The suddenly surging Dolphins head into Foxboro to take on the NFL's top offense led by MVP favorite, Tom Brady. Miami's resurgence under their rocked-up head coach comes to no surprise to those who believe in the "football doesn't have to be so hard" philosophy. Dan Campbell has the team back to basics, and riding their feature running back. They'll face by far their biggest test with New England, after smashing two cupcakes from the AFC South coming off their bye week. Thursday night provides odd variables in projecting fantasy assets, even for the usually predictable Patriots.
Miami Dolphins at New England Patriots, 8:25 ET on CBS
With the rising tide of the Miami offense, we've seen Ryan Tannehill get back to form as a starting fantasy passer. He's completed 81.6 percent of his passes in the two games coming off the bye, with a 12.8 percent touchdown rate. With the Patriots forcing nearly every team into shootouts, Tannehill should have to take to the air in this one. He's a low-end QB1 start in what should be a pass-heavy game script.
No running back has turned his season around more than Lamar Miller in the last two weeks, and it's about as simple as the coaches just giving him the ball. After totaling 47 touches through the first four weeks, Miller has 38 touches in the last two games alone. Keep in mind he's also been pulled in the second half of these two blowout wins. Bill Belichick often sells out to stop what the opponent does best, and he could identify Miller as that top threat. However, the Patriots give up the 13th highest yards per attempt figure in the NFL. There's no way you think about sitting Miller after what happened the last two games.
Landry's touchdown catches finally regressed to the mean, after he led the NFL in red zone targets without a score for much of the year. He averages 9.3 targets per game in an offense ascending through the NFL rankings. The Patriots don't have a reliable slot cornerback, and it's unlikely that they'll shadow Malcolm Butler with him on the inside. Landry should be free to roam in this one, and is a weekly top-25 option at receiver.
The still strong Matthews just keeps producing, going over 80 yards or scoring a touchdown in all but one game this season. The only contest in which he failed to hit those landmarks was in his faceoff with Darrelle Revis and the Jets strong outside pass coverage. New England could assign Butler to do his best work against Matthews. He's a solid WR3 or flex play this week, but comes with a lower floor than usual in this game.
After an eight target game coming off the bye, Cameron only saw two passes go his way last week. Of all the players in this offense, his usage feels the most unpredictable on a weekly basis. The Patriots are one of the better teams at defending the tight end, allowing a meager 0.754 points per target.
New England Patriots
Fantasy's clear-cut QB1, Tom Brady squares off with a defense that showed major improvement the last two weeks along with its offense. The Dolphins stop unit finally started creating havoc for opposing passers, with Cameron Wake and Ndamukong Suh combining for eight sacks over the last two games. Conversely, the Patriots shifted Sebastian Vollmer from right to left tackle, and promoted practice squad player Cameron Fleming to right tackle due to injuries in Week 7. This defense could make life a bit more difficult for the MVP favorite than he's seen this season. You're not sitting Brady, obviously, but maybe he comes in just a tick off his normal pace.
If Lewis plays (he missed last week with an abdomen injury) he's back in contention as an RB2 with high-upside in PPR. This game should be a competitive back and forth contest, leading to a heavy usage plan for Lewis. It's all just health-related for him, because if he's on the field, he's in your lineup.
Over the last few seasons, the Stevan Ridley/LeGarrette Blount role in the offense averages 10 carries per game against the Dolphins. Of course, that was before Miami invested in Suh, and the Patriots transitioned to a spread offense. Perhaps with the Thursday night specter looming over this game, Belichick keeps things simple against a newly aggressive pass rush. There's just not enough evidence to feel good about starting him unless you're desperate, which you likely are, for a RB2 play.
The Dolphins best corner, Brent Grimes is strictly an outside player for them. There's no reason to shy away from Julian Edelman, despite recording just 104 yards in the last two games. The Dolphins rank 18th in fantasy points allowed per wide receiver target, and don't bring a prohibitive matchup here.
After dropping several passes in his 2015 season debut, LaFell is anything but a safe play right now. We should be encouraged by Brady's willingness to keep going back to him through the lumps, and LaFell did start slow last year. Hold him on your bench until we see some positive games.
The veteran receiver has 15 catches for 191 yards and a score the last two games. He's been a strong flex play, and is worth a fantasy roster spot. If Edelman ever goes down, Amendola inherits a monster target load as the team's primary slot receiver. However, his production will come in spurts this year, as it already has, and LaFell will make his way into the offense more. This doesn't project as a game script, or individual matchup projection for him to be a startable asset.
The tight end leader in fantasy points, red zone targets and touchdown catches, Gronk has been everything we hoped for this season. Miami doesn't have the personnel to cover him, and he's ready to blowup on Thursday night.