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Given history, don’t take Miami lightly

OK, so this is weird. Miami is the only NFL team the Panthers have never beaten.

The Dolphins and Panthers have only played four times, and in each case the Panthers have managed to mess it up. They’ve lost to Miami when Carolina was good (the 2005 playoff season) and when Carolina was bad (the 1-15 2001 season). They’ve lost to Miami when Dan Marino was the quarterback and when Jay Fiedler was the quarterback (and Fiedler threw for more yards than Marino).

They lost a game once when Steve Smith had one of the best games of his career – three touchdowns and 170 receiving yards. They allowed the forgettable Oronde Gadsden to burn them for 102 receiving yards.

In other words, history says not to take these Dolphins (5-5) lightly.

•  If you were a Carolina Panthers defensive lineman and you ever did not want to miss a game, that game would be this one.

The Dolphins have allowed more sacks this season than any other NFL team. Ryan Tannehill has gone down 41 times, which is literally a staggering number for a quarterback. It is no coincidence the Dolphins’ bullying scandal took out two of the team’s offensive line starters. Unfortunately for the Panthers, their defensive line will be far from full strength, either, for this game.

•  To me, the steady progression of Cam Newton as a quarterback can best be defined by how good he has been on third down this season. That’s when Newton does his best scrambling work, and he also has been very good throwing the ball under pressure this year.

Newton has always been above average on third down, which is the down that makes or breaks quarterbacks. The Panthers were No. 10 in third-down conversion percentage in Newton’s rookie year (2011). They rose to No. 6 in 2012. But now Carolina ranks No. 1 in the NFL in third-down conversions, slightly ahead of Denver, which is the gold standard of NFL offenses this year. The Panthers have converted almost half of their third downs – 62 of 128 for 48.4 percent.

•  Like the Panthers, I am 7-3 this season – in my case, that’s my record picking the team’s outcome each week. I have managed to get seven of the past eight weeks right, getting back on track last week by choosing Carolina to beat New England by three (the Panthers won by four). This one I don’t believe will be that close. My prediction: Carolina 27, Miami 13.