It has been a hectic first few weeks through the NFL season. We have seen some major injuries, some major comebacks (or collapses depending on your affiliation), and some big-time surprises too. Only two teams remain undefeated through the first three weeks of the campaign and one of those co-headlines the Week 4 kickoff game as the unbeaten Miami Dolphins head to Cincinnati to take on the defending AFC Champion Bengals on Thursday Night Football.
(+165) MIA Dolphins @ (-195) CIN Bengals (-3.5, O/U 48.5)
It must have been a collective sigh of relief in the Bengals’ locker room when they picked up their first win of the season, 27-12, over the Jets. Granted it is the Jets, but Cincy held them in check and out of the end zone. Most importantly for the Bengals, they kept Joe Burrow mostly upright. He went 23/36 for 275 yds, 3 TDs, and was only sacked twice. He connected with 8 different receivers, 5 of which he found more than once. It’s a small sample size against a team that hadn’t been good against the pass or at pressuring opposing QBs, but part of winning games is winning the little battles you are supposed to win.
Miami has got to be flying high after their 21-19 win over the Bills, a team many people consider to be the best in the league. Their fans have surely been vocal about it and it was a big win for them after dropping seven straight to the Bills over the past few years. The last time they beat the Bills it also happened by a thin margin in Miami where a touchdown was also dropped in the end zone, but a win is a win. The Fins battled some unfavorable conditions and won the war of attrition by capitalizing when they had their chances and they deserve credit for it. Watching what kind of game that was, I am wondering what it cost them.
It was a grueling kind of game in the heat and they have 7 starters listed as questionable, getting in limited practices Wednesday, including their QB Tua (“back and ankle”), WRs Jaylen Waddle, Ced Wilson, DT Raekwon Davis, OT Terron Armstead, CB Xavien Howard, and S Brandon Jones.
MIAMI DOLPHINS – Injury Report
Cincy will miss D.J. Reader in the middle of their defensive line (update: placed on temporary IR), but that’s their biggest concern besides La’el Collins who is questionable but got in a full practice Wednesday. They do have some interesting “unspecified’ designations for a number of their key starters, but I also see they all practiced in full on Tuesday and Wednesday. With that in mind, I am not too worried about their game-time status.
CINCINNATI BENGALS – Injury Report
The quality-of-competition edge is firmly in the Dolphins’ corner here. All 3 of their wins are against playoff teams from last season and the W over the Bills is the best notch in the belt between both teams. The Bengals have played two playoff teams from last season, but two of their three opponents this season have losing records. One thing in their favor is the Steelers are much more dangerous when T.J. Watt is healthy and that was the one game where they handed Cincy an L. So, they were tested by a legit defense and almost won.
Joey B was quick to pump the breaks on the media and the fans after their 0-2 start, saying it’s still early and they will get it together. To his credit, they did win the game they were supposed to and now they have a shot to get back to even against the team that’s currently sitting on top of the AFC.
The thing that should concern the Bengals is seeing the kind of pressure that Miami got on Josh Allen in Week 3. He did end up throwing for 400 yards but he also fumbled 3 times and lost 1 of those. The good news for Cincy would be that Miami is actually near the bottom of the league in QB pressure stats, collectively lower than any of the Bengals’ other opponents actually, and they blitz more than any of them except Dallas. Miami also has the 7th most missed tackles as a result of committing to that blitz rate, so it’s something the Bengals can target.
Cincy is near the top of the league in QB knockdowns and has a much better pressure rate than Miami while blitzing less. I know the last game will skew things a bit, but the Fins are giving up 100+ more yards per game and just had 500 yards of offense hung on them. So even with some of the success blitzing the Bills, the Dolphins’ defense couldn’t get off the field. It took too long for BUF to realize it, but Miami is giving up 100+ rushing yards per game, and that suits the Cincinnati offensive identity much better. Or so you would think.
In general, these are two of the absolute worst rushing teams in the NFL in yards-per-carry, tied at 3.3 yards per tote. The main difference is that the Bengals don’t quit on their run game because they know it is essential to their offense. Despite being 30th in YPA, Cincy still is 9th overall in attempts and 20th in total yards as a result of that commitment. That is going to be an important point of emphasis against a Dolphins team that was able to discourage the run early vs Buffalo and thrived off pass pressure in the wake.
The overall offense numbers are pretty comparable, with the Bengals having more success on the ground and Miami having more success through the air. The Fins are scoring more points per game but a lot of that came in the big comeback against the Ravens. Cincy has been scoring about a TD less but they give up a FG less too. Realistically, even if the Fins were to still have won last week regardless of the score, the Bills left about 17 points on the field in Miami and that’s another positive sign for the Bengals’ offensive heading in.
Numbers aside, I have trusted my instincts through the first three weeks of the season and they haven’t led me astray on Thursday yet. There’s really no question the Dolphins have been the better team to this point. They are talented and their offense exposes coverage schemes very well. Tua has come into his own and they have also shown a lot of resolve in tough game situations too. There are a lot of reasons to pick the Fins here, but the better team doesn’t always win. Of course, I have some vested interest in seeing an AFC East rival lose but that’s not what is tipping the scales.
Having watched the Fins win over BUF very closely on Sunday, as I mentioned earlier, that game was a war of attrition. Miami players were struggling in that heat too and their injury report reflects the toll of that effort. It was much more important for Miami to get that W over the Bills than it is for them to win this game. The oddsmakers had this as a 4-point spread but money has come in on the Fins and has them as 3.5-point underdogs (as of writing), with an extra 1.5 points added to the total. However, the exhaustion, the short week, and the travel combined heading into Cincinnati to play a rejuvenated Bengals team is a big ask of a young team.
Pick: CIN | ATS: CIN -3.5 | O/U: Under 48.5 | Final: CIN 26 – MIA 20