Thursday Night Football
Cincinnati @ Miami
Ryan Tannehill will enter this game four days removed from absorbing six sacks and eight hits in a Week 8 loss to New England. Tannehill is on pace to take 74 sacks, two shy of David Carr's record, set back in 2002 with the expansion Texans. Indeed, Dolphins GM Jeff Ireland has surrounded his franchise quarterback with expansion-level pass protection that will likely be exposed (again) in Week 9 by a ferocious Bengals D-Line capable of dominating games. On pace for an underwhelming 26:21 TD-to-INT ratio and 17th in the league in passing yards, Tannehill is a low-end QB2 against Cincinnati's top-11 pass defense. ... Tannehill's target distribution since Miami's Week 6 bye: Mike Wallace 20, Brian Hartline 17, Charles Clay 11, Brandon Gibson 10, Rishard Matthews 7, Lamar Miller 6, Daniel Thomas 2. ... Wallace has a theoretically favorable matchup versus the Bengals' Leon Hall-less secondary, but has looked like a genuinely bad signing by Ireland to this point. Pro Football Focus has charged Wallace with seven drops -- third most among NFL wide receivers -- and he's on pace for 69 catches, 910 yards, and a career-low three touchdowns. Despite a $60 million contract, the Dolphins' coaching staff has made no real effort to treat Wallace as a featured receiver, and his route-running limitations show up when he isn't getting manufactured touches. Wallace is a boom-or-bust WR3 option on Thursday night.
Slot receiver Gibson ruptured his patellar tendon against the Pats. Matthews will experience the biggest playing-time bump, but Clay could be the primary fantasy beneficiary as Tannehill's hot-route safety valve when his protection inevitably collapses. The Bengals have been stingy versus tight ends, but Clay is a solid back-end TE1 coming off an eight-target game. ... Hartline teased fantasy owners with two early-season touchdowns, but has since settled into his usual chain-moving possession role. He's failed to clear 70 yards in six consecutive games and is scoreless in four straight. While he remains capable of a big game every now and then, Hartline simply lacks playmaking ability to sustain worthwhile fantasy stats. He's a low-upside WR3 versus Cincinnati. ... The Fins haven't been committed to a run game this year -- they're 30th in the NFL in rushing attempts despite the protection woes -- so it was borderline stunning to see playcaller Mike Sherman dial up a season-high 31 runs last week in Foxboro. Only time can tell whether that's an indication of game plans to come. (My money is against it.) View lead back Miller as a shaky flex play against the Bengals' No. 9 run defense, a unit that could be better with injured Rey Maualuga (MCL sprain) replaced by Vontaze Burfict at middle linebacker. The Bengals have permitted just two 20-plus-yard runs and three rushing touchdowns in eight games. ... Committee partner Thomas is averaging eight touches per game and is never a viable fantasy play.
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Andy Dalton is a streaky passer who just so happens to be on one of his rolls entering Thursday night's date with Miami's No. 19 pass defense. Dalton had two three-game stretches last year similar to the one he's currently on, registering an 8:3 TD-to-INT ratio in Weeks 2-4 and 9:0 mark in Weeks 10-12. Dalton's TD-to-INT ratio was 10:13 in his other ten games combined. Dalton is surrounded with enough talent and this matchup is favorable enough that he's worth serious consideration as a QB1 streamer and should be viewed as a locked-in starter in two-quarterback leagues against the Dolphins. Just don't think he's suddenly become a fantasy star. Dalton is a limited passer who lacks big-play arm talent and is an average athlete. ... Dalton's target distribution during his three-game hot stretch: A.J. Green 26, Marvin Jones 19, Giovani Bernard 15, Jermaine Gresham 12, Tyler Eifert and Mohamed Sanu 11, BenJarvus Green-Ellis 1. ... Green will tangle with stud LCB Brent Grimes on most of Thursday's snaps, but runs routes on both sides of the formation and will also see time against RCBs Dimitri Patterson and Nolan Carroll. Grimes doesn't shadow opposing No. 1 receivers. Green's matchup is unimposing and he's the No. 5 fantasy receiver over the past five weeks, catching balls from an on-fire quarterback.
Sanu (shoulder) hasn't practiced this week, potentially paving the way for Week 8 breakout star Jones to get the first-team nod at Miami. To this point, only Jones' playing time has been a concern. He's seeing the second most targets on the Bengals during Dalton's three-week roll, stringing together consecutive stat lines of 3-71-1, 4-57-1, and 8-122-4. Jones is a solid WR3 play at Miami, and especially so if Sanu is declared inactive. ... The Dolphins have allowed the second most fantasy points to tight ends, so neither Gresham nor Eifert has a difficult Week 9 matchup. The obstacle is their weekly target split, which has effectively prevented one from emerging. Eifert and Gresham have both failed to reach 70 yards in every game this year. They're high-risk, low-ceiling shots in the dark. ... It became crystal clear weeks ago that Bernard wasn't going to overtake Green-Ellis for feature back duties. This is a true timeshare, and Law Firm isn't going away. An inside-the-tackles grinder without big-play running talent or a passing-game role, Green-Ellis' weekly fantasy usefulness is always tied wholly to goal-line scores. He hurts you if he doesn't get one, and Green-Ellis has scored just once over the past five weeks. Bernard's touches have been down recently, but he's still the best fantasy bet in Cincy's backfield because coordinator Jay Gruden makes a consistent effort to get Bernard into space, where Gio is a playmaker. Bernard is a high-end flex play against Miami's bottom-dozen run defense, which coughed up 154 total yards and two touchdowns to Patriots running backs last Sunday. Green-Ellis is a TD-dependent flex.
Thursday Update: The Bengals announced Thursday afternoon they've activated slot receiver Andrew Hawkins (ankle) from injured reserve/designated for return. An explosive playmaker -- essentially what people thought Tavon Austin would be -- Hawkins is worth grabbing immediately in 14- and 16-team leagues as a potential stretch-run WR3. Historically, however, Hawkins' usage has disappointed under OC Jay Gruden. Hawkins averaged five targets per game in 2012, and can't be trusted as a plug-and-play fantasy starter in his first game back from a half-season absence. Bengals fans and Andy Dalton owners should still be excited about what Hawkins can add to the offense.
Score Prediction: Bengals 23, Dolphins 17