“Well, looks like we will just have to go 16-1.” That is what the fan who sat behind me said as we exited the stadium after last Sunday’s surprising loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. This week, the Bills will hope to rebound against a division rival in the Miami Dolphins. There is a lot at stake for a Week 2 football game. While I might disagree with my fellow fan about winning 16 games, if what he said is going to happen, the Bills couldn’t have asked for a better team to start their win streak against than the team that calls Josh Allen their daddy.
The Last Five
Bills 56 Dolphins 26 (2020)
Bills 31 Dolphins 28 (2020)
Bills 37 Dolphins 20 (2019)
Bills 31 Dolphins 31 (2019)
Bills 42 Dolphins 17 (2018)
This is a first for me – I have never seen a sweep in the “last five” segment. To say that recent history has not been kind to the Dolphins would be an understatement. Since the start of the 2013 season, the Bills are 12-4 against Miami. Two of the losses against Miami were gifts to them. One was Rex Ryan’s disastrous final game as an NFL head coach, and another fell off Charles Clay’s fingertips. Despite the recent success, the Dolphins still have a 61-52-1 lead in the all-time head-to-head series. Although by the end of Josh Allen’s career, that record may be sub .500 for the Dolphins.
What To Watch For: Buffalo
Josh Allen – There are a few different angles to take with Allen in this game. First, I am interested to see if his sheer dominance over this franchise will continue into another season. In Allen’s six games against the Dolphins, he has a passer rating of 114.3, throwing for 1,552 yards, 17 passing TDs, 4 INTs, 340 rushing yards, and 3 rushing TDs. Technically speaking, Allen has played in five and a half games against Miami. He only played in the first half of Week 17’s live-streamed, PETA-denounced Dolphin slaughter last year.
The Allen/Miami meme game is already top-notch. If Allen can continue his dominance of Miami, watch for the memes to go to a whole new level. Another way to look at this game for Allen is from the perspective of a franchise quarterback looking to rebound. Last week, I said that the Josh Allen we saw against the Steelers was the 2019 version of Josh Allen, not the player whose play demanded the second-richest contract in NFL history. If Allen can rebound this week, people in WNY should settle down. But if Allen doesn’t look good for a second straight week, then fans will already start to question if the massive contract was premature.
Protection Up Front – It was clear in person, but watching the All-22 confirmed that the Bills offensive line was a mess last Sunday. The group was out of sync and was a step behind the Steelers defensive line all afternoon. It was disappointing to find out the Steelers only blitzed once, considering how much pressure Allen was under. Getting handled by opponents’ front four was not what Brandon Beane envisioned when he re-signed Jon Feliciano and Daryl Williams this offseason. Mind you, the Bills did have to contend with the highest-paid defensive player in the league in T.J. Watt. Excuses aside, this unit has to do better. It was one of the only question marks coming into the season for the Bills. And, based on their Week 1 performance, the questions were warranted.
Hangover or Danger Ahead? – I think most Bills fans are willing to give the team a pass for last week. They have earned the benefit of the doubt, after all. The Steelers are a good football team, but it is fair to question how the Bills lost to a team not projected to win their division. Was last week a “hangover” for a team coming off of their best season in three decades with great expectations? Or will we find out that last week was the first sign of a season gone wrong? Despite it being only Week 2, the game this weekend will go a long way in answering that question. By the time the sun sets on Sunday evening, we should know a lot more about the Bills’ 2021 season.
What To Watch For: Dolphins
Chance To Turn The Tide – For the Dolphins, this is the type of game they have circled on their calendar. You have your home opener against last year’s division winner, with a chance to go two games (plus a tiebreaker) up early in the season.
Realistically, the Dolphins are the only team in the AFC East that can challenge the Bills for the division title. While they wouldn’t become instant division favorites if they were to defeat Buffalo on Sunday, they would turn heads around the league and would definitively plant themselves in the mix. Conversely, the Dolphins will also garner attention if they come out flat against Buffalo with so much at stake. Questions will loom large for Tua Tagovailoa and the team with high hopes of going to the playoffs this year.
Mike Gesicki – Last year (Week 2), Mike Gesicki burned the Bills for eight receptions, 130 yards, and a touchdown. To date, it is the best game of Gesicki’s career and his only 100+ yard receiving game. The Bills were without both Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds in that game, but the dominance of the Dolphins tight end was almost enough to will the team to victory.
I believe Gesicki is a hidden gem in this league, but the Dolphins might disagree. In their Week 1 victory over New England, Mike Gesicki was a complete non-factor for Miami. He finished with zero catches and was only targeted three times in the win. On offense, his lack of production/role have been a talking point among Dolphins fans and media this week. With all of the attention on him, and the pressure to get him involved in the offense, I would not be surprised if Mike Gesicki ends up being a difference-maker in this game. He will want to rebound against a team that he had a career day against last year.
Turnovers! A big reason for the Dolphins’ success last year was turnovers. Both their ability to take care of the football and their ability to take away the football. Their +9 turnover differential was 3rd best in the league last year. Lead by All-Pro CB Xavien Howard and his ten interceptions (including one in five straight games), the Dolphins could contend with teams by capitalizing on their mistakes.
Much like the Bills’ 2017 team that ended the drought, some of their more impressive wins last year were aided by fortuitous turnovers. One of the most important factors when beating a superior team is winning the turnover battle and capitalizing on them. The special teams turnover in the Bills/Steelers game ended up being the difference-maker. The Dolphins had a similar experience with a late-game fumble by Patriots running back Damien Harris. It would not be a stretch to say that the winner of this game also wins the turnover battle. And with a CB as talented as Howard, and considering how shaky Josh Allen looked last week, the Dolphins might be in for a few gifts in the form of turnovers on Sunday.
Bills 27 Dolphins 24 I still believe this Bills team is destined for something special, but I no longer expect as many blowouts as I did heading into the season. As the tight score indicates, I think the Bills come out of Miami with their first win of the season and tied for the lead in the AFC East. While we won’t see the offensive explosion we are used to from the Bills in games against the Dolphins, I think the defense will put together a strong showing and ease some fans’ concerns. I think Allen will throw for 300 in this one and look better this week, but still not back to his 2020 form quite yet. Garbage time stats will make this game look closer than it was.