Houston vs. Miami
Open: 45.5 O/U, HOU -7
Live: 44.5 O/U, HOU -7.5
The 4-3 Dolphins are 1-2 on the road, where the 4-3 Texans are 2-1, yet 0-3 against the spread. The opening line on this game expected an emphatic victory for Houston, and the money to come in since has amplified that assumption.
Perhaps that money is banking on regression from Brock Osweiler, who starts his third straight in place of Ryan Tannehill (shoulder). Osweiler will always be a punchline in the NFL, but he’s been surprisingly functional in his two starts, completing 50-of-85 passes for 619 yards, five touchdowns, and two interceptions. I think we’re all expecting Osweiler to crash back down to earth, regardless of how you explain his strong 2018 numbers to this point. Both games were in Miami and with heat indexes over 90 degrees, so maybe the conditioning of the Bears and Lions defenses suffered with the climate adjustment. Or perhaps it’s just small enough of a sample to remain solid noise all the way through. You could also just chalk it up to the bet that the Houston defense is regaining its pre-2017 form. I would guess the presumed Osweiler decline is not based on the absence of Kenny Stills (groin), who saw only five targets on Osweiler’s 85 passes.
Rather than Stills on the boundary, Osweiler’s preferred targets have been of the checkdown sort – perhaps an additional reason to expect decline as the YAC dwindles or defenses otherwise adjust to Osweiler’s lack of a vertical threat. Danny Amendola is the apparent favorite target of Osweiler’s, as the slot wideout snagged 14 of 18 targets for 143 yards and a touchdown in Osweiler’s starts. Amendola will be one of the most targeted players in Showdown contests, especially in DraftKings’ PPR scoring, and for good reason. The usage projects nicely for Amendola almost regardless of game script, especially with Stills and Albert Wilson (hip) both out. Amendola is Osweiler’s preferred target in any context, and his status as a slot receiver stabilizes his catch rate regardless of how Osweiler or the defense play. If the Dolphins put up points against Houston, Amendola will likely contribute a great deal to that outcome. If the Dolphins fall behind as the spread expects, Amendola should see his usage only escalate as the Dolphins try to catch back up.
If a Dolphins receiver other than Amendola should have a good game, it seems that the candidates would be diminutive slot burner Jakeem Grant or alienated former first-round pick DeVante Parker. Parker was a scratch last week, but basically due to political reasons, so he carries more appeal than his recent standing might imply. Parker and coach Adam Gase clearly do not like each other, but the Dolphins have no other option but to give him snaps Thursday, and perhaps Parker will play with a chip on his shoulder out of spite. Despite the constant drama surrounding him, Parker’s production in the NFL has been rather good. His career catch rate of 59.5 is reasonable given that he played outside receiver with dubious quarterback production, and his average of 8.2 yards per target is a distinct positive for a Dolphins team that threw for a combined 6.5 YPA from 2015 to 2017. With that said, Parker’s role should most closely imitate that of Stills, which is to say Osweiler probably won’t be inclined to throw to Parker’s part of the field as much as Amendola or Grant. Grant’s role, by the way, should most closely mirror that of Wilson, which combined both slot and outside tasks. Keep in mind that Grant is Miami’s primary kick and punt returner, so his offensive snap count might max out at 40 or so. If you’re looking at a Miami tight end it probably should be Nick O’Leary over Mike Gesicki, as the rookie is trying to play through a shoulder issue that has him listed as questionable.
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If not Amendola, Grant, or Parker, then Osweiler’s most likely target might be Kenyan Drake, who’s seen 14 targets in the last two weeks. Between the Texans allowing only 3.3 yards per carry to running backs and the expectation that the Dolphins play from behind, Drake carries a significantly higher projection than Frank Gore, who’s seen 25 carries but only two targets in the last two weeks. The Texans have conceded only 4.6 yards per target to running backs, but the script projects correctly for Drake’s usage, and he’s shown the repeated ability to break a big play so long as he gets enough chances.
Lamar Miller is the runner on the other side, and his interest is likely on the upswing following his game against Jacksonville, where he took 22 carries for 100 yards and a touchdown. He’ll likely never be consistent, but Miller is capable of producing against a Miami defense that’s allowed the second-most fantasy points to running backs, failing both in run defense and coverage by allowing 4.6 yards per carry and 6.9 yards per target. If Osweiler tanks like he’s seemingly due, it would only solidify Miller’s workload projection. Miller has the dual narrative considerations of facing his former Dolphins team, as well as the city where he played college football. If you really want to bet on an Osweiler meltdown you might want to consider backup Alfred Blue, who saw eight carries last week. Blue isn’t effective, but the Texans would have an interest in limiting Miller’s workload if the Dolphins fail to pose any threat. You can find a third Houston running back option in Tyler Ervin, who is actually expected to play receiver in this game with Keke Coutee (hamstring) out. Ervin is a former wide receiver himself, and he ran a 4.41-second 40-yard dash at 5-foot-10, 192 pounds at the combine. Like Coutee, Ervin should primarily function as an underneath target in the slot.
DeAndre Hopkins is matchup-proof whenever DeShaun Watson is active, so a looming matchup against emerging corner Xavien Howard simply isn’t much of a deterrent. With Coutee absent and Ervin unlikely to earn 100 percent of Coutee’s usage, the situation could set up for a reemergence of Will Fuller, who Seems Due after going three games without a touchdown. Going back to last year, Fuller is averaging a touchdown once every 8.9 targets. In addition to all of Hopkins, Fuller, and Ervin, you could probably find another viable Showdown pass catcher at tight end for Houston. Starter Ryan Griffin (illness) is out again, so the rookie duo of Jordan Thomas and Jordan Akins will need to contribute. Thomas played much more than Akins last week, logging 55 snaps to Akins’ 30, but that might be because the much bigger Thomas is the team’s preferred blocking option. If there are routes to run, it’s Akins who’s better at threatening the seam. For Thomas to make his dent it might have to be something more like a playaction red-zone target, whereas Akins can probably do some damage from scrimmage if he should stumble into the necessary number of targets.
An already bad Houston offensive line will be without guard Zach Fulton, which is a substantial concern for Watson, but the good news is the Miami pass rush is one of the worst in the league with just 11 sacks in seven games. It might be why the Dolphins seemed to call a timid pass defense against the Lions, running a lot of preventive zones, especially on early downs. An Osweiler collapse would present a scenario where Watson might not need to do much, but his ability to score quickly means he could still come through as a Showdown pick even if his usage volume is modest. Watson has 17 passing touchdowns in seven career home games.