- Aaron Schatz, Football Outsiders
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 of more than three points plus an additional game in which a significant underdog has a strong chance to cover.
Upset Watch: Cincinnati (+4) at Pittsburgh
The last two AFC wild-card spots have come down to four teams: Indianapolis, Miami, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. But Indianapolis has a 91 percent chance of grabbing one wild-card slot, according to the Football Outsiders playoff odds, and Miami's chances of making it require a set of machinations that would make even Rube Goldberg wince.
So really, we're talking one spot and two teams: two division rivals who face off Sunday afternoon. If Cincinnati wins, the Bengals are in. If Pittsburgh wins, the Bengals are in real trouble. They'll be tied with the Steelers at 8-7, but because the Steelers will have swept them this season, the Bengals will need to win at Baltimore in Week 17 while hoping the Cleveland Browns can upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh beat Cincinnati 24-17 when these teams met in Week 7, but a funny thing happened since that loss. While very few people were paying attention, the Bengals got better. A lot better, in fact, especially on defense.
Football Outsiders has a metric called "weighted DVOA," which lowers the importance of early-season games to get a better idea of how well teams are playing right now. And by that metric, Cincinnati, not Houston, is the third-best team in the AFC right now behind New England and Denver.