Romilly Evans reckons Miami can halt Cincinnati's winning run and kick-start their own at home in Friday's early morning showdown...
"It was as if Cincinnati drew a group chalk outline on the sidewalk and the Green Gang calmly walked up and lay in it"
Cincinnati Bengals @ Miami Dolphins
Start-time: Friday, 00:25
TV: Live on Sky Sports 1
This Thursday night marks the proverbial "short week" for the Cincinnati Bengals and the Miami Dolphins. But that's where current similarities diverge, since the Bengals are looking to extend a four-game winning run, while the Dolphins are coming up for air after imploding in the second half to New England last Sunday.
Depending on whom you ask, the chance to ride the wave or banish the nightmare should prove equally motivating mentally. On the more prosaic physical side of things, recovery time for both teams is on the limit - the received wisdom (if Troy Aikman dispenses any) for basic recuperation in the NFL is three days, these sides have been granted four to rebound from their exhausting exertions. So fitness coupled to strength in depth on the roster will be of paramount importance.
Considering the effortlessness with which the Bengals grounded the NY Jets (a 40-point victory), you would think they had the easier time of things last week. However, the Jets offered them one of meekest surrenders on record this season. It was as if Cincinnati drew a group chalk outline on the sidewalk and the Green Gang calmly walked up and lay in it.
At least the Dolphins were in a fight - albeit one they lost when they should've won. Consequently, they will be eager to lick their wounds and rebound against a team which has perhaps been overhyped by their successful streak. Conversely, the 'Fins just aren't finishing their matches, losing four straight. However, they could've conceivably triumphed in their past three. They lost to Baltimore on a late field goal, blew it against Buffalo in the fourth and were hammering the aforementioned Pats at fortress Foxborough before a botched kick sparked a litany of gaffes that provided Tom Brady's bunch with a lifeline.
The author of those howlers was quarterback Ryan Tannehill who went from assured to destabilized quicker than a young cyclist losing his, er, stabilizers. For all his latent talent, the overt reality is that Tannehill has now been sacked a chart-topping 32 times this term. Under pressure from the blitz, his ball-management is as poor as his scrambling ability. And while some of the blame can be shared by his offensive line, Tannehill has been the key component in most of their 10 turnovers. Now he faces a skilled and inspired Bengals D, who have already brought the heat for 24 QB sackings this campaign alone. Trouble is brewing.
On the flipside, though, Tannehill simply needs better risk management. Relying on leading rusher, Lamar Miller, must be his first recourse in this regard. Miller averages 4.5 yards per carry and rushed for 90 against a Pats D who knew he was coming. His attritional running should keep the chains moving for Miami and free Tannehill up against an intimidating pass rush.
If defense is Cincinnati's bedrock, Andy Dalton has begun to build a promising offensive structure on top. It may not be the prettiest in the league just yet. Although with wide men like AJ Green and Marvin Jones on song, frills and few spills are the order of their present architecture. Green is one of the best receivers in the NFL - and as such he regularly receives special treatment from the opposition's defensive backs in the form of double coverage. However, this has attention has neatly freed up Jones for a breakout year (touchdowns in their past three games and four last time out).
With the bullying BenJarvus Green-Ellis and gyrating Giovani Bernard adding further ground gains, the Bengals' collective potential is palpable. Nevertheless, it's worth remember that this is a young outfit which is benefitting from a weak division (where Baltimore and Pittsburgh are shadows of their former selves) and a hitherto weaker schedule.
Dalton is capable but limited (erratic downfield even with the pouching paws of Green and Jones), so don't glean too much belief from a career performance against the spiraling Jets. The Vegas line, which has moved to make Cincinnati field-goal favourites here, has surely moved with sensibility not sense.
Miami are the home side and could easily have a superior record to the Bengals in a hotter division. In a game of inches, it won't take much for the Dolphins to regain some composure and the winning thread.
Back Miami Dolphins (+3) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.01/1 or better
Back Miami Dolphins (+1.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.824/5 or better
Back L.Miller to score First Touchdown @ 8.515/2 or better