Miami Dolphins (1-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-1)
This is Andy Dalton’s 22nd career start. Assuming Baltimore makes the playoffs and Washington, Jacksonville, and Cleveland don’t, that means that Dalton is 12-0 in his career against non-playoff teams and 0-9 against playoff teams, making the Bengals the definition of average. This week, he plays the Dolphins, who sit at 1-3 and who probably won’t make the playoffs, but they’re hardly a pushover.
They got blown out week 1, but that was Ryan Tannehill’s first career start and it was in Houston and Houston is probably the best team in the league. Since then, they’ve blown out Oakland and lost in overtime to the Jets and Dolphins as underdogs. By the way, they’re just the 7th team since 1989 to lose back to back overtime games (4-2 ATS in their next contest). Last year, they had a Pythagorean Expectation of about 8 wins and won 6, because of a strong defense. They have a strong defense once again this year and that has propelled them to actually rank 8th in the league in yards per play differential.
The Bengals, meanwhile, rank 10th in yards per play differential, which is actually worse than Miami, despite arguably the easier schedule. It’s important to know that the Bengals are finally getting healthy. Carlos Dunlap returned 2 weeks ago to reinvigorate a pass rush that now ranks 4th in pass rush efficiency (the Dolphins do rank 3rd, by the way). Their strong pass rush has helped take some of the pressure off a banged up secondary which used Adam Jones, Terence Newman, and Chris Crocker as its top 3 cornerbacks last week.
Luckily their pass rush abused Blaine Gabbert, who did his thing and stunk up the joint against a very banged up secondary. Tannehill might not have done the same thing, so it’s good that Leon Hall, Nate Clements, and Dre Kirkpatrick are expected back this week (Jason Allen isn’t). It’s worth noting that Hall, still less than 11 months removed from Achilles surgery, did not look like his old self before missing the last 2 games with injuries to that same leg, which is hardly a good sign. Still, this 22nd ranked pass defense should see improvements in the future and this isn’t the same unit that Brandon Weeden torched week 2. They do, however, really struggle against the run, ranking dead last, so Reggie Bush should have a good game, which will make life easier for Tannehill.
Despite Cincinnati’s improving health, there is some line value here. The difference between these two teams’ differentials is 0.2 and an old gambling formula says to divide that by .15 and add 3 points in either direction for home field advantage, so this line should be -1.5 in favor of Cincinnati. Of course, that doesn’t take into account Cincinnati’s improving injury situation, but it also doesn’t take into account their cupcake schedule. Despite some line value, the public is still pounding Cincinnati. The common perception is that Miami isn’t very good and Cincinnati should beat them easily. In spite of that, the line is dropping, and pretty significantly (down from -5.5 to -3.5 since it opened), so this has all the makings of a trap line.
Miami also has two powerful trends on their side. They’re dogs before being favorites (they host St. Louis next week). Dogs tend to be extra focused with an easy game on the horizon, going 74-44 ATS in this situation since 2011, including 19-8 ATS off a loss as a dog. Miami is also in their 2nd straight as a road dog off a loss, a situation teams are 59-38 ATS in since 2008. Cincinnati, meanwhile, is just 5-13 ATS as favorites of 3+ since 2007. You might think that would have changed over the last year plus with this team playing so well against bad teams, but actually, they’re just 2-1 ATS in this situation, so it’s hard to say. The only reason this isn’t a big bet is because Miami probably isn’t a playoff team and Andy Dalton never loses to those teams. However, as long as I have field goal protection, it’s a small play on Miami to cover and not win.
Public lean: Cincinnati (new thing I’m adding, siding with the odds makers on bets is not a bad thing to do since they make so much money, so I’m listing this here to allow readers to “fade” the public, if they so choose, in this example, the odds makers win if Miami covers)
Sharps lean: MIA 7 CIN 18
Final pick: The sharps love Cincinnati this week. Miami feels like the right side, but there’s absolutely no line value here and this is the type of game Cincinnati normally wins. I’m going down to 1 unit. One injury note, Miami will be without #2 cornerback Richard Marshall and Dre Kirkpatrick will not make his debut for Cincinnati.
Cincinnati Bengals 23 Miami Dolphins 20
Pick against spread: Miami +3.5 (-110) 1 unit