Upset Watch appears every Thursday this season for ESPN Insider, as Football Outsiders uses a proprietary formula to forecast the expected point spread of each game based on current DVOA ratings (explained here) and, early in the season, our DVOA projections. Each week we highlight the most likely upset on a game with a line over three points, plus an additional game where a significant underdog has a strong chance to cover.
Upset Watch: Miami (+3.5) at Cincinnati
At first glance, the point spread in this game seems awfully low considering the Cincinnati Bengals are 3-1 and playing at home against a 1-3 Miami Dolphins team. The reason is because, by several measures, the Dolphins have played much better than their record indicates, while the Bengals have played slightly worse than theirs shows.
Given their respective records, you would expect Cincinnati to have a positive point differential (i.e., points scored minus points allowed) through four weeks and Miami to have a negative point differential, but it turns out that they're both right around zero; more like a pair of .500 teams.
According to DVOA, 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.