Week 4 of the NFL season kicks off Thursday night with a showdown between the undefeated Miami Dolphins, fresh off hanging on for a 21-19 win over the previously unbeaten Buffalo Bills, and the reigning AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals, who finally got their first win last week, 27-12, against the New York Jets. With the season now in full swing, there are plenty of opportunities to wager on the game if you so choose. So what plays do our analysts like for this matchup?
Betting analysts Doug Kezirian, Tyler Fulghum, Joe Fortenbaugh, Anita Marks and Erin Dolan; fantasy and sports betting analysts Eric Moody and Andre Snellings; and ESPN Stats & Information's Seth Walder, ESPN analyst Jason Fitz and Football Outsiders' Aaron Schatz provide their top plays for Thursday's tilt.
Note: Lines from Caesars Sportsbook unless otherwise indicated.
Miami Dolphins at Cincinnati Bengals (-4, 47)
Thursday, 8:15 p.m. ET, Paycor Stadium, Cincinnati
This is a matchup of two surprise storylines this season, as the Dolphins (3-0) are the AFC's only unbeaten team, and the defending AFC champion Bengals (1-2) have struggled to start the season, beating only the Jets. Do you believe the Dolphins (16-1 to win the Super Bowl, 8-1 to win the AFC) are as good as their record indicates, the Bengals (30-1 Super Bowl, 15-1 AFC) are as bad as they have played, both or neither? Is there a future out there to take?
Fortenbaugh: Miami is good but not as good as its record indicates. The Dolphins made up a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit in Week 2 against the Ravens and somehow got past Buffalo despite holding the ball for just 19 minutes while getting outgained by 285 total yards. It's easy to imagine a world in which the Dolphins are 1-2 after three weeks, in which case we aren't even having this conversation. Again, this team is good. And the Dolphins are really fun to watch. But they aren't as good as their record indicates.
Kezirian: It all depends how you evaluate a 3-0 record. Are the Dolphins a legitimate playoff contender and capable of a Super Bowl run, if certain things broke their way? Yes, I do believe they are. Ironically, they kind of remind me of last year's Bengals. By no means do they have a higher power rating than Buffalo, but the Dolphins also should not be penalized much for beating them, which is sort of what's happening because of the statistics. For their first touchdown, the Dolphins possessed the ball after a strip sack of Josh Allen and recovery on Buffalo's 6-yard line. Things like that happen. However, while I do believe the Bills should have won the game, they also squandered key situations. At some point, we have to recognize that as a signature weakness and not just a statistical outlier.
Schatz: No, I do not believe that the Dolphins are as good as their record indicates, especially since they're getting even more attention given that there are only two undefeated teams. Miami is only 11th in defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) after three games, although some of that is because we don't add in opponent adjustments until after Week 4 and the Dolphins have played a difficult schedule so far. A small value bet right now is Miami to miss the playoffs, which is currently at +310. Our Football Outsiders playoff odds simulation still leaves the Dolphins out of the postseason 29.5% of the time.
Snellings: I think the Bengals are better than their record indicates, for a few reasons. Their big offseason moves were to bring in an entirely new offensive line; but they didn't play the starters in the preseason, and Joe Burrow had appendix surgery during that time, so they weren't even practicing together. Then, to start the season, they faced the teams with last season's Defensive Player of the Year and last season's runner-up, and perhaps predictably, the opposing defenses dominated. Even so, the Bengals are only a game out of first in the division and a couple of special teams flukes away from being 3-0. For futures, I still like the Bengals to win the AFC North with more juice than when the season opened (+325).
For the Dolphins, I'm not sure they're as good as their start, but their start might be good enough for them to do well in regular-season futures. Check their schedule: After this game, they play the Jets, the Vikings at home, the Steelers at home, the Lions, the Bears, the Browns (still pre-Deshaun Watson) at home and the Texans at home. The Dolphins are good enough to have nine or more wins through 11 games, which would put Miami in a strong position to potentially win the AFC East (+230).
