As the weather turns cold, the race for the AFC East has been heating up and can reach a climax tomorrow night. While the Buffalo Bills can’t lock things up with a win tomorrow night, it would take an epic collapse to surrender the division. Let’s dive in.
The Last Five
Dolphins 21 Bills 19 (2022)
Bills 26 Dolphins 11 (2021)
Bills 35 Dolphins 0 (2021)
Bills 56 Dolphins 26 (2020)
Bills 31 Dolphins 28 (2020)
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
BEASEEEEEE – I’m not booing, I’m just yelling “Bease”. The Buffalo Bills welcomed back slot receiver Cole Beasley this week. And it couldn’t come at a better time for an offense that is finding itself in too many long yardage situations lately. Now let’s not forget Beasley was noticeably slower last year and in his two games in Tampa Bay this year. But I still expect him to find success in his role in this offense. Allen should find comfort in having a reliable receiver slip down into the slot for easy six, seven, or eight-yard pitch and catches when he needs that option underneath. I think Beasley will make a considerable difference for this team despite being retired this time last week.
Let’s not discount the personal aspect of his return. Beasley has made it clear that he wants to “right a lot of the wrongs” from last year. I expect him to do that and it should positively impact his performance as he prepares to chase a Super Bowl with the Bills.
Elam – Brandon Beane claims cornerback is the second-hardest position to play. However, it is concerning that 2022 first round pick Kaiir Elam has been unable to get on the field lately. Elam did not play a single snap against the Jets last week. Back in Week 3, Elam held Tyreek Hill to minimal yardage; he and Benford held up really well as a 1-2 punch. With Tre White back to 100% and Dane Jackson struggling on a weekly basis, it is curious as to why Elam isn’t able to get onto the field.
McDermott has a long history of holding back rookies that he does not think are ready or are not preparing the right way during the week. But this situation seems different. Has Elam regressed that much in practice to the point where he does not deserve to be on the field? The usage of the first rounder is something I will be keeping an eye on this week.
Health – The Buffalo Bills are as healthy as they have been all year. Going into this game, only two players are ruled out: Jordan Philips and Ryan Bates. Every other player on the active roster will be available to play in this game. It is the first time in a long time that Buffalo doesn’t have any questionable players heading into the weekend. The injury bug hit this team hard in the beginning of the year. So seeing the team get healthier as they prepare for the playoffs is a welcome sign. The Bills barely lost to Miami in September, and that was without Morse, Phillips, Poyer, White, Jackson, and Oliver. With the expection of Phillips, the Bills will get all of those players back for this go around with Miami.
What To Watch For: Miami Dolphins
Respond To Adversity – Two weeks ago, the Dolphins were atop the AFC East and looked like a lock for the playoffs. Now, they’re on the verge of losing the division. They need a win to keep their playoff hopes from becoming a crapshoot. Two west coast losses to the 49ers and Chargers have the Dolphins reeling, as Mike McDaniel’s Cinderella first season as Dolphins coach is approaching midnight. If the Dolphins are as good as they claim to be and are ready to take over the division, they will have to go into Buffalo’s house and take it from them. If Miami comes out flat for the third straight game, be ready for the “same old Dolphins” chorus to ring out from the fans.
Weather – The storyline that the Dolphins are trying to prevent from becoming a storyline has officially become a storyline. As it should. The Dolphins pride themselves on how they handle their elements in South Beach. The weather was a huge reason why the Buffalo Bills lost back in Week 3. The visitor’s sideline was designed to be in the sun, 30 degrees hotter than the home sideline. With injury and depth issues, the weather played a direct role in the Bills’ final drive, which saw them absolutely gassed and unable to get themselves into position for a game winning field goal.
How Tua and the Dolphins handle the snow will be something to watch. Yes, the Dolphins have a roster made up of players from all over the country. But the reality is Miami is not as used to playing in the cold, let alone falling snow, as the Bills are. Weather narratives aside, the facts are that Tua’s worst games as a starter have been played in colder temperatures. I am not saying the Bills are designed to play well in the snowy weather. Buffalo has been sloppy in their past few snow games (i.e. last year against Atlanta and last week against the Jets). But the frequency at which these two teams have been exposed to this type of weather provides a clear advantage for Buffalo.
Home vs. Road – The difference between the Dolphins’ defensive performances at home versus on the road has been stark. At home, the Dolphins give up an average of 15 points per game. But on the road, the Fins are surrendering 31 points per game. With the high-flying Dolphins offense from the start of the year, you can get away with giving up 15 more points on the road. But it cannot work when the offense has been grounded like it has the past two weeks. If the Dolphins give up 30+ again this weekend, I have a hard time thinking they leave Orchard Park on the positive end of things.
Bills 30 Dolphins 17 While the Bills offense hasn’t impressed as of late, you get the sense they’re about to get hot, just as they did last year. Adding Beasley might give Buffalo the spark they need as they look to secure their third straight AFC East title. The first game between these two teams was close. But that was with the Bills missing an alarming number of defensive starters. With the defense much healthier this time around, I don’t think we are looking at another one-score game. I expect the Buffalo Bills to win this game with relative ease as they close in on another division title. Something that is still surreal to type as someone who lived through the Patriots’ two decades of AFC East dominance.
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