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Monday Night Preview: The Carolina Panthers Look to Keep Rolling Against the Miami Dolphins

The Week 10 edition of Monday Night Football features the 4-4 Miami Dolphins traveling to take on the 6-3 Carolina Panthers. Miami has struggled lately, dropping their last two games and getting called out by head coach Adam Gase. On the other hand, Carolina has won their last two and will look to keep pace with the division-leading New Orleans Saints with a victory.

The Panthers are fresh off a close 20-17 victory last week against the Atlanta Falcons, but Miami wasn't as lucky in a close game, losing by a 27-24 score against the Oakland Raiders.

Based on our team rankings, the Panthers slot in as the NFL's 10th-best team, while the Dolphins come in at 29th. Despite such a large discrepancy, Miami hopes to keep this contest close by exploiting a few key matchups.

Quarterback Breakdown

Jay Cutler has predictably played below average for the Dolphins, and although he has tossed 10 touchdowns and only 5 interceptions, our Net Expected Points (NEP) metrics show he hasn't actually lived up to those numbers. Among 26 quarterbacks with at least 230 drop backs, Cutler's 0.00 Passing NEP per drop back ranks 22nd and is below the league average of 0.07. Using the same group to rank him on Passing Success Rate (the percentage of drop backs contributing to a positive NEP), Cutler's 43.40% rate ranks 21st.

The Panthers have also experienced inconsistent quarterback play. Among the group of qualified quarterbacks listed above, Cam Newton's 0.06 Passing NEP per drop back only ranks slightly above Cutler's at 19th, and he actually slots in just behind Culter in Passing Success Rate at 43.23%.

Despite his limited success in the passing game, Newton has provided a spark on the ground. He's helped Carolina in their past two victories and has averaged 10 rushing attempts per game over his last four contests. The signal caller's Rushing NEP per carry of 0.19 is well above the league average for running backs (-0.06), showing Cam adds an element to the Panthers' offense that most other quarterbacks cannot.

Running Back Breakdown

In their first game without Jay Ajayi in the backfield, Damien Williams played 44.78% of the snaps and Kenyan Drake played 55.22%. However, it was Drake who experienced a breakout game, rushing for 69 yards on 9 carries, while Williams was limited to 14 yards on 7 rushing attempts.

Our metrics also show Drake has been the superior player this season. While both running backs come in below the league average of -0.06 Rushing NEP per carry, Drake still ranks ahead of Williams (-0.18 to -0.26). The same holds true for Rushing Success Rate, where Drake's rate of 55.22% dwarf's Williams' 44.78%.

Coming off a big week, Drake has likely earned a larger role in the backfield. Our snap counts predict Williams to play 32.38% of the time and Drake to play 36.55% of the time in tonight's contest.

Carolina's running backs have also played in committee roles for most of the year, but rookie Christian McCaffrey broke out last week for 66 yards on 15 carries and played a season-high 81.54% of the snaps. Jonathan Stewart, on the other hand, played a season low 32.31% of snaps after two fumbles.

Neither running back has been particularly efficient, according to NEP -- Stewart has a Rushing NEP per carry of -0.29, while McCaffrey checks in at -0.14. Rushing Success Rate shows a similar trend (Stewart at 33.06% and McCaffrey at 37.50%). McCaffrey's superior play warrants an increased role, along with his ability to make an impact in the passing game.

Defensive Matchup

Per our schedule adjusted metrics, the Panthers currently have the NFL's 3rd-best defense, while the Dolphins come in at 19th.

Carolina plays good defense across the board, ranking sixth in both run and pass defense. Miami is a little more lopsided, as they rank 24th against the pass and 8th against the run. Carolina appears to have a clear advantage, but Miami will hope their defense can keep them in this contest.

Historical Comparison

According to our models, two games correlate over 90% of the time with this contest.

The highest of these (90.87%) occurred between the Chicago Bears and the Panthers on December 22nd, 2002. This contest ended in a score of 24-14 with the Panthers prevailing. Carolina was led by a pair of scores from Dee Brown and a receiving score from Muhsin Muhammad. The Bears notched a pair of scores from Dez White, but ultimately could not make up the difference. The Panthers represent themselves in the contest, resulting in a Carolina win and cover.

Game Prediction

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