'Monday Night Football' tonight: Streaming, TV, why Panthers will top Dolphins

The Miami Dolphins and Carolina Panthers are trending in opposite directions, and on "Monday Night Football" the two teams will meet in Carolina in a pivotal, but lopsided Week 10 matchup.

The Dolphins traded their best running back and are slowly falling out of the playoff race with two straight losses, which dropped them to 4-4 on the season. Another loss could end their playoff hopes.

The Panthers traded their best receiver, but are 6-3 after two straight wins and have emerged as a legitimate contender in the NFC. But with the sudden emergence of the Saints, the Panthers shouldn't be considered the clear front-runners in the NFC South. 

Given the opposite states of the two teams, I'm picking the team trending in the right direction, which also happens to be at home this week. To put it simply, I'm taking the actual good team. And that team is Carolina.

The prediction: Panthers 28, Dolphins 17
My "MNF" prediction record: 7-2

How to watch, stream

  • When: Monday at 8:30 p.m. ET
  • Where: Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, North Carolina
  • TV: ESPN
  • Streaming: WatchESPN  

Note: All stats/rankings are accurate entering Sunday's Week 10 slate of games.

Dolphins: Not as good as their record

At 4-4, the Dolphins are by no means out of the playoff hunt. But they're not nearly as good as their record indicates. Their four wins have come by a combined 14 points. Their four losses have come by a combined 77 points. Their point differential? Negative-63. By DVOA, they're ranked 31st -- only the Browns are worse.

I repeat: The Dolphins are not a good football team, even though they're 4-4 and in the hunt for a playoff spot. 

The most surprising part of the Dolphins' season isn't that they're not good -- even their 10-win season a year ago was somewhat lucky. It's that their offense stinks. Adam Gase is supposed to be an offensive guru and right now, his offense is ranked 31st in yards per game and dead last in points per game. Don't blame just Jay Cutler, even if he's the easy target. This is a team problem -- including Gase and Cutler. But if I had to blame one aspect of the team, I'd put it on the offensive line's inability to protect Cutler, which has led to Gase's conservative play-calling. If the offensive line can't provide adequate protection, it hampers the offense's ability do be productive.

As for the defense, they're slumping. In the first five games of the season, the Dolphins never allowed more than 20 points in a game. In their past three games, they've allowed 28, 40, and 27 points.

Right now, it's difficult to pick the Dolphins to win any game because they're simply not a good football team. That doesn't mean they can't become a good team. But until they show signs of progress, I'm staying away.

Panthers: Grooving like the ... Titanic?

The Panthers, on the other hand, are sailing on smooth and clear waters, which means they are almost definitely not like the Titanic despite what Cam Newton says.

Spoiler alert: The Titanic sank, and Leo died because Rose didn't share the ... oh, never mind. 

Anyway, the Panthers are rolling. They've won two straight games, riding their defense. This year, the Panthers' defense is ranked fifth in DVOA. They should be able to handle the Dolphins' bad offense the way they've handled other bad offenses like the Bears (three points against not counting two defensive touchdowns), Buccaneers (three points against), 49ers (three points against), and Bills (three points against). 

Offensively, the team still very much relies on Newton. When he's the most physical player on the field, they tend to win. Newton hasn't been good at throwing the ball -- 62.4 completion percentage, 6.9 YPA, 10 touchdowns, 11 picks, and a 78.4 passer rating -- but he's added 341 yards and four touchdowns on the ground. When he's doing stuff like this, the Panthers' offense is alright:

And what happens when Newton begins looking more like himself in the passing game? Even with Newton struggling as a pocket passer, the Panthers are 6-3. Imagine how good they can be when Greg Olsen, Newton's best pass catcher, returns from injured reserve in a couple weeks.

For now, the Panthers just need to take care of business against the Dolphins. They can do that, even if Newton isn't at his best in the passing game.

The war up front

The Panthers will likely win because they're going to dominate the Dolphins in the trenches. To this point, they've accumulated 29 sacks -- only the Jaguars have more. The ageless Julius Peppers, 37, already has 7.5 sacks and Mario Addison has 6.5. Don't forget about Kawann Short and his four sacks.

They're going up against a banged-up Dolphins offensive line that just lost starting right tackle Ja'Wuan James for the season. And center Mike Pouncey is playing through a hip injury. 

The Dolphins haven't allowed too many sacks (17), but that's more a function of play-calling as Gase has consistently used the short and screen passing game to protect his quarterbacks from taking too many unnecessary shots. But that means the Dolphins' offensive line has hamstrung Gase's play-calling and Cutler's comfort level in the pocket. And they'll continue to do so against a tough Panthers defensive front.

Look for the Panthers' defense to torment the Dolphins' line and Cutler in this game.

Jay Cutler is trending up

The Dolphins' only hope? This guy overcomes the tough situation and plays out of his mind:

NFL: International Series-New Orleans Saints at Miami Dolphins

You might think all hope is lost when Cutler is the Dolphins' only potential savior, but he's been playing better lately. In his past three starts, he's completed 71.4 percent of his passes for 600 yards, seven touchdowns, two picks, and a 105.6 passer rating. He's fresh off a 311-yard, three-touchdown performance last Sunday night. 

Perhaps he's finally shaken off the rust from his brief retirement. Or maybe he's just always been a streaky quarterback and he's in the middle of an unsustainable stretch of good football. We'll find out soon enough.

By trading Jay Ajayi, the Dolphins are leaning now almost entirely -- offensively at least -- on Cutler, who is only in the NFL because Ryan Tannehill tore his ACL in August. Call it Cutler's last stand. But it won't be easy against a defense that's ranked sixth in fewest passing yards allowed per game. 

Is McCaffrey turning the corner? 

Something for the Panthers to get excited about: Christian McCaffrey, who the team selected with the eighth pick in the draft. All season, he's been a valuable member of the Panthers' offense, leading the team in receptions and yards from scrimmage. But he's yet to pop off like we all thought he would after his amazing career at Stanford.

Against the Falcons last week, though, McCaffrey finally got going. He rushed the ball 15 times (a career high) for 66 yards (a career high), which means he averaged 4.4 yards per carry (a career high). He also scored his first career rushing touchdown. Of course, he also added five catches and 28 receiving yards to his stat line. It's not like McCaffrey tore up the Falcons, but he finally demonstrated he could capably and efficiently run the football.

It'll be interesting to see if his success will continue on Monday night against a Dolphins defense that is strong against the run, allowing only 3.7 yards per carry. 

CBS Sports Writer

Sean Wagner-McGough joined CBS Sports in 2015 after graduating from UC Berkeley. A native of Seattle, Sean now resides in the Bay Area. He spends his spare time defending Jay Cutler on Twitter. Full Bio

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