DOLPHINS // VIKINGS OVERVIEW
This game gives us two teams that feel like they are moving in opposite directions at the moment, with the Dolphins continuing to find ways to pull out wins, and with the Vikings coming off a dispiriting loss to the Seahawks — though if the season were to end today, it is actually the 6-6-1 Vikings who would be making the playoffs, while the 7-6 Dolphins would fall shy in the AFC. From a talent standpoint, the Vikings are the much better team, but this game should bring us two squads playing with all-out effort, with the loser of this game likely moving into very rough shape for a playoff spot. With the Dolphins racking up a 6-1 record at home this year while going 1-5 on the road, the oddsmakers have installed the Vikings as touchdown favorites, in a game with an Over/Under of 44.5.
DOLPHINS PASS OFFENSE
The Dolphins continue to win games with one of the least aggressive offenses in the NFL — riding a run-heavy, ball-control style of play that has led to Ryan Tannehill topping 25 pass attempts only once in his last seven games. This team ranks seventh in the NFL in turnover differential, and they will continue to limit passing volume for as long as possible in this spot.
When Tannehill does pass, his favorite target has been Kenny Stills, who has recent, ascending target counts of 4 // 6 // 9. Stills’ 15 targets across the last two weeks on only 43 Tannehill pass attempts is good for a 34.9% share of this team’s looks — a massive total that is unlikely to hold, but that would leave Stills with some value moving forward if it does.
On the pass attempts that the Dolphins do dial up this week, their wide receivers will deal with a difficult matchup against a Minnesota secondary that has allowed the fourth fewest receptions and the fifth fewest yards to the wide receiver position.
Targets behind Stills the last two weeks have looked like this:
Parker is likeliest to draw attention from Xavier Rhodes, though he can be considered one of the top three weapons with Tannehill under center (alongside Stills and Kenyan Drake). Everyone in this low-volume “attack” is nothing more than a bet-on-broken-play option. Even if game flow pushes the Dolphins to the air more often than normal, the matchup will make it difficult for this unit to pile up production.
DOLPHINS RUN OFFENSE
For fantasy purposes, the Dolphins’ backfield has been one of the least attractive units in the league this year, with Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake splitting work in a low-scoring offense (22nd in points per game) that prefers to slow down the pace (31st in pace of play). Gore has only 12 catches on the year, and he has only one touchdown and only one game north of 100 yards — making him a slim bet from a yardage-and-touchdown perspective. And while Drake has often been able to produce like a starting-caliber back, there are others priced around him who can provide the same upside without his scary-low floor. The matchup is difficult for both of these guys, against a Minnesota run defense that ranks seventh in yards allowed per carry. If chasing this spot, your best bet is on the upside of Drake — hoping he turns one of his receptions or limited carries into a long gain or a touchdown.
Before we get to the Vikings’ passing attack, the most important thing to talk about is the firing of first-year offensive coordinator John DeFilippo. Through the first 13 games of the season, the Steelers are the only team in the NFL that has thrown the ball more frequently than the Vikings — which has allowed both Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs to rank top five in the NFL in targets per game (an awesome distinction for two players on the same team), while allowing Thielen to be one of the highest floor/ceiling players in the NFL this year in spite of typically sticking to the short and intermediate areas of the field. Since returning from his layoff, Dalvin Cook has seen carry counts of 10 // 9 // 10 // 9 // 13. The 13 carries last week came after DeFilippo said on Friday that he would “absolutely” like to see Cook carry the ball more — this statement coming on the heels of head coach Mike Zimmer saying earlier in the week that they should have run the ball more in their loss to the Patriots. Zimmer had a similar statement in mid-November after a loss to the Bears, and it seems more than likely that the first job of new O.C. Kevin Stefanski will be to reestablish the run. Stefanski has been with this team for 13 years and was originally expected to be promoted to this job when Pat Shurmur left for New York, so the communication between he and Zimmer should be clear and rhythmic if this is their desired approach. All of these hypotheses are further backed up by the matchup, as there are only two teams in football facing a higher opponent rush play rate than the Dolphins. Miami has faced the second most running back rush attempts in the NFL, allowing the fourth most yards. The Dolphins have also been middling against pass-catching backs, where Cook has thrived lately — hauling in 16 catches on 19 targets across the last three weeks. Cook was a near every-down player last week (50 out of 58 snaps, after playing 47 of 61 the week before), and there is a strong chance he is a focal point for the Vikings this week. His price on FanDuel is outlandishly low (10.3% of the cap), while he is still a bit underpriced on DraftKings for his expected range of production at 13% of the cap.
Outside of the low volume that the Dolphins’ pass defense has faced (10th fewest pass attempts in the NFL) and their ability to force interceptions (only the Bears have more picks this year), this matchup is fairly non-threatening — keeping Kirk Cousins and his primary pass catchers in the discussion this week (especially if you disagree with the suppositions above and instead feel that the Vikings will continue to attack heavily through the air). The Dolphins continue to add over 7% to the league-average aDOT while struggling to stop opponents after the catch, leading to a number 28 ranking in yards allowed per pass attempts.
:: Thielen —7 // 12 // 9 // 10 // 7
:: Diggs — DNP // 18 // 11 // 6 // 6
Your best bet on Thielen is to hope for a heavy-volume game, as his low 9.3 yards per reception typically requires him to pile up targets in order to pop for a big game. Your best bet on Diggs is for Xavien Howard to miss again and improve this matchup. Either way, Diggs will remain a low-floor play with monster upside given the way he is used (lots of short passes designed to get the ball into his hands in space with blockers in front — usage that sometimes leads to sub-50-yard totals, and that sometimes leads to blowup games; Diggs should also see a couple downfield shots).
Behind these two (and Cook), Aldrick Robinson, Laquon Treadwell, and Kyle Rudolph are all functioning as satellite options who will need some lucky breaks to pay off this week.
There are players on the Dolphins who could produce a usable game this week, but none of them catch my eye as players I want to try to guess on. I’ll be leaving that offense alone. If going there, Drake and Stills would be the most attractive options.
The Vikings’ side of the ball is a different story, as Dalvin Cook will have a shot at eclipsing 20 touches for the first time since Week 1. This is still one of the worst run-blocking units in the NFL, but the matchup and Cook’s explosive skill set will keep the floor fairly high if the usage lands in the 18 to 22 touch range, while the ceiling is attractive as well. He looks clearly underpriced on FanDuel to me, while checking in as slightly underpriced on DraftKings. Behind Cook, Diggs is the most attractive receiver for me (as a tourney-only play, of course), given the big upside he carries, while Thielen and Cousins don’t pop off the page, but they are certainly part of the Week 15 conversation.