Three weeks of NFL action are in the books, which means that it’s time to turn our attention to yet another mid-week island game in the NFL. They call it Thursday Night Football, and I call it “ah geez waivers just ran, we already have another game? Alright, then, let’s get to it.” Much like an ex who you don’t have the heart to block on social media, the NFL consistently stays in our field of view. This week, we take a look at a matchup between the 2021 AFC Champions, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the current #1 overall seed in the AFC, the Miami Dolphins. There’s quite a bit up in the air in this one, including if Tua Tagovailoa has a back injury or a concussion! Let’s figure out who we can, and should, start in this one, with this week’s Thursday Night Football Start or Sitacular (okay, I’m working on that one).
Please keep in mind that considering that Tua Tagovailoa led the Dolphins to victory with a concussion back injury, I am going to assume that he plays in this one. Vegas seems to agree with that notion, as they have the Bengals as just four-point home favorites. This one has a lot of touchdowns predicted, as the final score, per Vegas odds, should be around 25.5 to 21.5. That looks a lot like six total touchdowns to me, which means there’s a lot of value to mine here.
If you bench these guys, you’re overthinking it.
Jaylen Waddle (Week 3: 6 targets, 4 receptions, 102 yards)
Tyreek Hill (Week 3: 4 targets, 2 receptions, 33 yards)
Ja’Marr Chase (Week 3: 10 targets, 6 receptions, 29 yards, 1 TD)
Tee Higgins (Week 3: 7 targets, 5 receptions, 93 yards)
Tua Tagovailoa (Week 3: 13/18, 186 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT)
It’s hard to say which Tua Tagovailoa we will get in this one. After all, he either had a concussion or injured his back so badly that it made us think that he had a concussion. And with a four-day turnaround, neither is really a great reality for our purposes. Other than touchdowns, however, the game against the Bills was actually, pass-by-pass, his best game of the season, he just had an extremely low number of attempts. He finished the game with 10.33 yards per attempt, almost a full yard per attempt higher than he did the week prior while completing just 0.22% more passes, meaning that it wasn’t a situation where a higher catch rate led to a higher yards per pass attempt.
So, what was driving this? Tua was pushing the ball downfield to his weapons, averaging 10.9 air yards on completions in the game. He’s also basically just pushed the ball downfield to his two best weapons, eschewing the Rivers Craycraft and the Trents Sherfield in order to give 137 of his 150 wide receiver air yards to two of the best twenty wide receivers in the NFL. So, the blueprint is there for him to have success this week against the Bengals.
On the season, the Bengals allow the third-fewest fantasy points to quarterbacks… while playing against Mitchell Trubisky, Cooper Rush, and Joe Flacco. It’s not exactly rocket surgery to slow down those guys, so I’m going to chalk that up to early season vagaries. That is unless you think that Houston (28 fantasy points allowed) is a stingier defense than the Chargers (59.2 fantasy points allowed). The Bengals have allowed just two passing touchdowns this season, and the second-lowest yards per attempt to quarterbacks, but, again: three guys who might just be backups when the year ends.
So, you can start Tua Tagovailoa, especially if it’s your only way to get a part of this shootout. But, he’s a backend QB1 this week. If you have Tua and Joe Burrow, start Burrow over Tua.
Chase Edmonds (Week 3: 6 carries, 21 yards, 2 TD, 1 target, 1 catch, 6 yards)
Raheem Mostert (Week 3: 8 carries, 11 yards, 2 targets, 0 catches)
This situation is so far up-in-the-air that I’m not exactly sure how I feel about either of these backs. Edmonds has one more touch on the season, but he had 16-of-29 touches in week one, and Mostert had 22-of-28 touches in the last two games. So, with 65, 41, and 28 yards in each game this season, those two touchdowns really boosted his line, and that’s what you’re angling for in this game. Granted, I believe Edmonds to be the more talented of the two backs, we’ve seen how far that’s gotten Javonte Williams in Denver. This isn’t a good matchup for Edmonds, as the Bengals allow the eleventh-fewest fantasy points per game to opposing running backs and the eighth-lowest yards per opportunity.
