Happy New Year, Bills fans! As we say goodbye to 2020, we reflect on the difficult year it was in so many ways. For Bills fans, possibly the lone bright spot of the year was the play of their football team. On Sunday, the Bills will have the ability to finish 13-3 for just the third time in franchise history. The first two times it happened were in 1990 and 1991, with both of those seasons ending at the Super Bowl. There is a lot of uncertainty going into this game. Will we see Josh Allen and the rest of the starters? Will the Bills opt for rest instead? Who will the Bills’ first-round playoff opponent be? Let’s breakdown the final regular-season game of the year.
The Last Five
Bills 31 Dolphins 28 (2020)
Bills 37 Dolphins 20 (2019)
Bills 31 Dolphins 21 (2019)
Bills 42 Dolphins 17 (2018)
Dolphins 21 Bills 17 (2018)
The Bills have had their way with the Dolphins since Sean McDermott arrived in town, posting a 6-1 record against the Fins. Frankly, that record should be 7-0, as he is a Charles Clay drop away from a perfect record against the division rival. In all of the recent matchups between these two, none have meant more for the Dolphins than this one, as they can clinch a playoff berth with a win.
What To Watch For: Bills
Rest or Play? – The biggest question of the week is Sean McDermott’s plan for the starters in this game. The math is simple for the Bills: if they beat the Dolphins they are the #2 seed in the AFC Playoffs and will host not only the Wild Card round, but if they were to win next weekend, they would host a second game at home. The #2 seed would also mean they would be one Chiefs loss away from hosting the AFC Championships game in Orchard Park as well. But of course, there is risk involved. Last week, we saw Cole Beasley go down late in the 4th quarter with a leg injury. The Bills did what they could to protect Josh Allen by taking him out of the game, but they couldn’t take out every offensive player, and Beasley was the one that suffered from it last week. Maybe seeing Beasley go down and having his status for the Wild Card now up in the air was enough to persuade the Bills to rest their starters for this game. Personally, I think McDermott and Beane should plan on a hybrid game plan and keep Allen in for as long as it takes to sure up the win. And if recent performance is any indication, that should not take long. The Bills are putting their opponents away during the third quarter. In what was once an Achilles’ heel for the team, over the past three weeks the Bills have outscored their opponents 14-0, 17-0, and 7-0 coming out of the halftime break. That, combined with their first-half performances, is helping to put games out of reach fairly early for their opponents.
Finishing Strong – This one depends on what the team decides to do with the starters, but the team still has a lot of play for aside from the most obvious two seed. Last year, the Bills lost to the Patriots in Week 16 and then rested their starters at home in Week 17, as they were already locked into the five seed for the playoffs. Josh Allen actually started that game but only played two series. After the Bills lost to Houston the following week, some fans pointed to their final four regular-season games, in which they went 1-3, as a sign that the team had lost some of their “mojo” that they had after beating the Cowboys on Thanksgiving. While this is a much different team than last year, the Bills do appear to be unstoppable on offense, and you have to wonder if a week off for most of the starters and a possible sloppy loss would kill the momentum that the current five-game win streak is providing.
Records! – Lastly, I noted many of the records that the Bills were chasing in these final two weeks of the season. The rout of the Patriots on Monday Night Football allowed for Stefon Diggs to become the franchise’s single-season receiving yards leader. With every week, he continues to put considerable space between himself and Eric Moulds in the record books. He is also leading the league in both receptions and receiving yards, something a Bills player has never done at the end of the regular season. If Diggs plays a good chunk of this game, he has an opportunity to continue to make his case for Offensive Player of the Year. Cole Beasley is just 33 yards away from 1,000 on the year. This would have been a great milestone for him and just the second time in team history that the Bills would have had two 1,000 yards receivers in the same season, but due to his injury, it is doubtful that he will suit up and eclipse the 1,000 yard mark this year. Last week, Josh Allen knocked Jim Kelly off of the top spot for passing touchdowns in a single season. Up next is Drew Bledsoe’s single-season passing yards record. Allen is just 39 yards away from that mark. Even if he only stays in for one drive, or long enough for one deep throw to Diggs, I would love to see McDermott allow Allen to break Bledsoe’s passing record to put the topper on the MVP-caliber season he has had.
What To Watch For: Dolphins
No Closer This Week – On Thursday, some concerning news broke for Bills’ fan-favorite and the league’s ageless wonder-kid, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzy is COVID positive and will be unavailable for the Dolphins to turn to in this game. Why Fitzpatrick wasn’t named the starter for this game is beyond me, as he came off the bench last week and led the Dolphins to a last-second win over Las Vegas. Fitz had success against the Bills back in September, throwing for over 300 yards. This Sunday, the Dolphins will have to stick with Tua Tagovailoa, whom they have benched mid-game on a couple of occasions this year. Tua’s stat line from last week should not scare the Bills defense, as he was just 17/22 for 94 yards–just 4.3 yards per attempt. For as conservative as Tyrod Taylor was, I don’t think he ever had a stat line like that. Without a gunslinger to fall back on, the Dolphins will have to rely on their rookie to beat a defense that has come alive in the second half of the season, showing that they are one of the best in the league once again.
Mike Gesicki – Tight end Mike Gesicki has been a bright spot for the Dolphins this year, as he is second on the team with 656 yards on 48 catches. Gesicki seems to be good for at least one highlight-reel catch a week, as he had a few of them in his Week 2 game against the Bills. That game against Buffalo was his biggest of the year. He finished with 8 catches for a career-high 130 yards and 1 touchdown. While Tyrel Dodson starting that game had a big impact on Gesicki’s success that day, the Bills defense will want to pay attention to where Gesicki lines up, especially in the red zone.
Xavien Howard – The Dolphins’ star cornerback is about to be named an All-Pro for the first time in his career. Howard should get some votes for Defensive Player of the year, as he is holding quarterbacks to just a 48.5 rating while challenging him. To add to that, he leads the league with nine interceptions, including interception streaks of four and five games this year. While Stefon Diggs got the most of him in their first meeting this year, I would look for Howard to have a bounce-back game, especially considering the time that the Bills might give to Matt Barkley and wide receivers not named Stefon Diggs.
Bills 24 Dolphins 13 This is a hard game to predict. Even if Matt Barkley and the second team get considerable playing time, I think the Bills have enough talent on their roster to beat the Dolphins. I expect the Bills’ defense to force Tua into some mistakes early in the game, which will help the Bills build a cushion and let Allen leave the game at some point in the second half. As long as Allen gets his passing record, the Bills find a way to get out of the game healthy with the two seed in hand. At that point, I think a lot of Bills fans will be on cloud nine as they gear up for the playoffs once again.