Let’s face it, many of this year’s Thursday night games haven’t been all that compelling, but this week we finally get one that looks interesting. Let’s take a closer look at the Bengals and the Dolphins.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Miami is in a must-win situation. After a promising 3-0 start to the season, the Dolphins have lost four in a row and desperately need to stop the bleeding. Miami does travel to winless Tampa Bay next week, but they’d like to use that game to build up momentum for the second half of the season and not break a losing streak that has doomed their season. Despite the losing streak, the Dolphins are just a half game behind the Jets for the final wild card spot in the AFC, so if they can get back in the win column they will be right in the middle of the playoff hunt.
The Bengals don’t have as much of a sense of urgency heading into this game, as they are in complete control of the AFC North division. However, as it stands now, Cincinnati is fighting with New England and Indianapolis for the second seed in the AFC, which would mean a first round bye in the postseason. The Bengals come into this game with a ton of momentum, as they’ve won four in a row and a coming off a 40-point thrashing of the Jets, their most impressive win of the season.
CINCINNATI OFFENSE VS. MIAMI DEFENSE
Andy Dalton has really stepped his game up and is one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league over the last three weeks, throwing for over 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns in wins over the Bills, Lions, and Jets. A.J. Green is still the primary target, but Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, and Jermaine Gresham are all getting plenty of touches as well, and Dalton has not been afraid to spread the ball around if teams try to clamp down on Green. The running game still isn’t great, but the Bengals are balanced enough on offense to make them really dangerous, which means the Dolphins will have their hands full tonight. Miami is average at best defensively, and lacks standout players on that side of the ball. The Dolphins haven’t held an opponent under 20 points since week 1 against the Browns, and that’s not a trend that’s likely to end, as the Bengals have the kind of offense that could put up 30 points or more against Miami.
MIAMI OFFENSE VS. CINCINNATI DEFENSE
A major trend during Miami’s four-game losing streak has been critical turnovers by Ryan Tannehill, which is something that has to stop if the Dolphins are going to put an end to their losing streak. The Dolphins have run the ball better the last two weeks, which is something that needs to continue, as it helps to take some of the pressure off Tannehill. However, the Bengals are holding their opponents under 100 yards rushing per game, and they generally have no trouble putting pressure on the quarterback, which will be two stiff challenges the Dolphins will have to overcome. When Tannehill has avoided turnovers, he’s played well this season and Miami has been a steady and consistent offense. However, despite having four solid receiving options, the Dolphins have struggled to create explosive plays in the passing game this season, something that has also contributed to their four-game losing streak. If Miami is going to keep up with Cincinnati’s offense, they’ll have to find a way to create some big plays.
Usually, in games between two close teams the advantage goes to the team that needs the win more, which in this case would by Miami. However, these two teams are not that close. Cincinnati’s weaknesses are difficult to find and hard to take advantage of, which isn’t the case with Miami. The Dolphins don’t have the caliber of defense that can slow down the Bengal’s balanced offense for four quarters, and they’ve been too turnover prone, which will be a problem against a solid Cincinnati defense that knows how to take advantage of other team’s mistakes. The Dolphins will keep it close for a while, but things will start to fall apart towards the end of the 3rd quarter: Cincinnati 34, Miami 21.