The World Series is over, and that means high-stakes sports action on the weeknights will take a hiatus, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t plenty left over for good, solid entertainment fare on the daily sports agenda between now and the start of weekend football.
The NFL’s Thursday night package takes deserved hits for some of the bad games it offers, but this week isn’t one of them. The Cincinnati Bengals take their talents to South Beach for a game with the Miami Dolphins (8:25 PM ET, NFL Network) for a matchup that leads our look at what Thursday and Friday night has to offer fans across the sports spectrum.
Cincinnati is riding high at 6-2, and quarterback Andy Dalton had one of the best games of his three-year professional career in Week 8’s 49-9 trashing of the New York Jets. The Bengals have opened a two-game lead in the loss column in the AFC North, but with two games against the Baltimore Ravens still ahead, you know Cincy would like to open up some more space in that race. Going on the road and beating a playoff contender is the way to do it.
Calling Miami a playoff contender at 3-4 is generous, but after five solid teams in the AFC (Kansas City, Denver, New England, Indianapolis & Cincinnati) it’s a mass of mediocrity in the race for the final spot in the six-team playoff field and Miami can certainly see themselves as a viable contender for that spot.
What the Dolphins need to do is run the ball more consistently on offense. They got a decent game from Lamar Miller last week in New England, and a steady rush game is the surest way to correct the turnover problem they, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill have had over the past couple games.
Cincinnati brings a great pass rush from its front four, with Geno Atkins on the inside and Carlos Dunlap on the edge being just part of what is one of the game’s best defensive fronts. It’s asking for trouble if you can’t run the ball and allow this group to tee off on Tannehill.
The folks in Las Vegas like the Bengals in this game and have installed them as (-160) favorite on the moneyline, the odds to win outright based on $100 betting increments. Miami can be had at the (+135) underdog price.
I lean the Dolphins’ way in this game. Part of that is the difficulty a road team faces in these short week games. Another part is simply the unpredictability of the NFL. I’m not ready to buy into Cincinnati as a viable Super Bowl contender, and while winning this game wouldn’t make them that, it would certainly be a strong statement, coming as it does off two consecutive nice wins (at Detroit and the Jets).
And while I’ve never been really sold on Miami, I don’t think they’re a bad team after two straight bad weeks they have to be due for a good game. If the Bengals win, I think we have to re-evaluate both teams seriously, but for now I’m picking Miami to hold serve on their home field.
PAC-12 WEEKNIGHT BATTLES
The Pac-12 has jumped in on these Thursday and Friday night timeslots. This week is an appetizer, with Arizona State-Washington State on Thursday night (10:30 PM ET, ESPN) and USC-Oregon State going on Friday (9 PM ET, ESPN2). The feast comes next Thursday night when Stanford hosts Oregon in what is shaping up as college football’s biggest regular season game.
Arizona State has the lead in the Pac-12 South, but only by a game over Arizona and UCLA, each of whom are still ahead for the Sun Devils. And should ASU stumble against an improved Washington State team–who is 4-4 and fighting for bowl eligibility–that would also open the door for USC (2-2 in the Pac-12) to get back in the division race. Arizona State is an 11-point favorite on the road, a number that seems a bit high.
If USC is going to get back in the race for the Pac-12 South title, they have no room for error and they have a very tough road game to deal with Friday night. Oregon State may be out of the conference race after losing to Stanford last week, but the Beavers are still arguably better than anyone on the Pac-12’s southern side, with a 6-2 record overall.
Friday night is their chance to prove it, and they come in a (-3.5) favorite. The early report is that Trojan receiver Marquise Lee will play with his injured knee, but please note that a similar report at this time last week proved falsely optimistic.
Other interesting college games on Thursday include South Florida-Houston (7 PM ET, ESPN). Houston’s blowout win at Rutgers last week means they’re in the conversation with Central Florida and Louisville to win the American Athletic Conference (the old Big East) and get an automatic BCS bid. In Conference USA, it’s Rice-North Texas (7:30 PM ET, FoxSports1). The Owls are unbeaten in league play, and the Mean Green are making noises about bowl eligibility as Dan McCarney’s rebuilding project moves forward.
MARQUEE NBA DOUBLEHEADERS
A lot of sports fans, even those who are interested in the NBA, would find now a little too early to be tuning in. But for those who love the sport, there are marquee doubleheaders both Thursday and Friday.
It’s New York-Chicago and Golden State-LA Clippers on Thursday night in a TNT twinbill that tips off at 8 PM ET. Then on Friday, take in both participants of the epic 2013 NBA Finals. The Miami Heat go to Brooklyn to start an ESPN doubleheader at 8 PM ET. The San Antonio Spurs visit the LA Lakers in the nightcap immediately following.
CLEANING UP WITH HOCKEY
The city of Boston and the greater New England region love hockey and their Bruins, but I have a feeling the B’s will have a hard time getting anyone’s attention tonight when they host Anaheim at 7 PM ET on NHL Network. The league’s network comes back on Friday with Washington-Philadelphia at the same time.