 wins) both looked destined for top-five picks in the 2021 draft. Both teams, however, have been a little more competitive than advertised, making for a potentially exciting in-state battle on Thursday night football. Let’s look at keys to the game for each team.
The Jacksonville Jaguars, led by quarterback Gardner Minshew’s famous mustache, are just a few plays away from starting 2-0 after falling to the Tennessee Titans last week on a late field goal. The Miami Dolphins and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick’s magical beard, meanwhile, held a fourth-quarter lead last week against the Buffalo Bills before falling 31-28. Both teams have played significant competition, with each of their four opponents—the Colts and Titans for the Jaguars and Patriots and Bills for the Dolphins—favored to make the playoffs this year. As a result, this game may prove to be far more competitive and entertaining than a simple matchup of Florida quarterbacks’ facial hair.
Key matchups to watch
One of the most entertaining matchups will be between signal-callers Ryan Fitzpatrick and Gardner Minshew. In his rookie season last year, Minshew’s mustache made him an instant fan favorite in Jacksonville, and while most outsiders expected the Jags would find a more pedigreed quarterback this offseason, Minshew has remained, with former Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles shipped off to the Bears. Meanwhile, the Dolphins signal caller Fitzpatrick has earned the nickname ‘Fitzmagic’ in recent seasons, because his play is almost always entertaining (even if not always as predictable or consistent).
Young talent on both teams should make for entertaining watching, too. While the Jaguars no longer claim the dominant “Sacksonville” defense of only a few seasons past, rookies CJ Henderson (CB), K’Lavon Chaisson (LB), Laviska Shenault Jr. (WR), and James Robinson (RB) all look like potential stars, as do second- and third-year players Josh Allen, Myles Jack, DJ Chark, and Dede Westbrook (though Westbrook is still returning from an injury, and may not play Thursday). For the Dolphins, five picks in the first two rounds of April’s draft complement what was already a young, rebuilding team; while rookie quarterback Tua Tagliova continues to learn behind Fitzpatrick, other rookies are showing strides, including CB Noah Igbinoghene and DT Raekwon Davis, among others. The Dolphins have tremendous potential in players such as DE Shaq Lawson, CB Xavien Howard, and WR DeVante Parker, though they’re still working on putting that potential together to earn wins.
The final key matchup may be the injury report. The Dolphins were gashed by Cam Newton’s legs in Week 1 and Josh Allen’s arm in Week 2, partially because they can’t seem to keep enough key players healthy. Jacksonville is similarly dealing with some injuries, with WR DJ Chark, TE Tyler Davis, and K Josh Lambo all limited in practice this week, though they’re currently far healthier than the beat-up Dolphins.
For Miami to break through against the Jaguars, the defense will need to step up. In Week 1, Cam Newton and the Patriots ran all over the supposedly improved Miami run defense. Last week, Josh Allen gouged the Dolphins through the air, passing for a career-high 417 yards.
Getting their first win of the season starts with the defense performing up to off-season expectations. Of course, that may prove difficult given how many defensive contributors are currently injured. CB Byron Jones left last week’s game injured and has not practiced this week; CB Xavien Howard and DE Shaq Lawson—expected to be this season’s defensive cornerstones—were both limited in practice, and while LB Kyle Van Noy was a full participant, he still hasn’t looked like himself yet this season. (Other defensive injuries to watch include LB Elandon Roberts, S Clayton Fejedelem, and DE Emmanuel Ogbah.)
The Dolphins are also beat up on offense, with star WR DeVante Parker still limited in practice, RB Matt Breida potentially questionable for Thursday, and RB Jordan Howard (though not officially injured) looking like he might be washed up (he’s currently averaging 0.8 yards per carry).
Fortunately, other players have stepped up on offense. TE Mike Gesicki looks like a potential star in the making and currently leads the Dolphins with 160 receiving yards through two games. RB Myles Gaskin has similarly stepped up, averaging 5.4 yards per carry thus far against two stout run defenses. While calls for Tagliova gained steam after Fitzpatrick’s rough, three-interception outing in Week 1, the Dolphins signal-caller looked much steadier last week against Buffalo and should be reliable against Jacksonville’s weak secondary.
Just as important for second-year head coach Brian Flores is continuing to develop young talent. Thursday’s NFL Week 3 game against Jacksonville should give him plenty of opportunities to find playing time for some of his younger players.
Few people outside the Jaguars’ locker room might have expected the team to be competitive this year; at season’s start, far more online sports betting on the Jaguars was centered around their NFL betting odds for the top pick than for making the playoffs. Yet the Jaguars handled the Colts in Week 1, had chances for a victory in Week 2 against the Titans, and enter their NFL Week 3 matchup against the Miami Dolphins with a very real chance to nab their second victory of the young season.
Key questions for the Jaguars include:
- Which version of Gardner Minshew will show up against the Dolphins’ banged-up secondary?
- Can undrafted rookie James Robinson continue to pile up yards on the ground?
- Can the Jaguars protect the football and keep it away from Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins’ offense?
When Minshew plays well, so do the Jaguars—despite not having a particularly talented surrounding cast last season, Minshew went 4-2 last year in games where he did not record a turnover, and is 1-0 so far this season when he protects the ball. The Dolphins’ secondary—when healthy—is quite capable of picking off Minshew. If Minshew can capitalize on how beat up the Dolphins secondary is, however, it could be a very different game.
Similarly, James Robinson is off to a great start, averaging more than 5 yards per carry despite only ripping off a single run longer than 20 yards. Can he continue to pile up chunk yardage against the Dolphins? Cam Newton and the Patriots ran up 217 rushing yards on 42 carries in Week 1, so the Dolphins are certainly vulnerable.
Finally, protecting the football is key. Fitzpatrick and the Dolphins’ offense is capable of magic if given enough opportunities, even if they haven’t shown much of that explosiveness yet this season. Minshew and the Jaguars will need to avoid turnovers.
NFL Week 3 Preview Summary
Even if neither team was expected to do much this season, both teams have shown potential so far. Ultimately, though, the Miami Dolphins may simply be too injured—especially in the secondary—against a Jacksonville Jaguars’ attack that is putting up points so far this season. (In Minshew’s 14 games last season, the Jaguars only once outscored the 27 and 30 points they’ve put up so far this season, in a Week 17 38-20 win over the Colts.)
The focus for both teams should be down the road, as they try to continue developing their young players, but given that one team has to win, the Jaguars look like the safer of the two NFL betting picks.
Betting Picks and Predictions
While some online sports betting fans will probably avoid this game, NFL betting lines currently favor the Jacksonville Jaguars at -3, with the over/under of 48 or 49 (depending on your sportsbook casino) offering some intrigue as well. The Jaguars have shown no trouble scoring and given how depleted the Miami Dolphins’ secondary is right now, they’ll need to score to keep up.
Our prediction: Jacksonville Jaguars 34, Miami Dolphins 28