DOLPHINS // BILLS OVERVIEW
Each of these teams has a playoff appearance across the last two years, but neither team has been able to build on that success, and they are right back where they started a few years ago, with the 7-8 Dolphins traveling to close out their season against the 5-10 Bills in a completely meaningless game. This will likely be the end of an era in Miami (it seems unlikely that Adam Gase retains his job, and Ryan Tannehill has probably reached the end of the line as well), with a retool, or rebuild, or whatever you want to call it on the horizon, while Buffalo will get ready for Year Two of the Josh Allen experiment (an experiment that is unlikely to go the way the Bills want — but that will continue to be plenty of fun to watch, with plenty of sporadic DFS upside along the way). These teams played in Miami just four weeks back, with the Dolphins pulling out a 21-17 win. This week in Buffalo, this game has been awarded a low Over/Under of 38.5, with the Bills installed as 3.5 point favorites.
DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE
The Bills have been one of the toughest defenses to attack through the air this year, with the second fewest yards allowed per pass attempt in the NFL. Through 16 games, the Dolphins have (incredibly) produced only six starting-caliber scores from pass catchers (with two of these coming on massive YAC days from Albert Wilson, and with another coming from DeVante Parker in the game against Houston in which the ball bounced off hands and helmets into his waiting arms for the huge play that made his day). No team in the league has allowed fewer yards to wide receivers than the Bills, making this one of the longest-shot spots we have seen all season. The Dolphins rank 31st in pace of play, 31st in time of possession, 32nd in plays per game, 21st in pass play rate, and 29th in completed passes.
If you feel compelled to attack in this spot, recent target counts among primary pass catchers on the Dolphins look like this:
The Dolphins’ three tight ends have combined for nine targets across their last four games.
Your best bet here would be to hope that Stills sees one of his volume-spike games and manages to translate these looks into a big outing.
DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE
The Bills have not been attackable on the ground, either (10th fewest yards allowed per carry // middle of the pack in rushing yards allowed to running backs), but with this team failing to tighten up on the ground in the red zone, they have found a way to rank 29th in red zone touchdown rate while now finding themselves tied with the Buccaneers for the most running back touchdowns allowed in the league.
Making this spot less concretely attackable is the Dolphins’ affinity for timeshare backfields, with Kenyan Drake touching the ball 10 times last week, Kalen Ballage touching the ball six times, and Brandon Bolden touching the ball five times. This has been somewhat stunning all season (the rumor mill is spinning out whispers that this lack of player optimization is a big part of the reason why Gase — who has consistently found a way to win games in spite of a less-than-stellar roster — is likely to be on his way out after the year, with the backfield being a prime example of this deficiency of his). Bolden is a career special teamer who played last week at the expense of a rookie in Ballage who broke off 123 yards on 12 carries the week before — with this late-week stretch providing a prime opportunity (currently being wasted) for the team to see what they have in their young back. If you want to swing for the fences (understanding that you could miss big), there is a case to be made that the Dolphins ride Ballage in a run-heavy game script — hoping to send him into the offseason on a high note — but obviously, there is no guarantee that Gase is aware enough to make this move. Ultimately, this backfield is a bet-on-touchdown (and hope for two) play, with Ballage making the most sense, but being by no means guaranteed.
