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Every week, ESPN and Football Outsiders take a look at the NFL schedule and pick one possible upset. This week, that game is the Miami Dolphins upsetting the favored Cincinnati Bengals.
The Miami Dolphins have played tough football this year, losing two games the past two weeks in overtime, and playing well against the Houston Texans in the opening game of the season, other than a six-and-a-half minute span at the end of the first half. Obviously, however, the 1-3 record for the Dolphins causes fans and the media to downplay what the team is doing this year.
"According to DVOA [Defense-adjusted Value Over Average], Miami has actually been the much more efficient team: The Dolphins rank 12th overall, compared with 19th for the Bengals. But this is a situation where the rankings don't properly illustrate the true difference, as the two teams are separated by 19.8 percentage points. To put that in perspective, it's akin to the difference between the Houston Texans and Seattle Seahawks right now. Indeed, when we translate DVOA into Football Outsiders' Estimated Wins statistic, Miami should be the 3-1 team, not Cincinnati."
To get an idea of how DVOA works, you can check out Football Outsiders' DVOA explanation here.
Back to the Dolphins looking to upset the Bengals, according to the article, the difference between the Dolphins 1-3 record and the 3-1 record DVOA says they should have, is simply randomness. The Dolphins have lost two games by less than eight points while the Bengals have won two. The Dolphins also have not been able to recover any fumbles by opposing offenses this season. According to Football Outsiders, "Both fumble recovery rate and record in close games even out over time, so you would expect those trends to reverse themselves over the rest of the season."
They then move on to "on-the-field matchups," which, according to DVOA breakdowns, favor the Dolphins. They stress that Miami gained 480 yards of offense against the DVOA sixth ranked defense in Arizona, and now are facing the 32nd ranked defense. Football Outsiders expects the Dolphins to be able to run the ball against the Bengals - and also expect the Dolphins defense to shut down the Cincinnati running game.
But, it's the passing attack from the Bengals that worries Dolphins fans this week. According to Football Outsiders, that should not be an issue either:
"Of course in today's NFL, games are won and lost in the passing game, and that's precisely the straw that stirs Cincinnati's offensive drink. The Bengals rank fourth in pass offense DVOA, Andy Dalton is No. 4 in Total QBR (78.3), and A.J. Green is the fourth-most valuable wide receiver this season according to our DYAR metric (explained here). The problem for Cincinnati this week is that Miami owns the No. 11 pass defense DVOA, and isn't particularly vulnerable in any specific down-and-distance situation."
The key to the game, according to Football Outsiders, will be the Sean Smith vs. A.J Green matchup. If the Dolphins allow Smith to follow Green wherever he lines up, as they did for much of the game last week with Smith shadowing Larry Fitzgerald, Cincinnati could find "points hard to come by" against the Dolphins.
And if the Bengals can't score, the Dolphins should come away with the upset.