The late addition of veteran quarterback Chad Pennington helped an offseason makeover of the Miami Dolphins. The Dolphins no longer are the NFL’s doormat.
After stumbling to a 1-15 finish last season, Miami is 2-4 with marquee victories over New England and San Diego.
The work of Bill Parcells, the executive vice president of football operations, and first-year coach Tony Sparano is turning around the Dolphins’ tailspin.
But the Buffalo Bills (5-1) are a bigger success story. The Bills, who lead the AFC East, are 11/2-point favorites at Miami today.
The Gold Sheet handicapper Chuck Sippl is siding with the underdog Dolphins, citing the abilities of Pennington and running back Ronnie Brown to do damage against Buffalo’s defense.
"A lot of things are breaking Miami’s way in this one," Sippl said. "The Dolphins are substantially improved over last year, much more solid fundamentally, and the Bills are not so strong on defense."
Buffalo’s defense ranks 10th in the league, but end Aaron Schobel is out with a foot injury.
"Pennington knows the Buffalo defense from his time with the New York Jets," Sippl said.
Pennington has completed 75 percent of his passes in the past four games. He passed for a season-high 295 yards last week against Baltimore, which has the league’s second-ranked defense.
The Bills have covered eight in a row in the series, but Sippl said that run was "during the Dolphins’ down period," and Miami is a motivated team coming off back-to-back losses.
"Things change all the time in the NFL," Sippl said. "It’s a new era in Miami with Parcells and Pennington."
Sippl (goldsheet.com) analyzes The Gold Sheet’s plays for the rest of today’s Week 8 schedule:
• Oakland at Baltimore (-7): Ravens rookie quarterback Joe Flacco is ahead of the Raiders’ JaMarcus Russell right now. Baltimore’s John Harbaugh has proven himself to be a pretty smart rookie coach. Oakland still is adjusting to Tom Cable as its new coach. It has been tough for West Coast teams — Arizona, Oakland, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle — traveling to the East Coast, as those teams are 0-9 straight up and 2-7 against the spread this season. We’re going with the Ravens.
• San Diego (-3) vs. New Orleans at London: The Chargers are inconsistent for many reasons. The offensive line has not been healthy, LaDainian Tomlinson is bothered by a toe injury and averaging 3.6 yards per carry, and top wide receiver Chris Chambers is banged up and doubtful to play. The defense misses Shawne Merriman, one of the league’s most intimidating pass rushers. The Saints lost running back Reggie Bush to a knee injury. Drew Brees is facing his former team. We took New Orleans and the points.
• Kansas City at New York Jets (-14): Big underdogs have done well this season, but we don’t want the Chiefs. Running back Larry Johnson is out, and Tyler Thigpen is going to make his second start at quarterback for Kansas City. The Jets are coming off a loss, and they are 2-1 against the spread at home.
• Tampa Bay at Dallas (-2): This is the second start for Cowboys quarterback Brad Johnson, who won the Super Bowl after the 2002 season with coach Jon Gruden in Tampa Bay. Johnson was rusty last week, and he can play better and get rid of the ball quicker. The Buccaneers’ defense leads the league in three-and-outs. Dallas coach Wade Phillips is calling the plays on defense again, so expect the Cowboys to be more aggressive on defense. The Bucs do not have a dynamic passing attack. Dallas has a good chance to win this game.
• Atlanta at Philadelphia (-9): The Falcons’ Matt Ryan has been impressive as a rookie quarterback. Philadelphia has not been a dominant home favorite, and, surprisingly, home favorites off a bye are not a great play. Atlanta also is coming off a bye. There are two key questions: How effective is Eagles running back Brian Westbrook going to be coming back from injury, and is Atlanta’s offensive line going to be able to keep the Philadelphia pass rush off Ryan? We’ll go with the Falcons.
• St. Louis at New England (-71/2): The Rams are 2-0 under Jim Haslett, and the team is in a much better frame of mind. The Patriots keep losing key players, including their best running back, Sammy Morris, and that makes it more difficult for quarterback Matt Cassel. But wideouts Randy Moss and Wes Welker will test the Rams’ questionable pass defense. Running back Steven Jackson was limited in practice Friday with a thigh injury, and we would like to make sure Jackson is in there, but we’ll take the points with St. Louis.