If you decide to start Chase Edmonds, then you’re banking on a touchdown, and the two touchdowns he scored last week came on the only two opportunities afforded to Chase Edmonds inside the 20 this year. The Bengals have also allowed just two running back touchdowns on the year despite already facing Najee Harris, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Michael Carter, and Breece Hall. I wouldn’t want to start Chase Edmonds if I can help it, so I would go ahead and sit Chase Edmonds unless you’re in dire straits and you want to bank on that touchdown as a flex (but not in the flex spot!!!).
As for Raheem Mostert, I wouldn’t advocate starting him in even the deepest of leagues. Through three weeks, he has 24 carries for 78 yards, and while he finished in week two with 79 total yards, a part of that came on three of his career 40 receptions (reminder: he’s 30), so I don’t see that repeating this week. Mostert ended last week outsnapping and out-touching Edmonds, but he failed to kick in any touchdowns, so his end line was a lot worse. Mostert also looked worse than Edmonds, so I wouldn’t want to start him because of that, as well. Due to this massive uncertainty surrounding touches, please sit Raheem Mostert and understand that this is out of an abundance of caution given their touch distribution.
Mike Gesicki (Week 3: 1 target, 1 reception, 3 yards)
There was once a time when Mike Gesicki was my favorite fantasy football wide receiver. With just 50 routes run across three games and 30 air yards across 6 targets, those days are in the past. If you’re insanely desperate, you can take a shot on him in a deeper league, as the Bengals allowed big games to both Pat Freiermuth in week one (5 catches, 75 yards on a 27% target share) and Tyler Conklin in week three (8 catches, 84 yards on a 16% target share). However, both came from receiving volume, and unless something happens to Tyreek Hill or Jaylen Waddle, Gesicki’s 6% target share isn’t going to cut it. You should sit Mike Gesicki if he’s even still on your roster.
Joe Burrow (Week 3: 23/36, 275 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT)
Joe Burrow is an interesting case because he’s supposed to have joined the Elite Tier of quarterbacks, alongside Jalen Hurts, and he’s done his very best to enter those ranks (271 passing yards and two touchdowns per game this season), but it seems as though his offensive line has other ideas. Burrow’s been sacked the most times in the NFL, as he’s gone down 15 times, but at only the third-highest rate in the NFL (10.7% of the time). This is probably because according to ESPN, the Bengals are the fourth-worst pass-blocking unit on the season. The Dolphins, on the other side of the ball, have the third-best pass rush win rate on the season. So, I expect the Dolphins’ pass rushers to make life at least somewhat difficult for Burrow on Thursday.
However, I don’t expect this pass rush to get home as often as it might appear upon first look. The Bengals played 92 defensive snaps on Sunday, and that can take its toll on the defense, and specifically, the defensive line. While they’re deep along the line, they still had to dig deeper to win on Sunday. For example, Emmanuel Ogbah played 70 snaps on Sunday after playing 76 snaps in weeks one and two combined. So, I would expect a somewhat slowed pass rush, but one that can still bug the heck out of Joe Burrow this week.
Despite all of that, the Dolphins allow the most fantasy points per game to opposing quarterbacks, but I’m not particularly surprised. After a soft landing in week one against Mac Jones, the Cincy defense took on Lamar Jackson and Josh Allen in back-to-back games. So, where does all that leave us? You should start Joe Burrow if you have him in your fantasy league. He’s coming off his best fantasy day of the season last week, a week where he took only two sacks after taking 13 in weeks one and two combined, and we aren’t sure if Miami’s defense is a difference maker against quarterbacks yet. Don’t get cute, start Burrow.
