The 2016 NFL season isn’t even through its first quarter, but the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins find themselves needing wins in Week 4. They’ll face off on “Thursday Night Football,” with both teams hoping to avoid a 1-3 start and putting themselves in a difficult position to make the playoffs.
Sitting alone in third place in a difficult AFC North, Cincinnati would be hard-pressed to win the division after losing at home to the Dolphins on Thursday. The Bengals have lost two of their first three games to start the season after falling to the Denver Broncos in Week 3, but they should be able to right the ship after playing the NFL’s most difficult schedule.
All three of Cincinnati’s opponents won at least 10 games a year ago. The Bengals began the season with an impressive road win against the New York Jets, followed by a road loss against the Pittsburgh Steelers that was highly competitive. The Bengals led the defending Super Bowl champions in the fourth quarter on Sunday, though Denver pulled out the win behind one of the best defenses in league history.
A look at Miami’s schedule shows that they’ve had a similar route to their 1-2 record. The Dolphins suffered road losses to the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks, who began the season as Super Bowl favorites in their respective conferences. Miami, however, needed overtime to beat the AFC’s worst team on Sunday, and their Week 2 loss to the Patriots wasn’t as close as the final score might indicate.
Las Vegas and online oddsmakers agree that Cincinnati is the substantially better team, making them seven-point home favorites, via OddsShark (44.5 over/under). Just as the Patriots dominated for most of their matchup against the Dolphins, Thursday’s game could see the Bengals jump out to an early lead.
Cincinnati’s defense wasn’t at its best in the loss to Denver, but the unit is still among the best in the NFL. Linebacker Vontaze Burfict returns from his suspension in Week 4, and he’ll improve a defense that has been very good outside of Sunday’s fourth-quarter meltdown.
The Bengals held Ryan Fitzpatrick to just 189 yards passing and a 77.0 passer rating in the season opener, and the defense was even better against Ben Roethlisberger the following week, intercepting two of his passes. Ryan Tannehill could have similar struggles on Thursday night, despite the big numbers he put up in the Dolphins’ first win.
Tannehill threw for 319 yards and three touchdowns against the Cleveland Browns, taking advantage of a defense that gives up 28 points per game. The quarterback was held to 186 passing yards and no touchdowns in a Week 1 visit to Seattle, and he didn’t do much of anything in Week 2 until the Patriots took their foot off the gas pedal when they took a 28-point second-half lead over Miami. Even as he surpassed the 300-yard mark in the last two games, Tannehill was picked off twice in both contests.
The Dolphins’ defense has proven to be nothing special over the first three games, ranking 28th in yards allowed and intercepting just one pass. Miami has allowed a receiver to total at least 92 yards in each of the first three games, and they likely won’t have an answer for A.J. Green.
The Bengals are still looking for their first big win of 2016, and they could have a breakout performance when they face their first mediocre opponent.
Prediction: Cincinnati over Miami, 31-17