Fitz: Both teams have had their seasons defined by close calls. The Bengals have found wild ways to lose, and the Dolphins have found wild ways to win. I think we are overvaluing Miami's fourth quarter against the Ravens and simply forgetting the defensive struggles and accuracy issues we saw at times for the first three quarters. Yes, beating Buffalo was huge, but I'm still in wait-and-see mode for Miami and lean toward a drop-off. As for the Bengals, their offensive line is still an issue. We can excuse it all day, but the reality is the money spent has done no good so far. I have to believe talent prevails at some point, so I think the Bengals will end up better than their record right now indicates.
Walder: I feel more confident in the Bengals being better than their record indicates, and FPI sees light value on Cincinnati to reach the playoffs right now. The model puts the Bengals' chances at 56%, while Caesars Sportsbook offers +118. FPI ultimately hasn't lost much faith in Cincinnati; from its perspective, having Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins on the same offense means it's highly likely to be an efficient group going forward, even after the struggles in the first two weeks. Plus, catching the Dolphins with either a banged-up Tua Tagovailoa or Teddy Bridgewater under center is a little break.
Moody: The Dolphins' momentum from the end of last season has carried over to this season (7-2 against the spread in their last nine games). The addition of new head coach Mike McDaniel and Tyreek Hill has elevated the Dolphins' offense. Miami is as good as its record indicates, but the defense needs to be fixed quickly. A favorable schedule awaits the Dolphins after Thursday night's game, with games against the Jets, Vikings, Steelers, Lions, Bears and Browns before their bye week. Tua Tagovailoa has transformed from a trade candidate to a legitimate MVP candidate. For futures, I'd look at the Dolphins as a division winner (+230), considering the Jets and Patriots are not legitimate contenders. The AFC East will come down to the Bills and Dolphins. The Bengals aren't as bad as their record suggests. They need to jell quickly with their revamped offensive line, which has some new faces. As soon as that happens, we'll see the Cincinnati team we saw last year.
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The Bengals are favored by 4 points in a line that has climbed from 1.5 last week. The total is at 47. Do you like either side or total in this matchup?
Fulghum: I love the Bengals in this spot. They're probably a little underrated due to their 1-2 start, and the Dolphins -- while legitimately good -- are probably a little overrated because of their 3-0 start. The main thing I want to point out is that Miami is traveling to Cincinnati on short rest after the Dolphins played one of the most physically exhausting games we've seen in recent memory. It was brutally hot and humid on the field in their win over the Bills, and players on both sides were visibly and physically drained. Miami's defense was on the field for 90(!) snaps against Buffalo's offense ... and the game didn't even go to overtime. The Bengals' offense would be wise to test the conditioning of the Dolphins' defense with deep shots to Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins. I'd play the over for this reason, as well.
Fortenbaugh: I'm not playing the side or the total, but I do like the Bengals team total over 26.5 points. Miami's defense was on the field in brutal heat for over 40 minutes on Sunday against the Bills, and now it needs to travel to Cincinnati for a Thursday road date four days later. That's a tough spot to overcome. Further, this unit is permitting an average of 6.3 yards per play this season, which ranks 27th in the NFL. Cincy should have no problem moving the ball up and down the field.
Kezirian: I agree with Joe's Bengals team total. For me, there are too many unknowns with Miami. Tua Tagovailoa's injury, Hurricane Ian's implications and the Dolphins' overall power rating have made me reluctant to lay the points now that the line has climbed over a field goal. I do have confidence that Cincy can light up a defense that has been torched at times this season. The Bengals have not exactly exploded out of the gate, but I think the situational spot is favorable on the short week.
Snellings: I'm tempted to play the under for this game. First, it's a Thursday night game, and those are typically lower scoring matchups with the quick turnaround week. Second, both defenses have quietly played well all season, and the offenses have typically been just OK. The Dolphins' game against Baltimore was the one outlier thus far, where their defense got torched and their offense pulled that 28-point fourth quarter out of nowhere. Outside of that tilt, the Dolphins have allowed three total touchdowns in two games against the Bills and Patriots, while the Bengals' defense has allowed only three total touchdowns through three games. Put another way, in the six combined games these two teams have played, five of them have been under 47 total points. There is offensive talent galore in this game, but the stout defenses and quick turnaround could lead to this being another lower-scoring contest.
