This Thursday night matchup figures to be one of the better ones on this years slate as the suddenly rejuvenated Dolphins go on the road to face off against the unbeaten Patriots. Dan Campbell seems to have clearly been an excellent choice as an interim coach for the Dolphins, but this is his first real test. There is a big difference between beating up on two teams in the league’s worst division and preparing for the Patriots on a short week.
Up until Campbell took the helm, Ryan Tannehill had been throwing the ball upwards to 40 plus times a game. The problem is at this time he isn’t the type of quarterback where that style of play gives the team their best chance of winning. Fortunately for Tannehill, things have been much easier under this new regime. In the last two games, he has thrown a combined 48 passes which have gone for 548 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Considering this team isn’t constructed to match Tom Brady score for score, the Dolphins would be best if they could limit Tannehill’s attempts to high 20’s if not the low 30’s in this one.
I’ve always been a big proponent of Lamar Miller’s and along with countless Dolphins fans was confused by his usage the past few years. But I definitely can’t say I thought he’d put up numbers like prime Marshall Faulk as he has the past two game. Since Campbell took over, the offense is committed to running the ball as Miller has had as many rushing attempts the past two weeks as he did the combined four games before. In these last two games, Miller has put up 355 yards from scrimmage to go with three touchdowns. The Patriots should be a tougher test, but the Dolphins should give Miller 20 plus touches in order to establish the game’s tempo. Backups Jonas Gray and Damien Williams also figure to see some work, but should be ignored in fantasy formats.
Despite not having an elite option, the Dolphins have a solid corps of guys for Tannehill to throw to. Leading the pack is Jarvis Landry who figures to be the player Bill Belichick and the defense try and take away in this one. Landry isn’t a guy with 4.3 speed, but he has strong hands and is extremely difficult to bring down whether it’s after the catch or on a designed run. Look for him to still see anywhere from seven to 11 targets as the Dolphins try and give him some space to operate. Having shown talent in a limited role previously, Rishard Matthews has gotten his shot this year and has been the Dolphins best vertical threat. With the emphasis figured to be on Landry, it wouldn’t be surprising if Matthews did turn in a decent outing. He figures to have five to seven passes thrown his way.
While I’m also high on Kenny Stills, he hasn’t been nearly as utilized as I figured he would to this point. Maybe this is the week it changes as a pass catcher will need to step up. The other wideouts Greg Jennings and DeVante Parker at max might only see two or three throws their way, but Stills being a listed starter could possibly see a few more. Jordan Cameron at tight end was also expected to be a huge asset in the Dolphins passing attack this season. While he has put up some counting numbers, Cameron hasn’t the role many were projecting and isn’t in a great spot matchup wise for this one.
The Patriots offense has just been plugging along like it has for years now. Eventually father time will catch up to Tom Brady, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. Brady has completed a ridiculous 69 percent of his passes with a 16 to 1 touchdown/interception ratio. Against a Dolphins defensive line which has started to live up to its offseason talk, it will be interesting to see how the Patriots decide and attack it. My guess is it will be similar to how Brady played the last time an Ndamukong Suh defense came to Foxboro. That will be with plenty of extremely quick throws and then hoping guys like Dion Lewis (who is expected to play) and Julian Edelman make plays in space, while also taking away time for the Dolphins front to penetrate against a banged up offensive line.
Based on the way the Dolphins are built, the Patriots figure to use backs who can contribute more in the passing game. This means Lewis and James White would figure to see most of the touches. LeGarrette Blount will see some work near the goal line, but won’t really get volume carries unless the game is decided. For this week, he is a little too touchdown dependent to confidently play in fantasy formats. Between the air and ground, Lewis figures to be around 15 touches and his pass catching chops combined with slippery running style could make Brady look his way often.
Besides the previously mentioned Edelman who figures to see anywhere from eight to 12 targets, this one has the looks of a Rob Gronkowski game. In games they’ve gone up against a pass catching tight end the Dolphins have struggled defending them and this isn’t just an old coaching regime thing either as Delanie Walker went off for eight catches and 97 yards. By now teams know you can’t fully stop Gronk, but only hope to contain him. Danny Amendola who has managed to have a clean bill of health lately also has a nice matchup where he figures to see a nice matchup in the slot. He could make for a solid third wideout for fantasy purposes as he figures to see around six to eight targets. Depending on how much Brandon LaFell sees after his five drop performance in his return from the PUP list, he would also have a nice opportunity in his matchup. From a fantasy perspective he is a complete boom-or-bust play however.
While the Dolphins have been much improved under Campbell, going in and winning this might be too much to ask. While I expect this to be a closely contested game, the possibility of Tannehill having to throw 40 plus times out of necessity to play catch up and Brady having done this so many times before is what sways me. My prediction is Dolphins 20 Patriots (-7.5) 28.