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Two of the best stories early in the 2022 NFL season are the 2-1 Jacksonville Jaguars and 3-0 Miami Dolphins. We asked NFL sources if they’re buying or selling those teams keeping this up for the rest of the season.
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS AS AFC SOUTH FAVORITES?
NFC analytics executive: Buying
The Jaguars’ turnaround this season has been relatively unsurprising for a team that finished last season with three wins and the No. 1 overall pick and now leads its division with a 2-1 record. Many people around the NFL believed that Trevor Lawrence would look like a different player this year after he struggled as a rookie. And it was expected that Jacksonville would show improvement going from the shakiest coaching staff in the NFL a year ago, led by head coach Urban Meyer, to the stability of Super Bowl champion head coach Doug Pederson.
It helps too that Jacksonville plays in the conference’s weakest division, the AFC South. The Jaguars were mentioned this summer as a team that could turn out to be this year’s version of the 2021 Cincinnati Bengals. They were also listed as one of PFF’s teams most likely to go from worst to first this season.
But that doesn’t make the start to their 2022 season any less impressive.
After losing to the Washington Commanders in Week 1, the Jaguars have strung together consecutive wins over the Indianapolis Colts (who are still betting favorites to win the AFC South at +105, per BetMGM) and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Quarterback Trevor Lawrence is PFF’s 11th-highest-graded passer this season, improving last year’s mark of 58.3 to 70.5 through three games. Over his past two games, Lawrence has a 78.1 PFF passing grade. He’s improved his accuracy percentage from 53.5% in 2021 to 64.1% this season. His uncatchable inaccurate percentage has lowered from 23.1% in 2021 to 17.5% this season. He’s maintained a 3.4% big-time throw rate but lowered his turnover-worthy play rate from 3.7% to 2.4%.
Jacksonville’s offense ranks fifth in expected points added (EPA) per play. The Jaguars’ defense, meanwhile, ranks fourth in EPA per play against. Jacksonville and the Buffalo Bills are the only teams that rank in the top five of EPA per play and EPA per play against.
An NFC analytics executive said he likes the Jaguars’ chances in the AFC South. Jacksonville currently has the second-best odds to win the division, at +220. The Colts are 1-1-1 after beating the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3. The Tennessee Titans (+280) won their first game of the season over the 0-3 Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday, and the Houston Texans (+3300) are 0-2-1 after losing to the Chicago Bears this week.
The Jaguars face their toughest test of the season in Week 4 against the 3-0 Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles are favored by 6.5 points at home.
MIAMI DOLPHINS AS ONE OF THE NFL’S BEST TEAMS?
AFC pro scout: Selling
The 3-0 Dolphins are on a tear to start the season following wins over the New England Patriots, Baltimore Ravens and Buffalo Bills. They lead the NFL in EPA per play, spearheaded by starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and head coach Mike McDaniel, but they’re 26th in EPA per play against on defense.
Miami has benefited from an epic second-half collapse by the Ravens in Week 2 and the fact that the Bills were missing four-fifths of their starting secondary in Week 3 and then lost rookie cornerback Christian Benford to a broken hand midway through the game. Buffalo also dealt with heat issues throughout the game in Miami.
The Dolphins weren’t as impressive in Week 1 against the Patriots, and an AFC pro scout would like to see more before declaring them one of the NFL’s best teams.
“They’re talented, for sure,” he said. “But yeah, if this were a market, I’d be shorting them.”
The Bills still have the NFL’s best odds to win the Super Bowl, at +450, per BetMGM. The Dolphins have the eighth-shortest odds, at +1600, behind Buffalo, the Kansas City Chiefs, Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Ravens and Los Angeles Rams.
It’s somewhat ironic that two of the teams Miami has beaten are listed above them. The Patriots currently have the ninth-longest odds after starting the season 1-2, losing to the Ravens in Week 3 and seeing starting quarterback Mac Jones suffer a high-ankle sprain.
The Dolphins don’t have many potentially fatal flaws, though two of their starting offensive linemen — left guard Liam Eichenberg and right tackle Greg Little — currently have PFF grades of 32.3 and 38.0, respectively. On defense, Miami is still without starting cornerback Byron Jones, who began the year on the PUP list and must miss at least one more game. Jones’ return should help strengthen Miami’s defense, but the team’s linebacker corps has struggled so far this season.
Tagovailoa has begun the season with a 77.5 PFF grade, but there are still people around the league who believe he’s succeeding despite some limitations.
Ultimately, there is a reason why the Dolphins have only the fourth-best odds to win the AFC, at +900, and they must keep proving themselves to Vegas and the rest of the NFL. Their next test comes Sunday in Cincinnati, a game in which they’re 3.5-point underdogs to the 1-2 Bengals.