Even when the New York Jets are losing, coach Rex Ryan keeps it entertaining. His trash talk is more noteworthy than his team’s nondescript offense.
Ryan has traded words with Miami running back Reggie Bush, and players from both sides jumped into the fray to create a fight hype-type atmosphere for the AFC East rivals’ meeting today in New Jersey.
The Dolphins were expected to be left on the NFL’s trash heap by now, but at 3-3 they are exceeding low expectations and sit above the Jets (3-4) in the standings.
“I was really down on the Dolphins at the start of the season, but I’ve changed my tune,” said handicapper Bruce Marshall of The Gold Sheet. “I would keep an eye on the Dolphins because I think their arrow is pointed up. I’ve been very impressed. But I’m not sure about the Jets.”
Before a bye, Miami defeated St. Louis and Cincinnati, and those games came on the heels of three-point overtime losses to Arizona and the Jets.
Bush was knocked out with a knee injury in the Dolphins’ 23-20 loss to the Jets in Week 3, and he’s seeking revenge against Ryan, who instructed his defense to target the running back for hard hits.
New York has the league’s third-worst run defense, allowing 147.7 yards per game, so Bush, who has 434 yards rushing despite being slowed by injuries, should be a focal point of Miami’s game plan.
The quarterbacks, Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill and the Jets’ Mark Sanchez, also will play key roles. Sanchez passed for a season-high 328 yards in an overtime loss at New England last week to keep backup Tim Tebow in the background.
“Sanchez is due to have a meltdown,” Marshall said. “Tannehill is making progress quicker than expected.”
The Dolphins, 7-1 against the spread in their past eight road games, get Marshall’s recommendation as 2½-point underdogs.
Marshall (Goldsheet.com) analyzes the rest of today’s Week 8 schedule:
■ New England (-7) vs. St. Louis (at London): I have not seen the buy signal on the Patriots yet because their defense is giving up too many big plays. Coach Jeff Fisher has upgraded the St. Louis defense, and quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson give the Rams a chance to stay in the game. I don’t want to jump off St. Louis just because of its loss to Green Bay last week. I would take the Rams and the points.
■ Indianapolis at Tennessee (-3½): The Titans are better off with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback. Chris Johnson, who rushed for 195 yards against Buffalo, is bipolar. If he can run like he did last week, Tennessee’s offense can be kind of potent. Rookie quarterback Andrew Luck is getting better for the Colts, but he’s still inconsistent, and I lean a little to the Titans.
■ Jacksonville at Green Bay (-14½): Aaron Rodgers has nine touchdown passes the past two weeks, and the Packers look like they have caught an updraft. The Jaguars are dealing with a lot of injuries, and they should have beat Oakland last week. This shapes up poorly for Jacksonville. I don’t like to lay double digits, but I have to go with Green Bay.
■ San Diego (-3) at Cleveland: The Browns are 1-12 in their past 13 games, but I think they are getting better. It’s evident rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden is an upgrade over Colt McCoy, and rookie wide receiver Josh Gordon is giving Weeden a legit downfield target. We might look back at the Chargers’ loss to Denver two weeks ago and say that’s where they started to unravel. Philip Rivers, who has thrown nine interceptions, continues to make mistakes. I give Cleveland a shot to win.
■ Atlanta at Philadelphia (-3): What are the Eagles doing favored? Maybe the oddsmakers know something. But I think coach Andy Reid is in trouble, and Michael Vick is turning the ball over way too much. Five of Philadelphia’s six games were decided by three points or fewer, so laying points is dangerous. The Eagles are not generating the pass rush they did in the past, and Matt Ryan could pick them apart. The Falcons have flaws, but I’ll play them in this situation.
■ Seattle at Detroit (-2½): I’m still bullish on the Seahawks. The defense is robust and has handled better quarterbacks, even beating Tom Brady. Something does not look right with Matthew Stafford and the Lions’ offense. Seattle rookie Russell Wilson seems to have a knack for making plays. Detroit is 5-13 ATS in its past 18 games. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is 11-1 in his past 12 as a ‘dog. My pick is the underdog.
■ Carolina at Chicago (-7½): The Panthers need leadership from quarterback Cam Newton. He looks kind of lost, and the offense misses injured center Ryan Kalil. It’s a situation that looks almost toxic, so I’m not going to mess with Carolina. The Bears’ defense is playing exceptionally well, and they have more weapons on offense, so they are worth a bet.
■ Washington at Pittsburgh (-4½): The Steelers finally found their running game in a win at Cincinnati last week. But their defense, which will be missing safety Troy Polamalu again, is not what it was and is not forcing turnovers. Redskins rookie Robert Griffin III can make things happen. He’s as accurate a thrower on the run as he is planted, and I think he can do some business and keep this close. Alfred Morris rushed for 120 yards against the Giants, giving him 658 yards in seven games. I’ll take the points with Washington.
■ Oakland at Kansas City (-1½): I hate to take the Raiders on the road, but they have won five straight at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs’ switch to Brady Quinn at quarterback is a desperate roll of the dice by coach Romeo Crennel. Quinn is mediocre and is not going to be the answer. Carson Palmer can be counted on to make fewer mistakes for Oakland. The season could be unraveling in Kansas City. I’ll definitely take the underdog.
■ New York Giants (-2½) at Dallas: The Cowboys are 2-9 ATS in their past 11 home games, so they have no advantage at home, where quarterback Tony Romo seems to play worse. The Giants have covered eight straight on the road, and they look like the class of the NFC. This is a revenge game from the season opener, and the Giants have solved some of their offensive issues. The past three meetings between these teams in Dallas went over the total, so look over 47½.
■ New Orleans at Denver (-6): After starting 0-4, the Saints are clawing their way back. But all the distractions around the team seem to have hurt the defense. Denver has a few more playmakers on defense, and Peyton Manning should get a few more opportunities. I think the Broncos are going to win the game and slowly take control of the AFC West. But I don’t think I would lay the points. Manning could win a 34-31 sort of game.
COMPILED BY MATT YOUMANS
LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL