The Miami Dolphins (7-4) look to continue their playoff push at home against the Cincinnati Bengals (2-8-1), who are just trying to end this pandemic season without any other significant injuries. This could have been the first meeting between rookie quarterbacks Joe Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa, but there is a chance we will see neither on Sunday. Burrow’s season ended with a torn ACL and Tua is still dealing with a thumb injury.
Cincinnati Bengals vs. Miami Dolphins
Sunday, December 06, 2020 – 01:00 PM EST at Hard Rock Stadium
No matter which quarterback starts for Miami, the Dolphins are clearly the better team here. Are they 11.5 points better like the spread is at most NFL betting sites? The Dolphins have four wins since the bye week, or as many wins as the Bengals have since 2019. Miami has won six of its last seven games and has the second-best record (8-3) ATS in 2020, but that one loss (20-13 in Denver) gives serious pause as to whether you can trust this team to cover such a large spread.
Zac Taylor: Can We See Your Identification?
While there were always jokes to be had about Marvin Lewis’ long tenure as head coach of the Bengals, at least his teams had a vision and identity for what they wanted to be. Early on it was a pass-happy offense with Carson Palmer, and in later years it was a balanced approach with A.J. Green and Geno Atkins starring on the two sides of the ball.
Enter Zac Taylor. Through 27 games of his career, Taylor’s Bengals have no real identity or purpose. The offense and defense were both lousy in 2019, and the same results have continued this season. Green and Atkins are still there but they are well past their primes. Green just had his second game without a catch in the last three weeks while Atkins has one tackle all season.
Joe Burrow was supposed to be the new savior and identity of the team. Yet even before his unfortunate injury, that identity looked more like 2010 Sam Bradford than it did 2012 Andrew Luck. Burrow was asked to throw a lot of short passes to cover up for a poor offensive line. It did not lead to an explosive offense, but at least the Bengals were keeping most games competitive.
Now with Brandon Allen at quarterback, the Bengals have a bad line, no running game, and a poor defense that does not get after opposing passers. Is it any wonder that Taylor is 0-22-1 when the Bengals trail after the 12:00 mark of the third quarter? He has a team with no direction or anything to hang its hat on.
Ryan Fitzpatrick Gives Miami Best Chance to Cover
Miami beating the Jets (twice) and Jaguars by three scores is fine, but the Bengals are 7-4 ATS this season, one of the best records in the league. When these teams squared off late in 2019, the Dolphins led 35-12 in the fourth quarter. It was a blowout until Andy Dalton led one of the greatest forgotten comebacks in NFL history. The Bengals scored 16 points in the final 33 seconds to force overtime before falling 38-35.
The good news is Brandon Allen is the quarterback this time. He was terrible in Sunday’s 19-17 loss against the Giants but still led a late touchdown drive to get a cover. Miami’s defense is well-positioned to match up with the Bengals. The Dolphins rank No. 9 in DVOA against the pass and 25th against the run. The Bengals hardly try to run the ball and that continued Sunday even without Burrow. Cincinnati will struggle to score against a Miami defense that allows the fifth-fewest points per drive this season.
This could still be a game where Tagovailoa is the quarterback for Miami, but his thumb injury could mean another start for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who passed for 419 yards and four touchdowns against the Bengals last December. Fitzpatrick is having one of his best seasons ever in 2020. In the last three starts with Fitzpatrick, the Dolphins have outscored opponents 87-20. That sounds less impressive when you consider two of those games were against the winless Jets, but the Burrow-less Bengals are not that much tougher of an opponent.
When Tua was the quarterback, the Dolphins have relied on a lot of turnovers, return scores, and short fields to produce offense. He did not lead many long drives when he played. Fitzpatrick, being the veteran he is, has a better grasp on the offense right now, so he could guide the Dolphins to an easier win if he is the quarterback on Sunday.
Miami has not been this big of a favorite since the 2003 opener when the Dolphins lost 21-20 to the Texans as a 14-point favorite. You would have to go back to 1992 to find the last time the Dolphins were favored by this much in a game played after September.
All four of Fitzpatrick’s wins this year have been by 17-plus points. I really believe the quarterback decision by Miami dictates the spread in your NFL picks, but not the moneyline choice – that’s Miami either way. If this is Fitzpatrick’s start, I like the Dolphins to cover. If it is Tua returning from injury, I would go with the Bengals squeaking out a 26-16 type of cover.