• Arizona at Carolina (-4): It looks as if the Panthers still have injury problems on the offensive line, but they run the ball well. They have a good combination going with Jonathan Stewart as the power back and DeAngelo Williams as the speed back. Carolina’s pressure defense could get to quarterback Kurt Warner and force fumbles and interceptions. The Cardinals have struggled going East, losing to the Jets and Redskins. The Panthers used to struggle at home, but they are 3-0 there this season, and we’ll lay the points.
• Washington (-71/2) at Detroit: The Lions got a shaky cover last week as the Texans were a couple of plays from putting them down 28-0. We’re going to stick with the Redskins. First-year coach Jim Zorn has sparked the offense. Jason Campbell has not thrown an interception, Clinton Portis leads the league in rushing with 818 yards, and wideout Santana Moss has stayed healthy. Lay the points with Washington.
• Cleveland at Jacksonville (-7): The Browns played a poor game last week, then threatened the Redskins at the end. Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson can play much better. The Jaguars have injuries on their offensive line, and they are 0-3 against the spread at home. The points are valuable, and we’ll side with the underdog Browns.
• New York Giants at Pittsburgh (-3): We couldn’t lay 3 points if Steelers running back Willie Parker is not going to play, and he is doubtful with a knee injury. Santonio Holmes, a key speed receiver and deep threat, is out after being arrested. Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is a pupil of the Eagles’ Jimmy Johnson, and the Eagles had success blitzing Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Eli Manning must play better than he did in the loss at Cleveland two weeks ago, but we’ll side with the Giants.
• Seattle at San Francisco (-5): There has been a positive reaction to Mike Singletary as the 49ers’ new coach. I think the players will play hard for him. San Francisco has to get back to running the ball and defense and not trying to win games with quarterback J.T. O’Sullivan. The 49ers catch a break with Seneca Wallace starting again at quarterback for Seattle. In their past three games, the Seahawks had 187, 177 and 176 yards of offense. There are just enough edges to support San Francisco.
• Cincinnati at Houston (-91/2): The Texans are 1-5 against the spread. This is their fourth straight home game, and they had no covers in the previous three. It’s Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback again for Cincinnati. Fitzpatrick is 0-3 ATS as the starter. Houston quarterback Matt Schaub is coming on, and running back Steve Slaton is a speed threat. The Texans should outscore the Bengals. If you don’t like to lay more than 7 points in an NFL game, look over the total (45.)
Compiled by Review-Journal sportswriter Matt Youmans.REVIEW-JOURNAL NFL CHALLENGE All point spreads are those used in the official Las Vegas Hilton SuperContest. Joseph D’Amico Allamerican sports.info Last week: 2-3 Season: 18-17 Picks: Chiefs +12 1/2 Bills -1 Falcons +9 Patriots -7 Redskins -7 1/2 Allen Leiker Review-Journal Assistant sports editor Last week: 3-2 Season: 20-14-1 Picks: Cowboys -3 Patriots -7 Panthers -4 1/2 49ers -4 1/2 Titans -4 Mark Franco VegasInsider.com handicapper Last week: 2-3 Season: 23-12 Picks: Ravens -6 1/2 Falcons +9 Panthers -4 1/2 Jaguars -7 Titans -4 Lisa Perry Review-Journal handicapper Last week: 1-4 Season: 13-21-1 Picks: Ravens -6 1/2 Dolphins +1 Cowboys -3 Panthers -4 1/2 Giants +2 1/2 Ed Graney Review-Journal Sports columnist Last week: 4-1 Season: 20-14-1 Picks: Ravens -6 1/2 Saints +3 1/2 Bills -1 Cowboys -3 Panthers -4 1/2 Lee Sterling Paramount sports.com Last week: 5-0 Season: 21-14 Picks: Ravens -6 1/2 Jets -12 1/2 Dolphins +1 Cowboys -3 Cardinals +4 1/2 Joe Hawk Review-Journal Sports editor Last week: 0-5 Season: 17-17-1 Picks: Jets -12 1/2 Bills -1 Patriots -7 Redskins -7 1/2 49ers -4 1/2 Dave Tuley Viewfrom vegas.com Last week: 2-3 Season: 20-14-1 Picks: Bills -1 Cardinals +4 1/2 Lions +7 1/2 Browns +7 Giants +2 1/2 Jay Kornegay Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Last week: 4-1 Season: 22-13 Picks: Jets -12 1/2 Dolphins +1 Cowboys -3 Eagles -9 Colts +4 Matt Youmans Review-Journal Sports staff Last week: 1-4 Season: 18-16-1 Picks: Ravens -6 1/2 Saints +3 1/2 Patriots -7 Panthers -4 1/2 Giants +2 1/2