BILLS PASS OFFENSE
With the Dolphins allowing worse-than-average marks in both aDOT and catch rate while allowing the fourth highest YAC/R rate in the league, they enter Week 17 ranked 30th in yards allowed per pass attempt. But while this team has been underwhelming on short and intermediate passes and yards after the catch, no team in the league has more interceptions on downfield passes than Miami, creating an interesting setup for a quarterback in Josh Allen who — as we know by now — loves to scramble around and fire the ball downfield in The Great Backyard Offense. With the Dolphins picking off so many passes (second most interceptions in the league, behind only the Bears) and being so attackable on the ground, they are facing the third lowest opponent pass play rate on the year — which has led to them facing the sixth fewest passes in the league, in spite of allowing the second highest opponent time of possession. Ultimately, this is a middling spot for Allen and his erratic passing, with potential for volume concerns in a Bills offense that prefers to lean on the run when they can, and with an even higher-than-normal potential for his scattershot downfield throws to turn into drive-ending picks. With one week left in the season and only 10 starts under his belt, Allen already has 536 rushing yards, a slate-breaking performance, and three other games that made him one of the top plays on the slate. But he has also completed only 51.7% of his passes on the year, and he has seven touchdown passes and 11 picks through 10+ games of play. The risk in this spot of an Allen dud is lower than it was last week on the road against New England and their tight man coverage, but the risk is higher than it was in Weeks 14 and 15 in home matchups that set up better for his skill set. Allen blasted the Dolphins in Miami in Week 13, but his success in that game is by no means guaranteed to repeat.
If targeting Bills pass catchers, the positive is that this aggressive, downfield-attacking team has given us a narrow target distribution since Kelvin Benjamin was sent packing, with target counts among the Bills’ three primary wide receivers looking like this:
:: Robert Foster — 8 // 5 // 7
:: Zay Jones — 9 // 6 // 9
:: Isaiah McKenzie — 7 // 7 // 8
The bad news is that Allen’s inaccurate arm has prevented production from being a foregone conclusion from any of these guys.
The most exciting play is Foster, who has recent yardage totals of 105 // 94 // 27 // 104 // 108 // 52 — with his 52-yard game last week a lost-ball-in-the-sun shy of becoming a 134-yard performance. We’ve spent plenty of time on the site the last few weeks talking about Foster’s exciting measurables and pedigree, and he has a genuine shot to emerge over the next couple years as an actual, NFL-alpha receiver. His risk is heightened by the downfield nature of his targets and by his attachment to Josh Allen, but his ceiling is slate-breaking.
Zay continues to dominate targets on this team, though he has hauled in only nine of 24 targets since Benjamin was cut — struggling in the perimeter role that this move pushed him into. Zay is prone to mental errors, drops, and laziness in contested situations, but the targets continue to make him a viable tourney option.
McKenzie’s dud last week was unexpected, given the short-area role he occupies in this offense that provides him with lower-ceiling, but higher-floor targets. In spite of the one-week dip in production, he remains an intriguing salary saver with locked-in targets and enough speed to break one of his short/intermediate targets for a big gain against this Miami secondary that has struggled in the YAC department this year.
Part of the beauty of this offense — in spite of its inconsistency and its guaranteed-low completion rate — is that it rarely targets tight ends and running backs. While Jason Croom saw six targets last week, tight ends on this team had combined for six total targets across the previous two games (3.0 per game), while running backs have seen only 11 targets (3.67 per game) across the last three weeks.
BILLS RUN OFFENSE
This is a good matchup for running backs — against a Miami defense that ranks 24th in yards allowed per carry and has allowed the third most rushing yards in the league to enemy backs — but complicating this spot a bit is the way the Bills managed their backfield a week ago, with LeSean McCoy playing 31 snaps and touching the ball nine times, while Keith Ford played 30 snaps and touched the ball nine times as well. Your best bet here would be to bet on McCoy and hope he sees the bulk of the work in a quality spot, but there are no guarantees — and there is certainly no guarantee that the Bills spend enough time close to the end zone for either of these guys to score even if the yards pile up. Recognize that this is a good spot for the Bills’ backfield in general, but also recognize the uncertainty-driven risk.
While I won’t have any interest in the Dolphins’ side of the ball myself, I once again like the idea of targeting the upside of the Bills’ passing attack. As noted above: this spot is less risky than last week’s, but it’s more risky than the setup the Bills had in Weeks 14 and 15, when we targeted them and they provided strong value at low ownership. Allen // Foster // McKenzie (and to a lesser extent, Zay) all remain in the tourney conversation this week for the somewhat risky, monster upside they provide. As you could have guessed three weeks ago, when I said I would give myself exposure to this offense every week down the stretch: I’m sure I’ll take some shots on this offense this week.