Joe Mixon (Week 3: 12 carries, 24 yards, 7 targets, 3 receptions, 14 yards)
Samaje Perine (Week 3: 9 carries, 47 yards, 2 targets, 2 receptions, 14 yards, 1 TD)
Joe Mixon should be a stud. He leads the league in touches, but he’s sitting at just 3.7 yards per touch on the year, which ranks 49th out of 50 running backs with at least 20 touches this year. So, he’s basically become a volume play at the position, and he’s banged up on a short week. Zac Taylor said that he’s “good to go,” for this matchup, so I’m going to take his word for him and assume that he’s healthy. The Dolphins are a neutral matchup against running backs, ranking fifteenth in fantasy points allowed this year, but they’ve been especially stingy at stopping the actual run, as their 3.5 yards per carry allowed ranks as the fifth-lowest, and their run stop win rate ranks third. So, he’s in for a tough matchup this week against the Dolphins.
So, to be honest, it’s possible to get away from Joe Mixon. You could have gone Mixon in the first, Saquon Barkley in the second, and grabbed James Robinson later on. Or, maybe you bought the dip on Antonio Gibson. For now, though, you’re likely to start Joe Mixon, because you can’t bench the guy that leads the NFL in touches. But, maybe temper your expectations.
If Joe Mixon has a surprise setback and cannot play on Thursday, then Samaje Perine is a questionable play. The Bengals leaned on him without Mixon last week, as he had 11 touches for 61 yards. But, the Miami running back defense is a far cry from the Jets’ run defense. Unless you’re desperate, you should still sit Samaje Perine in the event of a Joe Mixon injury.
Tyler Boyd (Week 3: 5 targets, 4 receptions, 105 yards, 1 TD)
Tyler Boyd had himself an incredible catch-and-run last week that found him as the top dog in the Bengals’ wide receiver room. He’s a very talented player, but Tee Higgins and Ja’Marr Chase are two of the top fifteen wide receivers on this planet, so I doubt that he will find himself as the king of the hill more often than he doesn’t. But, given his talent level, if the Bengals do well, you can still get away with starting Tyler Boyd, but is that the case this week?
First, let’s talk about Boyd’s usage. He’s a slot receiver, period. According to PlayerProfiler.com, Boyd has the second-highest slot rate in the NFL, notching 143 snaps out of the slot, an 80% rate, and through three games, he’s run about 40 routes per game out of the slot. For a lot of teams, this would be a problem, but the Bengals are an 11-personnel team, with them running three wide receivers 77% of the time this season, and passing out of that formation 86% of the time. That means that the opportunity to produce should all be there, provided the Dolphins cooperate.
It’s likely that the Dolphins cooperate, as they allow the eighth-most fantasy football points to slot receivers this season, giving up 74 PPR points to the slot on 37 receptions, the sixteenth-most to the position. Fortunately for Boyd, they rank inside the top twelve in both yards per reception and receiving touchdowns allowed. A long play is a key to Boyd’s success this week, and I think he gets it, especially when you consider the 90+ snaps the defense played this past weekend. You can start Tyler Boyd as a WR3 this week in what should be a shootout against what will be an exhausted defense.
Hayden Hurst (Week 3: 2 targets, 1 reception, 7 yards)
Prior to the season, many say Hayden Hurst as a member of the Blob, and he somewhat returned on that in the first two weeks of the season. In weeks one and two, he had 15 targets, 10 receptions, and 70 yards while playing 78% of snaps. Hurst came back from a groin injury for last week’s game, so I’m not surprised that he played just 38% of snaps and had just two targets. The matchup isn’t that great this week, as Miami allows the fifth-most fantasy points to tight ends but they have seen the most tight end targets while allowing the eleventh-most fantasy points per target to the position.
If you start Hurst, you hope that he is bouncing back this week to his form from weeks one and two. Ideally, you only start him if you’re in a bind in a deeper league, as he falls outside the top-fifteen best starts at tight end this week. Hurst is unlikely to hand you a goose egg this week, but you probably want to sit Hayden Hurst.