The Patriots need a win in order to ensure a first-round bye, while the Dolphins should continue playing their “starters.” Expectations are for no notable playing time shifts.
The Matchup ::
- The Dolphins offense ranks 29th in DVOA and will be taking on the number 1 DVOA defense, on the road
- Miami passes the ball at the second highest rate in the league
- New England is shaving 12.2% off the league-average catch rate (the best mark in the league)
- New England ranks first in DVOA against the pass, second in yards allowed per pass attempt, and first in lowest opponent passer rating (by, like, a mile), while allowing the fewest fantasy points per game to quarterbacks
- The Patriots have allowed only 11 touchdowns through the air to quarterbacks
- The Dolphins have allowed 37 passing touchdowns to quarterbacks — the most in the league
- The Dolphins have also allowed the second most RB rushing yards and the fifth most running back touchdowns
- The Patriots have run the ball on over 50% of their plays in back-to-back weeks (only Baltimore has run the ball on more than 50% of plays this season)
- The Patriots played the Bengals and Bills in those games (Cincy faces the highest opponent rush play rate in the league — and while the Bills rank 26th in opponent rush play rate, they are weaker on the ground than through the air); the Dolphins face the second highest opponent rush play rate in the league
- The Dolphins have allowed only the 13th most receptions to wide receivers, but they have allowed the most touchdowns and the fifth most yards
- With Edelman banged up (and missing some time as he got checked for a concussion), the Patriots gave him only 52 out of 73 snaps last week, while the rest of the Pats’ receivers looked like this :: Mohamed Sanu — 70 // N’Keal Harry — 37 // Jakobi Meyers 14 // Phillip Dorsett 5
- The Dolphins have allowed 14 pass catchers (13 wide receivers) to go for 80+ yards and a touchdown (with nine of those players going for 100+ and a touchdown)
- The Patriots // Bengals // Ravens // Steelers // Chargers // 49ers // Chiefs have combined to allow only nine WRs to go for 100+ yards and a touchdown
- The Patriots rank fourth in time of possession
- The Dolphins rank 30th in time of possession
The Game ::
One of the reasons why the focus in the fantasy community on “measurables” (height // weight // speed // etc.) in assessing matchups (and the viability of fantasy plays) is so funny is because the overwhelming majority of success (or lack thereof) in football is built around the mental aspect of the game. And one of the more important “mental aspects” is not only understanding an opponent’s tendencies, but is also self-scouting to understand your own tendencies, strengths, weaknesses, etc., in order to understand how an opposing coach is likeliest to attack you (this goes not only for coaches, but for players as well). This is part of the reason we see coaches like Sean Payton, John Harbaugh, Andy Reid, and Bill Belichick (among others) continue to have success over time — with various personnel — while other coaches flame out; and this is also one of the reasons why we should never assume we 100% know what the Patriots are going to do, as they are A) one of the most opponent-specific teams, and are B) one of the great “tendency breakers” in the NFL: doing something different from what their opponents expect. That needs to be said up front in this spot, because the way the Patriots appear likeliest to attack in this spot is overwhelmingly straightforward.
As laid out in the Matchup section above, the Patriots have been run-heavy the last couple weeks; and as we have known throughout the season: there are no bad matchups against the Dolphins, only the potential for bad volume. No matter how hard this team plays and how competitive they have remained “for their talent level” (this is, intentionally, the worst roster in football, and it’s literally not close — and yet, they have more wins than three other teams), New England should be able to succeed in whatever way they choose to attack. And given that the Patriots need a win in this spot and need to continue sharpening the area of their game that is likeliest to be their best path to a win in both of their likely games on the AFC side of the bracket (home against the Chiefs; on the road against the Ravens — both of whom are much better to attack on the ground than through the air), it would not only make quite a bit of sense for the Patriots to continue leaning this direction, but it would also make sense that this would not be the spot where the Pats would feel the need to “break tendencies” in order to throw off Miami.
In these two run-heavy games, Sony Michel has carry counts of 19 and 21; and while he has still not topped 100 yards in a game this year, both he and the Patriots rushing attack have looked better in recent weeks, while the Dolphins have allowed seven different running backs to top 100 yards against them. (While I’m on record as not quite believing in PFF grades as much as some others do, it’s also worth noting that Michel notched the second highest PFF grade on the Patriots’ offense last week.) Behind Michel, Rex Burkhead mixed in for 19 snaps last week and saw nine touches (after touch counts of 7 // 9 the previous two weeks), while James White has seen his role dry up a bit in this run-heavy stretch, with 13 total touches across the last two weeks after seeing 33 combined touches across the previous two weeks.
As noted last week before Tyler Boyd added to the list (and as laid out in the Matchup section above) :: the Dolphins have allowed 14 pass catchers (13 wide receivers) to go for 80+ yards and a touchdown (with nine of those players going for 100+ and a touchdown), which keeps pass catchers in the mix against the Dolphins even when teams are going run-heavy in this spot (no team has faced more running back rush attempts than Miami this year), with Julian Edelman the player who is likeliest to take advantage. There is a thought, however, that one of the reasons the Patriots have gone so run-heavy the last couple weeks is because of how banged-up Edelman is — and this thought is supported by the fact that he has seen 11 total targets the last two weeks, after a stretch of eight consecutive games with double-digit looks. With Edelman also missing 46 snaps over the last two weeks, it’s not crazy to bump up his risk factor a bit in this spot — making him more boom/bust than lock-and-load.
Working behind Edelman (with snap counts laid out above) have been Mohamed Sanu // N’Keal Harry // Jakobi Meyers — with Sanu hauling in only five of 13 targets the last two weeks (for 37 yards, no less), and with Harry seeing only seven total looks (but looking more and more comfortable when they use him). The Patriots are making it a point to involve Harry in the offense of late (he also has four carries for 40 yards the last two weeks), and he’s the player likelier to reach some sort of notable ceiling here behind Edelman with his more explosive skill set.
On the Dolphins’ side, of course, you’re looking at a team that is likely to be chasing points against a defense that has allowed zero slate-breaking stat lines this year, putting you in a position where the sub-1% ownership is the only clear reason for scraping around here on a 15-game slate. If choosing to go to one of these Dolphins players in tourneys for some reason, of course, your best bet is to A) make sure you are targeting what might turn into slate-breaking upside, and B) make sure you stabilize the rest of your roster by taking fairly rock-solid plays, so that on the off chance you hit on your long-shot bet, it doesn’t go to waste.
JM’s Interpretation ::
On the Patriots’ side, I’m intrigued by Michel (on DraftKings in particular, his price is a bit absurd — and while I don’t typically lean toward yardage-and-touchdown backs, the upside is high enough that I’ll expect to mix him in as a sort of second-level piece :: not a core guy, but likely a guy I’ll more than just “sprinkle in”), while I’m also intrigued by the passing attack. As I note seemingly every week in this matchup: the Dolphins just allow too many wide receivers to pop off against them for me to not consider these plays. The trouble is, Edelman comes with some risk at his price as a guy who typically needs volume and has some question marks there, while the others on this squad are a bit more thin. If I go here, I may take a shot on Harry for the upside — especially as he’s cheap enough to not kill you if he misses.
As for the Dolphins: it probably goes without saying, but I won’t be going here myself. There are 30 teams playing on this slate, and I’ll expect I can find higher scores (with fewer duds) in other spots.