Marks: Bengals all the way, baby! I'm going to play Cincy at -3 (for -140). In Week 3, the Bengals finally looked like the cats we saw make a run to the Super Bowl last season. They came out firing away in the passing game and went up early against the Jets. Cincy will be playing in their Queen City, with smoking-hot white uniforms. The Dolphins are not what their record indicates. They had the good fortune of facing an injury-riddled Ravens secondary in the fourth quarter of their matchup and a Bills defense that was missing five starters and playing in 100-degree weather in Miami. The Fish now have to deal with the logistic issues of Hurricane Ian, travel to Cincinnati early, an injured Tua Tagovailoa (back and ankle) and an exhausted defense that played 90 snaps against the Bills. Meow!
Dolan: If you didn't grab the Bengals at -2.5, I think you lost out. I am staying away from the side and the total to focus on player props for this game. The Bengals might have found their rhythm in week three. (It was just a win over the Jets.) Meanwhile, the Dolphins might not be as great as their 3-0 record reflects.
Fitz: This is a defensive matchup, for sure. The under makes sense here, and given the way both defenses are playing and how inconsistent the offenses have been, I don't love either quarterback to have a big night. That being said, the Bengals can't afford an off night given their start. Desperation matters, so I go Bengals.
Moody: The best way to bet on this game is on the total. I like the under in this matchup. With Tua Tagovailoa less than 100 percent and looking at betting trends, we could be in for a low-scoring game. The under has hit in each of the Bengals' past eight home games and in four of the past five contests for Miami away from home. The Dolphins' secondary is clearly a weakness, but their propensity to blitz should not be overlooked. Joe Burrow might not be protected enough by the Bengals' offensive line to attack the Dolphins down the field.
Tua Tagovailoa leads the NFL in QBR, is second in passing yards and yards per attempt and is now 14-1 to win MVP. There have been many doubters during his brief three-year career. Where do you stand on Tagovailoa?
Fulghum: Imagine if the Dolphins had the exact same 52 players around Tagovailoa and the same coaching staff -- but drafted Justin Herbert instead. Herbert would be 2-1 to win league MVP, and the Dolphins would be the Super Bowl favorite. Tagovailoa is fine -- especially when the infrastructure around him is as good as it appears through three games -- but the Dolphins can upgrade at QB. I put Tagovailoa in the tier of Jared Goff, Jimmy Garoppolo and Matt Ryan. He can probably get you to a Super Bowl once, if things break right, but the QB on the other side is likely vastly superior. That's the QB you want, not Tagovailoa. I'm not saying Tagovailoa can't do it, but his (and the team's) margin for error is significantly smaller with him at QB as compared to other elite signal-callers.
Schatz: There are three kinds of starting quarterbacks in the NFL: win because of, win with and win despite. Tagovailoa is never going to be in that top category; he just doesn't have the arm strength. But he can be near the top of the win with category, and his performance this year so far surely suggests he is climbing those ranks. But honestly, Tagovailoa's past performance was always a bit underrated. His numbers for his first and second years are firmly in the middle of expectations for a first-round quarterback. People were upset he didn't become Herbert, but Tagovailoa also wasn't anywhere near the bottom of the league.
Fitz: Tagovailoa is pretty good. I know that doesn't make for a fun hot take, but it's most realistic. Some weeks, he will light it up; some weeks, he will simply take what the defense gives him. The problem here is that the minute we see a young quarterback start to ascend, we apply the Patrick Mahomes standard to him. Barring injuries everywhere, I don't see any chance Tagovailoa ends up being the MVP. At all. It would take a clear Super Bowl season from the Dolphins in which Tagovailoa becomes unstoppable. That's not how I think their offense is built or how their season will play out.
Kezirian: I have been a fan of Tagovailoa, even though my large wagers ended up in the garbage can when he lost the Heisman Trophy to Kyler Murray after underperforming in the SEC Championship game. I only bring that up because that performance, among similar big games, has stuck with him. To Aaron's point, he has never truly received the proper validation beyond his first year as Alabama's starter. That is what makes 14-1 tough to play. It would take an enormous season, and I just feel there will be other quarterbacks of top seeds that voters will prefer to back.
