Perfect 3-0 start? Knock off the Super Bowl favorites? Two intriguing headlines. Zero apparent impact on tonight’s spread, with Vegas listing the undefeated Dolphins as 4-point underdogs vs. Cincinnati, a 1-win team through 3 weeks. Not totally intuitive, but there‘s always a reason. So, what gives?
To help break it down, I’ve compiled a little cheat sheet that I’ll reference throughout my column:
- Cincinnati’s offense has clearly disappointed thus far vs. pre-season projections; however, it’s a small sample (3 games) and given their overall talent profile, brighter days are definitely ahead for the 2021 NFC Champs. It started to pull through in their blowout victory last week vs. the Jets (Cincy scored 20 first half points before taking their foot off the gas), but there’s still room to run, especially if they can figure it out on early downs.
- The opposite narrative appears true for a Bengals’ defense that’s outperformed pre-season projections but could be due for worse performance soon, if not tonight as they’ll be without DJ Reader, their best defensive player and a team captain, who suffered an injury last weekend vs. the Jets.
- Miami’s offense, meanwhile, has largely shined, outperforming pre-season projections thus far, and they deserve credit; I’m just not fully convinced it’s sustainable. A good chunk of their success traces back to a handful of explosive plays each game rather than consistent, productive drives. Explosive plays win games but can’t be depended on as a weekly lifeline. This makes Miami’s offense a negative regression candidate at a time when their top QB, 2nd best receiver and two starting offensive linemen all haven’t practiced and are questionable to play tonight with injuries.
- The Dolphins’ defense has performed about as expected thus far, struggling to defend the pass but excelling against the run. This performance split might work vs. most teams but could prove problematic vs. a Bengals squad that excels through the air but struggles to pound the rock.