The Cincinnati Bengals will be eyeing their second win in quick succession when they bid to snap the Miami Dolphins' four-game streak at Paycor Stadium on Thursday.
The reigning AFC champions seemed to have fixed their offensive line issues in last Sunday's 27-12 win over the New York Jets with head coach Zac Taylor noting that Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow had his swagger back.
Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa is desperate to prove his fitness for this game as he deals with back and ankle injuries in the wake of Miami's thrilling 21-19 win over the Buffalo Bills.
The Fins' defense came up big last Sunday to hold off the Super Bowl favorites on the final drive and match up very well against a Bengals offense that is still struggling to establish the run.
|What||Miami Dolphins @ Cincinnati Bengals|
|Where||Paycor Stadium, Cincinnati|
|When||20:15 ET, Thursday September 29th 2022|
|How to watch||Amazon Prime Video|
|Odds||MIA Dolphins +175, CIN Bengals -210|
Having given up 13 sacks through the first two weeks of the season, the Bengals offensive line put in an improved display against the Jets - up to a point.
Burrow was only taken down twice on his dropbacks, but Cincinnati failed to make any inroads in the run game until the fourth quarter when they were shown soft coverage by the Jets.
Leading rusher Joe Mixon was bottled up again, gaining just 24 yards from 12 carries and only three of those went for more than five yards.
Mixon was benched in favor of backup RB Samajee Perine in the fourth quarter as he was dealing with a sore ankle, but his lack of production stems from the O-line opening up few holes for him to exploit.
The Bengals will face more of a test from a ferocious Miami pass rush that had Bills QB Josh Allen running for his life for most of Sunday and constantly beat Buffalo's blockers in one-on-one matchups.
That victory at Hard Rock Stadium means the Dolphins have now won 11 of their last 12 regular season games, having finished 2021 with eight wins from their last nine.
The win was achieved despite the Bills running 90 offensive plays to Miami's 39, outgaining the Dolphins 497 yards to 212 and dominating the time of possession by a ratio of two to one.
It also saw their Super Bowl odds trimmed amid a growing belief that first-year coach Mike McDaniel has discovered a magic formula that could take them all the way in an ultra-competitive AFC.
The main question mark over their candidacy coming into 2022 was at quarterback with Tagovailoa having struggled to find any fluency during his first two years in the league.
But the former Alabama star looks to have matured into a high-level NFL starter thanks to a new scheme, while his relationship with the current head coach is off to a better start than the last one.
Assisted by top wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, who have turning Miami into one of the most dangerous forces in the league, the sky is the limit.
Tagovailoa, who has been dealing with back and ankle injuries, and Waddle are listed as questionable on the Dolphins' injury report, but both are expected to play on Thursday night.
The comparisons with Burrow, who was drafted four spots ahead of him as the first overall pick in the QB-rich 2020 draft, will always be there.
The Bengals starter came into a worse situation at Cincinnati and suffered a bad injury as a rookie, but his year two development carried the team to the AFC Championship, so nobody thinks Miami got the better QB yet.
But a Tagovaiola-led win at Paycor Stadium on Thursday could re-open the debate with the trajectories the two teams and their starters are on appearing to be going in different directions.
However, the outcome of the game is likely to be decided by which defense has more success and it could be said that both units match up well to their opponents' offenses.
The Bengals will play a lot of quarters coverage - as the Bills did last week - in a bid to stop the chunk plays Miami will try to get through their wide receivers.
They can generate enough pressure off the edge to rush the bare minimum, although the loss of interior defensive lineman D.J. Reader to injury will be a blow.
Miami's secondary play has been superb through three weeks but star cornerback Xavien Howard is being bothered by a groin issue.
This looks like a game where taking Under the 47.5 Total at -110, which both teams' matches comfortably did last week, could prove the shrewdest move.