Walder: He has played well, but I'm not buying his MVP chances at that price. It's a narrative award to some degree, and Tagovailoa is going to be penalized for what's around him. Credit will be distributed to Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle and the new offense under Mike McDaniel -- particularly because Tagovailoa is producing at a level he hadn't previously.
Moody: I have watched the NFL long enough to see Tagovailoa have better MVP odds than Tom Brady, Russell Wilson and Aaron Rodgers. Under McDaniel and with a plethora of receiving playmakers and an improved offensive line, Tagovailoa has made significant strides in his third season. It's unlikely Tagovailoa will be able to maintain the level of statistical excellence that would make him MVP. Peaks and valleys are inevitable.
Both teams have star power on their rosters, with Joe Burrow, Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle, Ja'Marr Chase and Joe Mixon, to name a few. Are there any play props that jump out to you?
Fulghum: Any over you want to bet related to the Bengals' passing game vs. the Dolphins' defense, I'm all aboard. For the reasons mentioned above, I'm anticipating Miami's defense is going to be feeling some residual effects from the effort required in the Week 3 win against Josh Allen and the Bills. I think a big box score game is coming for Burrow and the Bengals' offense on Thursday night at home. Plus, they're gonna be rockin' those super clean all-white Bengals uniforms.
Schatz: Give me the over on Joe Mixon receptions at 3.5 with some juice (+123). The Dolphins have one of the highest defensive pressure rates in the league, and Burrow is going to have to be dumping the ball off underneath when he isn't taking his usual high number of sacks. Miami is currently 27th in DVOA against running backs as pass-catchers, and opponents have thrown to running backs nearly 10 times per game against the Fins in the first three weeks.
Marks: First, give me Joe Burrow over 36.5 attempts (-110) and over 273.5 passing yards (-115). Last week, the Bengals went back to what they do best: throwing the football. Seventeen of their first 21 plays were pass plays; the Fins allowed 715 combined passing yards to Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson. Miami cornerback Xavien Howard is still dealing with a groin injury and is allowing a 140.7 QB rating on throws his way. I'm also taking Tyler Boyd's longest reception over 17.5 yards (-105). Miami's pass defense is weak. Boyd is the receiver that stretches the field for the Bengals. He has three catches of 20-plus yards and Cincy's longest reception this season (56 yards).
Moody: Tyler Boyd over 41.5 receiving yards (-115) jumps out to me. The Bengals rank 29th in pass block win rate. The Dolphins rank third in pass rush win rate. Entering Week 4, Miami has blitzed at the fourth-highest rate in the league. It shouldn't be a problem to get the ball out quickly for Burrow, who is the fastest in the league at releasing the ball against the blitz so far this season. Over the past two weeks, Miami's defense has allowed 715 combined passing yards to Allen and Jackson. Running short to immediate routes, Boyd should be able to feast over the middle of the field while Howard and his defensive teammates try to contain Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins.
Snellings: I'll play the over on Jaylen Waddle over 68.5 receiving yards (-117) because (A) he's quietly one of the best receivers in the NFL right now and doesn't get much attention, and (B) Tyreek Hill has initiated a war of words with the entire Bengals secondary that should draw him even more attention ... and make it even easier for Waddle to get his.
I also like Ja'Marr Chase over 72.5 yards (-115). He is due for a big one after battling through two relatively quiet games against Trevon Diggs and Sauce Gardner. Given Howard's physical limitations at the moment and the Dolphins' quick turnaround after their defensive war on Sunday, I think Chase breaks free for at least one huge gainer in this game.
Dolan: Ja'Marr Chase anytime touchdown (-103). I applaud the Dolphins' 3-0 record, but they have surrendered 485 yards per play in the past two games against the Ravens and Bills, ranking 31st against the pass with an average of 297.7 yards allowed per game. I'm looking for a Bengals wide receiver to score for that reason. Chase has two touchdowns this season in three games. Remember, he had 13 touchdowns in 17 games last season as a rookie. Chase scores in prime time.