The Carolina Panthers might be the biggest pleasant surprise of the NFL season, with a 7-3 record and a current hold on the NFC's No. 5 seed. Meanwhile, the Miami Dolphins are on the wrong end of a tiebreaker for the AFC's sixth seed, and will need every win they can get down the stretch. On Sunday, Carolina faces Miami in Miami at 1 p.m. ET:
Start if you're desperate: Steve Smith
The Dolphins are actually pretty decent against fantasy quarterbacks, allowing the fifth-fewest points per game in the league, but Newton, the fifth-highest-scoring fantasy quarterback, is fairly matchup-proof. ... Olsen has had double-digit fantasy points twice in his last three games and has been one of the most consistent Panthers on the season, while tight ends tend to go wild against Miami. ... Gano has only missed one field goal on the season, and is a fairly safe start. ... The Panthers' defense only scored eight fantasy points in its first two games, but has averaged almost 14 points per game since.
Smith is unquestionably the Panthers' best wide receiver, but for a "best wide receiver," he has only scored three touchdowns all season, and has only two double-digit fantasy scoring games. Neither of those has happened since Week 7. He's tough to count on.
If two Carolina running backs were to get hurt, whichever was left healthy -- Williams, Stewart or Tolbert -- would probably have some good value, but with the three-way battle for play, none of the group is going to be trustworthy for production. ... LaFell has been slightly better than Ginn this season, but neither one is worth starting in anything but the deepest of leagues.
Start in every league: ...
Start if you're desperate: Charles Clay
How could you feel confident starting any Miami Dolphin against a strong Panthers defense? Even Clay only has one double-digit fantasy day since Week 5, though that did come in his last game.
Tannehill has been consistent, at least, scoring between nine and 16 fantasy points in every outing on the season. But the Panthers are the best in the NFL against opposing quarterbacks, and the O-line in front of Tannehill has been getting progressively weaker. ... Miller and Thomas are barely ownable at this point, let alone startable, and you could say the same for the trio of wide receivers, Hartline, Wallace and Matthews. Any one of them might have a big game, but man is that hard to rely on. ... Sturgis has missed five kicks on the season, and hasn't had as many opportunities as many of the league's kickers. ... The Dolphins' defense ranks in the bottom half of the league, and faces a team that ought to beat them pretty convincingly.