Jets vs. Dolphins Prediction, Storylines: Can Miami overcome COVID-19 to remain in the playoff hunt?

Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa leads the shorthanded Miami Dolphins against Zach Wilson and the visiting New York Jets.

The Miami Dolphins were once 1-7. With a win Sunday against the New York Jets Sunday, they’ll be back to .500 and no worse than a game out of the seventh seed. What a story that would be. But nothing has come easy for Brian Flores in his three seasons as the Dolphins head coach. The pandemic has upended an offense that didn’t have a ton of high-level weapons to begin with. What are the NFL odds, storylines, and our prediction for the Jets vs. Dolphins on Sunday?

New York Jets vs. Miami Dolphins storylines

Six Dolphins players have landed on the reserve/COVID-19 list this week: Running backs Myles Gaskin, Salvon Ahmed, Phillip Lindsay, and Gerrid Doaks, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle, and safety Jevon Holland.

Fortunately for the Dolphins, some, but not all, of those names are back. Here’s how those positive tests will impact a Dolphins team that did just enough to beat the Jets (24-17) in Week 11.

Dolphins’ running back room is basically empty

Outbreaks happen fast, and they happen furiously. Just ask Dolphins running backs coach Eric Studesville, whose unit has been hit the hardest this week. Here’s a rundown of the Dolphins’ recent transactions involving their running backs:

Dec. 8: Patrick Laird (3 catches, 17 yards in 2021) placed on injured reserve.

Dec. 10: Myles Gaskin (team-leading 154 carries for 526 yards) placed on reserve/COVID-19 list.

Dec. 11: Salvon Ahmed (266 yards from scrimmage) placed on reserve/COVID-19 list.

Dec. 13: Phillip Lindsay (12 carries, 42 yards) played on reserve/COVID-19 list. Duke Johnson elevated to the active roster as a COVID-19 replacement. Dexter Williams signed to the practice squad.

Dec. 16: Gerrid Doaks placed on the practice squad/COVID-19 list. Jordan Scarlett signed to the practice squad.

Dec. 17: Ahmed and Gaskin activated off reserve/COVID-19.

Getting Myles Gaskin and Salvon Ahmed back is vital for Miami

How bleak was it at one point? The Dolphins woke up Friday morning with just one RB on their active roster (Johnson) and Scarlett and Williams on their practice squad. Those three players have combined to carry the ball 4 times for 18 yards in 2021. Getting Ahmed and Gaskin back would be huge.

“I think this is kind of league-wide, what’s gone on from a COVID standpoint,” Flores said. “There was a game that was played [Thursday] night, games that are coming, and I think we’ve got to compartmentalize. And we know that’s going on just as a lot of things are going on.

“Really individually, there’s always something going on, and when you get into the building, you really focus on what the task at hand is; that meeting, that practice, that walkthrough, the Jets, and their team which they gave us a lot of problems the last time we saw them offensively, defensively, and in the kicking game. We expect that type of game again. That’s what we’re preparing for, a 60-minute dog fight against a division opponent, and that’s what we’re preparing for.”

Can the Dolphins’ offense run without its engine?

Waddle isn’t just a big part of the Dolphins’ passing game. He’s essentially the entire Dolphins passing game. Waddle has already broken the team’s rookie record for receptions (86) and is just 15 shy of Anquan Boldin’s NFL rookie record (101, set in 2003).

Waddle accounts for 25.6% of the Dolphins’ catches, 23.4% of their targets, and 29.8% of their first-down catches. But numbers alone don’t do him justice.

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The Dolphins’ offense plays in a 20-yard box — Tua Tagovailoa ranks 31st in intended air yards per pass attempt (6.7) — and explosive plays are hard to come by. They have the 10th-fewest pass plays of 40 or more yards, and 1,400 of their 2,997 passing yards on the season have come after the catch. Waddle’s speed will be missed.

“I feel we’ve got guys who can play a few different positions. (Isaiah) Ford, ‘Mike G’ (Mike Gesicki), Albert (Wilson),” Flores added. “I think we’ve got some options there. I think we kind of went through that when we got that information [Thursday] basically right in the middle of meetings. We’ll make some adjustments on the fly, and we’ll kind of work through some of that today, but we’ve got a few different options there.”

Zach Wilson needs to be great

It’s difficult to write anything about Zach Wilson’s rookie struggles that hasn’t already been written. Yes, he’s been bad — 32nd in QBR (24.1), passer rating (65.3), and completion percentage (56.1), and 30th in yards per attempt (6.1).

Sure, he’s been hurt. Wilson missed four games, including the first meeting with the Dolphins, with a knee injury. Yes, he’s been failed by his teammates — his drop rate (6.5%) is the third-worst in football.

But the natural ability that made him the No. 2 pick in the draft is still there. It’ll be a challenge Sunday, even with marvelous Holland sideline by COVID-19. Holland, Brandon Jones, Xavien Howard and Byron Jones are as talented a group of defensive backs as there is in the league.

“Really good players, but I think from an offensive standpoint we can’t be afraid to go after them and test them for sure,” Wilson said. “We can’t just sit back there and say, hey, just because they’re good corners we can’t just not throw the ball at them. We got to attack them and just do what we normally do on offense and come out just going after them.”

Betting line and game prediction

  • Spread: Dolphins -9.5 (Odds courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook)
  • Moneyline: Dolphins -435, Jets +330
  • Total: 41

Jets vs. Dolphins Prediction: Dolphins 21, Jets 13

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