Wild Card Preview: Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills
The plan all along was for the Buffalo Bills to have a bye week this week, resting up as they geared towards a three-game gauntlet that would hopefully end with a Super Bowl Championship. The latter may still happen, but it would require four wins instead of three. Let’s jump right into the Bills’ Wild Card matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
The Last Five
Buffalo 32 Miami 29 (2022)
Miami 21 Buffalo 19 (2022)
Bills 26 Dolphins 11 (2021)
Bills 35 Dolphins 0 (2021)
Bills 56 Dolphins 26 (2020)
For the second straight year, the Buffalo Bills will meet an AFC East rival for the third time in the Wild Card round. For Buffalo’s sake, they hope that it follows a similar pattern to last year. The Dolphins have not won a game in Orchard Park since Christmas Eve 2016, Rex Ryan’s final game. Before that, it was 2011. Trips to Buffalo have not been fun for Miami over the past decade. A season-ending loss on Sunday would add to their frustrating recent history in Western New York.
What To Watch For: Buffalo Bills
Don’t Be Plaxico – Bonus points if you get the reference. I mean, technically Plaxico shot himself in the thigh… but you get the point. The only team to beat the Bills this year have been the Bills. As we enter the playoffs, the margin for error shrinks considerably. The Bills have little room for the self-inflicted wounds that cost them three games this year. Buffalo’s most impressive wins this year came when they won the turnover battle and didn’t make mistakes themselves.
While they could lose the turnover margin by a couple this week and still walk away with a victory, it is not something the team wants to get into a habit of in the single-elimination playoffs. I’m talking about red-zone turnovers, untimely fumbles, sacks (or penalties) to take themselves out of FG range, key drops, etc. To prevent what would be the greatest playoff upset of all-time, the Bills will want to do whatever they can to not shoot themselves in the foot on Sunday.
Transition To Cook? – It feels like the tide is slowly turning in the running back room with some of the success James Cook has had in recent weeks. That is not to take anything away from Devin Singletary, who himself had a very strong end of the season. Fans want to see more of Cook, but I am more than comfortable with Singletary continuing to get the majority of the workload with Cook sprinkled in. After all, Motor averaged an impressive 4.6 yards per carry this season.
In fact, I’d love to see Nyheim Hines more involved with the offense. I still don’t understand why they haven’t used him in the offense after trading for him back in October. Similar to last year, the running game is heating up at the right time, heading into the playoffs. Having that dual threat will open things up for Allen, as it did in the Chiefs playoff game last year.
Intensity – There is no atmosphere in sports quite like the postseason. There is a reason why fans stand for the duration of games, the pulse that radiates through the stadium/arena/ballpark is something that is impossible to explain in words. The challenge for the Buffalo Bills this week will be to maintain that intensity despite playing a team that many are expecting them to cruise by. After what Sean McDermott has led this team through the past two weeks, I have no doubt that his guys will be mentally prepared to play in this game from the outset, even if the team on the other side is not the same team they have played the first two times they met.
What To Watch For: Miami Dolphins
Thompson or Bridgewater – With Tua ruled out with a concussion, the Miami Dolphins will turn to either Skylar Thompson or Teddy Bridgewater to start their first playoff game in six years. Bridgewater has played in one career postseason game, posting a modest 17/24-146 yard stat line for Minnesota in 2015. Obviously, if the rookie Thompson were to start, it would be his first playoff action.
While Bridgewater would seem like the obvious choice to me, a lot of what I am seeing online from fans is for Thompson to start on Sunday. Thompson has started the last two games for the Dolphins and those calling for him to start point to consistency and continued familiarity with the offense as the reasons why. It’s a tough decision for the Dolphins, one that they never envisioned making while their franchise quarterback is still struggling with his second serious concussion in the last four months.
Red Zone – When the Dolphins lost to the Bills 32-29 back in December, red zone offense was cited as one of the main reasons why. That night, the Miami Dolphins went 2/4 in the red zone while the Buffalo Bills went 4/5. (Their only “unsuccessful” trip was at the end of the game, when they intentionally did not score so Bass could kick the game winning field goal.) Beating Josh Allen and the Bills often takes a Herculean effort by your offense; a 50% red zone conversion rate will not get it done. Opponent field goals are victories for the Bills. With the Dolphins already missing their starting quarterback for this game, I suspect to see Mike McDaniel take a few more chances on fourth downs, knowing too many unsuccessful red zone chances could make the difference between Miami’s season ending Sunday or continuing on.
Offensive Attack – It will be interesting to see how the Dolphins plan to attack the Bills’ defense. While some of that will be dictated by how the Bills choose to defend Miami this time around, the Dolphins have a choice to make. Either lean into their pass game or keep the game moving with a steady rushing attack. In their last meeting the Dolphins dominated the Bills on the ground, rushing for nearly 200 yards. The Bills were willing to put up with it, as they maintained their nickel defense for most of the game.
The Bills made a decision not to let Jaylen Waddle and Tyreek Hill beat them. With the exception of a broken play, their plan worked for the speedy duo. However, selling out to stop the receivers came at the expense of the running game, and Miami nearly escaped Buffalo with a win because of it. Mike McDaniel is known as one of the brighter offensive minds in the game. It will take all he has to upend Buffalo in this one. It will be interesting to see how he wants to attack this time.
Bills 33 Dolphins 13 I don’t think this will mirror some of the early season blowouts that we saw (i.e. Titans, Steelers). However, I think the Bills will handle this game with ease, something that is rarely said for a playoff game. This team and all that has happened this year has the feeling of a team of destiny. But, as we know all too well, that feeling can come crashing down in a hurry. I don’t expect that to happen this Sunday though. Go Bills!
Featured Image: Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images