The Dolphins and Panthers play in this week's Thursday night game, so here's the pick:
PANTHERS (-3) over Dolphins
After starting the season off with three straight losses, the Panthers (4-5) have won four of the last six games and are one game away from getting back to .500. Two of the wins were against bad teams (Redskins and Bucs), but the other two were rather impressive (Cardinals and Falcons). And, believe it or not, Jake Delhomme is starting to play better. He hasn't thrown an interception in three games, and he's only turned the ball over once in that span -- a fumble against the Saints. Last week against the Falcons, Delhomme posted a season-high quarterback rating of 115.8 after he completed 15 of 24 passes for 195 yards and two touchdowns.
It's also not surprising to see the Panthers running the ball more effectively during this solid stretch of games. In the last five games, Carolina has rushed for at least 182 yards in four of them. In the one game they didn't get that much (against Buffalo oddly enough), DeAngelo Williams still rushed for 89 yards on only 16 carries. Speaking of Williams, he has been on a roll lately, rushing for 640 yards in the last five games -- an average of 128 per game.
Just like Carolina, the Dolphins are also 4-5 and desperately need to get back to .500. And just like the Panthers, the Dolphins started the season off with three straight losses and have won four of their last six games -- interesting stuff. Unfortunately, they just lost Ronnie Brown, their leading rusher and a vital part of the team's wildcat attack, for the season after he suffered a Lisfranc fracture in the middle of his foot. Without Brown, Ricky Williams will probably receive the bulk of the carries in the run game. Quarterback Chad Henne will also need to play a bigger role on offense, especially if Brown's absence forces the Dolphins to run the wildcat fewer times.
Since the Panthers finish the season with four tough games in a row -- Patriots, Vikings, Giants, and Saints -- the team's next three games against the Dolphins, Jets, and Buccaneers are critical. If they can win those three games, they'll be sitting at a 7-5 record and will at least have a chance to get to the playoffs.
On the other hand, the Dolphins finish the season against five tough opponents after tonight's game. They travel to Buffalo in Week 12 for what should be a very winnable game, but then they finish the season against the Patriots, Jaguars, Titans, Texans, and Steelers. Ouch. With Brown, the Dolphins may have had a chance, but without him, it doesn't seem very realistic.
As for this game, I expect the Panthers to continue to run the ball efficiently, and Delhomme should be able to find some receivers down the field against a thin secondary.