Thursday Night Football
Miami @ Buffalo
Replacing an injured Fred Jackson just as he will Thursday night, C.J. Spiller entered last year's Week 15 game against Miami's top-three run defense looking like a boom-or-bust fantasy play. A roll of the dice with a bad matchup. Spiller promptly shredded the Dolphins for 167 yards and two touchdowns, averaging over eight yards per carry and establishing himself as a fantasy semifinals week hero. The Dolphins have since transitioned from a 3-4 to 4-3 alignment, but their front-seven personnel is largely unchanged. Spiller is an in-space "satellite" back, and that's precisely the kind of runner that gives Miami's heavyweight defense fits. Chris Johnson (23-126-1, 1-8) and Daryl Richardson (11-76, 2-23) are a couple of similarly utilized backs with comparable skill sets that have had success against the Dolphins' No. 5 run defense. If Chan Gailey gets Spiller in space as he did so frequently and effectively early this year, C.J. can dice up the Fins. F-Jax's (concussion) inactivity sets up Spiller for 20-plus touches. He's a top-ten running back play. ... On pace for three-year lows in receptions (73) and yards (893), Stevie Johnson has settled in as a WR3. Look for Johnson to draw Dolphins top CB Sean Smith's coverage throughout Thursday's contest. Johnson offers limited upside with just one 100-yard effort in his last 31 games, but he can beat oversized Smith (6'3/214) with quickness and crisp route running and is always a solid bet for 5-6 catches.
After Spiller and Johnson, there's a fantasy cliff drop for Bills skill-position guys. Ryan Fitzpatrick ranks a respectable 13th in quarterback scoring, but he's been awful essentially every time he's faced a competitive pass defense. Because Miami happens to field one of those, and Fitzpatrick is so capable of bombing in any given game, he's difficult to trust beyond two-QB leagues. The Dolphins can rush the passer and permit the fourth lowest completion rate in the NFL (56.3). ... Scott Chandler set season highs in catches (5) and yards (65) in last week's loss to the Patriots, also scoring for the first time since September. Bills-Pats was a pass-happy shootout with a splash of comeback mode, so Chandler's sudden outburst is useless as a predictive measure. Chandler is a TE2 on a good fantasy team. He'll keep you afloat if he finds pay dirt and hurt you if he doesn't. ... Fitz's target distribution over the past three games: Donald Jones 24, F-Jax and Johnson 23, Chandler 17, Spiller 15, T.J. Graham 6. ... A team-high 19 of Jones' targets have come in the two games since Buffalo's Week 8 bye. The Bills are trying to get him the football. Miami struggles in slot coverage, where converted safety Jimmy Wilson plays, so Jones has a favorable Week 11 matchup. With 16 receptions for 186 yards and two scores in his last three games, Jones has emerged as a legit WR3 option. ... Jackson's targets are a reminder that Spiller is set up for a heavy dose of passing-game usage. Be sure to start him on Thursday night.
Dolphins first-round pick Ryan Tannehill's pocket poise and ball placement have impressed for a rookie, but he's been nothing close to a fantasy option. Tannehill has a 5:9 TD-to-INT ratio and is averaging 220 yards per game. Even against Buffalo's No. 21 pass defense, he's a low-end QB2. ... Tannehill's target distribution since Miami's Week 7 bye: Brian Hartline 24, Davone Bess 15, Daniel Thomas 11, Jabar Gaffney 8, Anthony Fasano 7, Reggie Bush and Charles Clay 6. ... Time has exposed Hartline's 253-yard Week 4 game as one of the season's biggest flukes, but he's still established himself as Tannehill's top target and has a plus Thursday night matchup. The "Z" receiver in coach Joe Philbin's West Coast offense, Hartline's route-running chops should free him up regularly against burnable Bills fill-in LCB Leodis McKelvin. Coming off back-to-back eight-catch games, Hartline is a quality WR3 at Buffalo. ... Bess has never been a TD scorer and never will be -- he averages one end-zone trip for every seven games in his career -- but like Hartline, Bess has a favorable Week 11 matchup versus Bills slot CB Justin Rogers. Bess' weekly ceiling is around six catches for 75 scoreless yards. So he's much more PPR than standard-league option.
Fasano has failed to break single-digit yards in three consecutive games and figures to focus on blocking with LT Jake Long struggling in pass protection. Fasano isn't even a TE2 at this point. ... Ineffective running inside the tackles since early-season knee and hip injuries, Bush was benched for a first-quarter fumble in last week's loss to Tennessee. While Bush figures to regain his job in Thursday night's game, it's fair to argue that Daniel Thomas may have surpassed him as Miami's top fantasy back. Thomas has played more snaps than Bush in each of the past three games, and received more touches in two of the past three. The Bills rank dead last in the league in run defense, surrendering NFL highs in yards-per-carry average (5.48), 20-plus-yard runs (14), and rushing touchdowns (16). Thomas is a mediocre talent, but a somewhat attractive flex play. Bush is a boom-or-bust fantasy option. Explosive rookie Lamar Miller still looks to be third in line for carries. In such a choice matchup, Miami seems destined for rushing success Thursday night.
Score Prediction: Bills 21, Dolphins 17
Fantasy Fix: Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
Are either Ryan Fitzpatrick or Ryan Tannehill worthy of a start this week? Kay Adams (@heykayadams) and Matt Stroup (@mattstroup) break down every key fantasy player in Thursday night's Dolphins - Bills matchup.
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