The St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins have each been better than expected this season. But when the two teams meet, which of these surprising squads will prevail?
The Rams have been playing excellent defense, rushing the passer well and could easily be 4-1 had they not blown a late lead to the Detroit Lions in Week 1. The Dolphins run the ball well, stop it better than any other team in the NFL and have been led by pleasant surprises in Ryan Tannehill and Brian Hartline.
This isn't the sexiest game on this week's schedule, but it has plenty of compelling storylines and matchups to consider. Let's get to the previewing.
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Florida
When: Sunday, October 14 at 1 p.m. ET
Streaming: NFL Audio Pass
Listen: Sirius XM 138 & 128; Dial Global Sports
Betting Line: Dolphins (-3.5), according to Bovada
Rams Injuries (via ESPN)
WR Steve Smith, Inactive
WR Danny Amendola, Shoulder, Out
Dolphins Injuries (via ESPN)
RB Daniel Thomas, Concussion, Questionable
CB Richard Marshall, Questionable
What's At Stake?
The Rams are trying to prove they can compete in the NFC West and perhaps even surprise people with a playoff berth this season. With the Green Bay Packers and New England Patriots up next, a win over the Dolphins would be huge for the Rams and ensure they headed into a Week 9 bye at least 4-4.
After a big win last weekend against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Dolphins are looking to make it two in a row and head into the bye sitting nicely at 3-3.
Fantasy Start 'Em, Sit' Em and Sleeper
Reggie Bush is the only must-start of the bunch. Brian Hartline is a fine option at the flex if you've been hit hard by the bye weeks. I'd avoid everyone else in Miami.
For the Rams, Steven Jackson is a tough call. If you own him you probably have to start him, but the Dolphins have allowed the least rushing yards in the NFL (just 61.4 per game) and are eighth in the NFL in fantasy points allowed to opposing running backs (12.4 per week).
I also like the Rams defense and Brandon Gibson as a deep flex this week with Danny Amendola shelved.
As for your sleeper, give Sam Bradford a look. The Dolphins are allowing 281.8 yards through the air each week and 15.4 fantasy points to opposing quarterbacks per game. If the Rams can't run the ball and they turn to the aerial attack, Bradford could put up some points on Sunday.
What They're Saying
With Amendola out for the foreseeable future with a clavicle injury, Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wonders who will step up:
Opportunity has come knocking to the Rams receiving corps, and I just hope there's a mad and ultra-competitive scramble to pick up Amendola's business. It hurts to see someone who has worked as hard as Amendola has to perfect his craft get all busted up right when he was playing so well. But the Rams have invested a lot of draft picks over the last two years trying to upgrade Bradford's receiving corps, and this would be the ideal time for one of these young receivers—or all of them—to show they're as good as previously advertised.
The usual suspects are all over the place. Chris Givens. Brian Quick. Austin Pettis. Lance Kendricks. Steve Smith. Does anyone want the job?
Meanwhile, Dave George of The Palm Beach Post thinks the Dolphins did well to draft Ryan Tannehill:
If a quarterback is making good decisions on when to take a shot at something and when to throw the ball away, those busted plays can be brilliant. The other alternative, simply tucking it in and running for the sticks, can get a quarterback hurt. Washington rookie Robert Griffin III learned that Sunday, and Tannehill will take information in, too.
[Head coach Joe] Philbin’s right, of course. There is some growing to do, but Tannehill already is casting a longer shadow than I predicted would be possible after just 19 college starts at quarterback and five in the NFL.
The Dolphins got this one right, and the evidence grows stronger every week.
Rams Player to Watch: Robert Quinn, Defensive End
Robert Quinn had five sacks in 15 games during his rookie season in 2011. This year, he's already registered six sacks after five games and is quickly becoming a household name in NFL circles.
Paired with Chris Long (three sacks), Quinn has given the Rams a truly dangerous defensive line that can pressure opposing quarterbacks. Paired with the excellent play of the Rams cornerbacks, the team is now a difficult defense to throw against.
The Dolphins will surely look to establish the run behind Reggie Bush, but when Tannehill steps back to pass, he can expect Quinn will be in his lap for much of the afternoon. Don't be surprised if Quinn registers a sack or two and forces Tannehill into a few bad throws.
Dolphins Player to Watch: Reggie Bush, Miami Dolphins
This one might be fairly obvious since Bush is the center of this team's offense, but against a St. Louis team that covers well and rushes the quarterback, Bush is going to have to be the best player on the field if Miami is too win.
While I think St. Louis is likely to stack the box (see below) to shut down the run, Bush can be a weapons catching the rock out of the backfield as well. The Dolphins need Bush to run well, be a safety valve for Tannehill and generally take pressure off of the rookie quarterback.
Key Matchup: CB Cortland Finnegan vs. WR Brian Hartline
Here's what Cortland Finnegan has done this year: 36 tackels (29 solo), one sack, one tackle for loss, seven passes deflected, three interceptions, one touchdown.
Not too shabby, right?
But Hartline currently leads all NFL wide receivers with 514 receiving yards and is tied for seventh in the NFL with 52 targets. Alongside Bush, he's grown into one of Miami's weapons that opposing teams need to worry about.
But because Finnegan and rookie Janoris Jenkins have been so good, I believe the Rams will rely on both to lock down Miami's receivers and will stack the box to stop Bush and the running game. If they are able to stop the run, the St. Louis pass rush should make life very, very difficult for Tannehill.
Miami has this game's most dangerous offensive player (Bush). They should make the going tough for Jackson in the running game and have the homefield advantage. That said, the Rams have the better overall defense and are capable of winning ugly. They'll do just that, taking this one 16-10.
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