Welcome to the second half of the 2013-14 NFL season and for many of you, the final third of the fantasy football regular season. For some of you, your path to the playoffs is free and clear and it’s just a matter of maintaining the status quo over the next few weeks. But for most of you, the path is both rocky and filled with more obstacles than you’d care to see. It’s probably headed uphill too, but it could be worse -- you could be one of those who aren’t even on the path. Since those folks probably aren’t even reading this, we’ll just take a moment to thank them for their annual donation, make a few jokes at their expense and move along. And in moving along, we come to this week’s Thursday game that has the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins kicking off Week 9. So let’s take a look at what we need to know for fantasy purposes.
Andy Dalton, CIN – After opening the season in solid fashion and enduring a quick two-game lull, Dalton has turned it up over the last three games and is suddenly looking like a guy who can take you to the championship in your league. In this three-game span, Dalton is averaging a mammoth 345 passing yards per game and has 11 touchdowns to just two interceptions. KA-BLAM! You can swallow that “ginger quarterback” joke now because there’s nothing to laugh about with those kinds of numbers; unless, of course, you’re laughing at the opponents you’ve beaten down while riding on Dalton’s shoulders. This game should prove to be a good test of Dalton’s ability to maintain this level of play as they allow just 245 passing yards per game and have allowed only nine touchdowns through the air this season. The Fins have limited opposing quarterbacks to an 80.9 passer rating and with 20 sacks, the pass rush can be fierce. Dalton will need to stay on his toes and utilize all of his weapons if he wants to remain in the QB1 discussion. Something tells me he will.
Ryan Tannehill, MIA – He’s not coming in nearly as hot as Dalton, as he is averaging just 193 passing yards in the two games since the bye week and he’s got five touchdown passes to four interceptions. For fantasy purposes, he’s been relatively consistent, but he’s only been good – never great. The Bengals pass defense ranks fifth overall, allowing an average of 225 passing yards per game and limiting opposing quarterbacks to a 79.4 passer rating, but they’ve also given up 11 passing touchdowns and have looked extremely vulnerable at times. Tannehill won’t dazzle you, but he should be fairly efficient. He’s a nice play as a second quarterback in two-QB leagues and a borderline play as your starter, but you should be able to get 200-plu syards and a pair of touchdowns from him in this one.
BenJarvis Green-Ellis – He’s not a bad play, but he’s certainly not a favorite of mine as he splits carries and has a season-high of just 86 yards this year. The Dolphins are giving up 109.9 rushing yards per game and have allowed seven rushing touchdowns this season, so if the Law Firm sees his usual 10-15 carries, he could be good for 50 or 60 yards. Maybe he gets the opportunity to punch one in at the goal line but he has just three touchdowns on the season and hasn’t had one in his last three games.
Giovani Bernard, CIN – While he’s looked fairly good at times, you can’t help but notice that he hasn’t done enough to push Green-Ellis aside and take the job for himself. He’ll fill his usual role as the complementary back and should see his usual workload of 8-10 carries, but what’s more important is that the Fins rank 23rd against the running back pass plays and have allowed an average of 57.4 yards to them. The Bengals love to get Bernard’s speed involved, so you can probably expect to see him nab half a dozen targets in addition to his carries. He should make for a better flex play than Green-Ellis.
Lamar Miller, MIA – He’s been fairly inconsistent this season, but that probably has a lot more to do with the fact that the Dolphins insist on splitting his carries with Daniel Thomas and he’s been unable to build any sort of momentum. Things won’t get any easier for him as he’ll continue to share the work and be forced to contend with a run defense that is giving up just 97.3 yards per game and has allowed just three rushing touchdowns. Having not scored in his last three games, Miller is probably nothing more than a low-end flex play in this match-up.
Daniel Thomas, MIA – He continues to eat into Miller’s touches, but doesn’t see enough of his own to make him a worthwhile play outside of the deepest of leagues. He did haul in a receiving touchdown last week, his first score in three games, but his odds of finding the endzone again are considered a longshot, at best. He shouldn’t be starting in any league that has fewer than 16 teams.
A.J. Green, CIN – He’s got all the talent in the world and finally, the emergence of another quality receiver in Cincinnati has helped lift the double-team coverage he had been seeing earlier in the season. Green now has three-straight 100-plus yard games with two touchdowns in that span. The Dolphins rank ninth in the league against opposing No. 1 receivers, but they’re also allowing an average of 73.2 yards per game to the position. Regardless though, Green is a must-start in all formats.
Marvin Jones, CIN – It’s hard to tell who is happier with the emergence of Jones lately, Green or those fantasy owners who scooped him up off the waiver wire and have reaped the benefits that come with 250 yards and six touchdowns over his last three games. While defenses have learned to start paying him more attention, they still have to leave him in a lot of one-on-one coverage due to the presence of Green. Make sure you have him active for this one as the Fins rank 29th against No. 2 receivers, allowing an average of 61.3 yards per game to them.
Mike Wallace, MIA – Has there been anyone as frustrating as Wallace this season? Ok, well yeah, of course. But still, his inconsistent play has been a nightmare for fantasy owners this season. He’s had just two games with over 100 yards and has only one touchdown all year. What’s worse is that depite a fair number of targets, he’s simply not coming down with the ball often enough. In fact, of the 20 targets he’s seen over the last two games, he’s only made eight catches. Sure, some of that probably falls on Tannehill, but we’ve also seen a number of balls bounce in and out of his hands as well. The Bengals rank 17th against opposing No. 1 receivers, but they also are only allowing them an average of 53.7 yards per game. If you have another option with a better match-up, say someone like Nate Washington, then I’d go with the alternative.
Brian Hartline, MIA – With an average of 62.6 yards per game and just one touchdown all year, Hartline is a possession receiver at best and most useful as a third wideout in a 12 to 14-team PPR league. He sees a consistent number of targets each week, but just doesn’t do enough with them to make starting him worth your while, especially when the Bengals are limiting No. 2 receivers to just 42.9 yards per game.
Jermaine Gresham, CIN – He’s sharing the work with rookie Tyler Eifert and the two have been splitting targets fairly evenly lately. They each have a touchdown to their credit over the last two games, but because you don’t really know who is going to get which looks and when, it’s tough to play either of them even when the match-up is a favorable one like this where the Dolphins rank 31st against the tight end and allow an average of 63.8 yards per game to the position. Personally, I would start Gresham over Eifert this week, but that’s more hunch and speculation than anything else.
Charles Clay, MIA – While he’s got three touchdowns over his last four games, he’s only got 44 yards and one touchdowns over his last two. The Bengals are holding opposing tight ends to fewer than 40 yards, so while Clay may still find the endzone, he’s not going to put up a whole lot of yardage to help offset things if he doesn’t score. He is not a recommended play this week.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over a decade on a variety of web sites. You can find his personal musings on RotobuzzGuy.com and for questions, thoughts or comments, you can follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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@magottesman think I give the edge to Bernard in PPR but not by much
@ranalli2195 Crowell and Hopkins for me
@homer50 I'd use Johnson here. Not a Crowell fan and think West will see plenty of work
@FantasySports55 I'd go Wallace, Crowell and Hill