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4 things to watch in the AFC wild card race and Bills-Dolphins this weekend

Posted Dec 29, 2017

John Murphy breaks down why the Bills can win on Sunday and get the help they need to reach their first postseason in 17 seasons.

It all comes down to the final weekend for the Bills. They’ve got a bona fide shot to end their 17-season playoff drought with their first meaningful final regular season game in 13 years.

Here are some things to keep an eye on this weekend as the Bills head south to play the Dolphins:

1. A GOOD WEEKEND FOR A SECOND (OR THIRD, OR FOURTH) SCREEN

The NFL’s flex scheduling policy set it up so all four games that impact the AFC Wild Card chase kick off at 4:25 pm Sunday. So, Bills fans will be busy tracking all four games at once. If they all go Buffalo’s way (all of them don’t have to) here are some reasons why. Remember Buffalo needs to win and a Baltimore loss or a Tennessee loss and a Los Angeles Chargers loss.

Buffalo Bills (8-7) at Miami Dolphins (6-9) – 4:25 pm on CBS

3 reasons the Bills can beat Miami:

- They just did two weeks ago in Orchard Park.

- The Dolphins have already been eliminated from playoff contention.

- Tyrod Taylor has had his best games against Miami.

Cincinnati Bengals (6-9) at Baltimore Ravens (9-6) – 4:25 pm on CBS

3 reasons the Bengals can win in Baltimore:

- Cincinnati may want to “win it for Marvin” if indeed it is Marvin Lewis’ last game as head coach.

- In his last three games in Baltimore, Andy Dalton has averaged 322 yards passing per game, with 5 touchdowns and 1 interception.

- WR A.J. Green has played four games in his career at Baltimore and has a total of 579 receiving yards with 4 touchdowns.

Jacksonville Jaguars (10-5) at Tennessee Titans (8-7) – 4:25 pm on CBS

3 reasons the Jaguars can win at Tennessee:

- Jacksonville has the third ranked defense in the NFL.

- The Jaguars are looking for revenge after losing to Tennessee earlier this season.

- Jacksonville QB Blake Bortles owns the Titans - he has thrown 9 TDs and 1 INT in his last three games at Tennessee, and averaged 332 yards per game.

Oakland Raiders (6-9) at Los Angeles Chargers (8-7) – 4:25 pm on CBS

3 reasons the Raiders can beat the Chargers:

- The Raiders have won 4 of their last 5 against the Chargers.

- Raiders Coach Jack Del Rio is 6-3 lifetime against the Chargers.

- “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch ran for 95 yards last week against the Eagles and the Chargers are dead last in the NFL in rush defense.

2. “COMING UP BIG” FOR THE BILLS

You hear the cliché “coming up big” a lot in the hockey world. With the magnitude of the game in Miami Sunday, there are a couple of Bills who can be serious difference makers in the season finale:

 *LESEAN MCCOY has had a strong finish to the regular season, averaging 84 rushing yards per game in the Bills last five. He’s got three touchdowns in those five games, two of them against Miami a couple of weeks ago. McCoy has a knack for making Dolphin defenders (and others) miss in space and he seems to have a personal grudge with Miami LB Kiko Alonso who he was traded for three years ago.

*TYROD TAYLOR has been a difference maker in his five career games against the Dolphins. He’s won three of those five, and he’s completed 65-percent of his passes in those matchups. Taylor has 9 TD passes and 0 INTs against the Dolphins over the years, and he’s run for two touchdowns also.

*VLAD DUCASSE will need to “bring his lunch pail” Sunday when he lines up across from Miami’s dominant DT Ndamukong Suh. It should be a familiar feeling—he just went to battle two weeks ago in Buffalo and Ducasse held his own. Offensive line coach Juan Castillo was singing Ducasse’s praises after the Miami win but it won’t be any easier this weekend. Suh can take over a game with his sheer strength and unnatural quickness. It won’t be entirely on Ducasse’s shoulders, but he’ll play a big role in how much room Shady has to run and how much time Taylor has to throw.

3. DIVISONAL WARS

The Bills will finish ahead of Miami and the Jets in the AFC East this year. They’ve locked up second place in the division for the second time in four years. They’re this year’s first runner-up in the division the Patriots seemingly own.

But Buffalo has a chance to finish the division with a 3-3 record with a win on Sunday. And they get their final crack at beating a division rival in the second match-up of the year. They lost previous rematches this year to the Jets and the Patriots.

4. TURF WARS

Right before kickoff Sunday, look at the field at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium. It could look a little worn out.

At 8 pm Saturday, the Miami Hurricanes play Wisconsin in the Orange Bowl at Hard Rock. That game should end around 11:30pm, and 17 hours later, the Bills and the Dolphins will be right back on the grass field, hoping the college teams haven’t torn it up too much.

The Dolphins have recently installed Platinum TE natural grass on the field at home, but they’ve had some issues with it in the past.

Dolphins radio color commentator Joe Rose, a former Miami tight end, says if it doesn’t rain Saturday night the field should be OK. Should be.

“This is the sixth different field we’ve put down,” Rose told The John Murphy Show earlier this week.

“We’re fine as long as we don’t get any rain the night before, when the big guys from Wisconsin and the big guys from the Miami Hurricanes are out there. Quick turnaround--we’ve had some of those games when it’s been rough.”

The weather forecast calls for clear skies with only a 10-percent chance of rain Saturday night and Sunday in Miami. And that’s good, according to Rose.

“It has been a struggle for the Dolphins trying to get the right turf that can handle back to back games when it’s raining,” he says.


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