The NFL isn't just about which team is better in any particular game. There are plenty of situations to factor in, and all of them can be important.
If you are into situational analysis, you know this week isn't a good spot for the Miami Dolphins.
The Dolphins face the Cincinnati Bengals on Thursday night. A casual fan might wonder why a 3-0 Dolphins team is a 3.5-point underdog at BetMGM against the 1-2 Bengals.
The most obvious answer is the health of Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. Whatever happened with his head injury/not head injury/it's actually a back injury is still lingering, according to Miami. The Dolphins have spoken this week like Tagovailoa isn't a sure thing to play.
If Tagovailoa plays, there are still reasons the Dolphins are underdogs and the line keeps moving the Bengals' way.
Miami is coming off an emotional, challenging win over the Buffalo Bills. They played in 89-degree heat with 63 percent humidity on Sunday. The defense was on the field for an astonishing 90 plays. Even on a full week, coming off those conditions could affect them in the next game. On a short week, it will be tough to rebound.
Also, the Dolphins had their week disrupted. They had to leave Miami early Wednesday to beat Hurricane Ian. When you have just three days to prepare, a change like that can be significant.
So the Dolphins are coming off an emotional win, have heard all week how great they are, they're still recovering from playing in sweltering heat and they had their travel plans changed at the last minute. Oh, and their quarterback is banged up. Other than that, it's an easy week.
They're also facing a Bengals team that is very good but got off to a bad start and has plenty of urgency. They don't want to start 1-3. This is a big turning point game for Cincinnati.
None of it looks good for the Dolphins. They're much improved this season and look like a playoff team. But it will be really impressive if they win at Cincinnati on Thursday. There are a lot of odds against them.
Here's a first look at the sports betting slate for Thursday:
What props look good for Thursday?
If a Bengals pick is predicated on the Dolphins defense being worn out from Sunday, then we need to look at Bengals passing game props. I like Joe Burrow over 272.5 passing yards. I don't figure it will be a blowout; Burrow should be passing for all four quarters. I also prefer Tee Higgins over 64.5 yards to Ja'Marr Chase over 71.5 yards, though I don't mind the over on Chase either. The longer the game remains competitive, the more the Dolphins could wear down. That might open up some opportunities for either receiver, or even Tyler Boyd (41.5 yards) late in the game.
It's hard to look at much else without knowing exactly where Tagovailoa's health stands.
There's some college football too
There's one college game on the BetMGM board for Thursday. Utah State plays at BYU and the Cougars are 24.5-point favorites. Hey, we didn't say it was a good college game. But if you don't like the NFL, at least there's other football to bet on.
Afternoon baseball awaits
There are 10 games on the MLB slate, including four in the afternoon. Those who like some midday action will miss those games when they're gone.
The bad part is they're not exactly great games. The one that has playoff implications is the Philadelphia Phillies, still in the final NL wild-card spot, at the Chicago Cubs. The Phillies are -200 favorites. The Baltimore Orioles are still technically alive in the AL wild-card race, and they play at the Boston Red Sox. Baltimore is a +125 underdog.
There aren't a lot of meaningful games at night either, but you'll be watching football anyway.
What's the best bet?
I liked the Bengals a lot more earlier in the week when they were -3. But -3.5 doesn't scare me off. I think the Dolphins are a good team in a bad situational spot. Unfortunately, oddsmakers and many bettors recognized that early in the week as well. The line did creep back from -4, which is where it sat Wednesday.