The Buffalo Bills' best start in 13 years has the team atop the AFC East, but they haven't proven yet that they're the division's best.
In their first game against an AFC East rival, the Bills look to improve to 6-1 Sunday as they visit the last-place Miami Dolphins.
Buffalo has won five of its first six games for the first time since 1995, and is in position to open 6-1 for the first time since 1993, when the team made the last of four straight trips to the Super Bowl. Buffalo is one game ahead of five-time defending division champion New England.
The Bills know, however, that their early success won't mean much if they can't continue it against divisional opponents. They're the only team in the NFL that hasn't played a division game yet, but starting with Miami (2-4), Buffalo's next three opponents are AFC East rivals. The stretch could prove critical for the Bills as they seek to win their first division title since 1995 and end an eight-season playoff drought, the longest in franchise history.
"It's weird not having seen any one of these teams to this point this year," offensive lineman Duke Preston said. "It is a test that I think we're ready for."
The Bills, who went 4-2 within the division last season, looked ready last Sunday. Fresh off their bye week, they delivered one of their most complete performances of the season in a 23-14 victory over San Diego.
Trent Edwards, showing no signs of the concussion he sustained two weeks prior in a loss to Arizona, went 25-of-30 for 261 yards and a touchdown. The second-year quarterback set a franchise record by completing 83.33 percent of his passes, marginally better than the previous mark of 82.86 set by Jim Kelly in 1994.
Buffalo compiled 370 total yards, and has now gained 277 or more in each of its six games this season after managing that number only six times in 2007.
"We are gaining a lot of confidence," Edwards said. "This is definitely a statement game for us. We can look back on it and say we played a pretty good opponent and beat them by 9 points."
The Bills also held what had been the NFL's top-scoring team to two touchdowns and 263 yards, thanks in part to linebacker Kawika Mitchell, who made a key interception and forced a fumble.
"We're building, that's for sure," Mitchell said. "It's definitely a big win to get against a team like that, it means a lot to our team. I think we're moving in the right direction."
Though Bills players seemed to take a lot of significance from last week's game, coach Dick Jauron wasn't reading as much into it.
"The truth is, and I can't speak for anybody but myself, but we don't particularly care," he said. "We just have to keep playing."
Jauron's club will face a Dolphins team that's lost back-to-back games after some big wins of its own. Miami clobbered New England 38-13 on Sept. 21 before defeating San Diego 17-10 in its next game Oct. 5, but has dropped its last two to Houston and Baltimore.
"In general, fundamentally I don't think we've played very well," first-year coach Tony Sparano said after last Sunday's 27-13 loss to the Ravens. "... It's not lack of effort, it's usually a fundamental breakdown someplace.
"We need to go back and we need to understand how we win. ... We've got to go back to the drawing board and we've got to be able to come back out next week, play with a lot of enthusiasm and find ways to win."
The Dolphins' recent struggles have overshadowed the strong play of Chad Pennington, who went 24-for-35 for a season-high 295 yards, a touchdown and an interception last weekend. He ranks fourth in the NFL with a 68.6 completion percentage, and his 108.8 passer rating since Sept. 21 leads all quarterbacks with at least 100 attempts in that span.
"I've been around some good quarterbacks, but he throws the ball very efficient," Sparano said. "I knew he would give us a chance with his location to catch the ball, to run with the ball after the catch, those types of things. The way he's been delivering the ball has been tremendous."
Pennington hopes to help Miami end its recent struggles against Buffalo. The Dolphins have lost seven of the last eight meetings in the series, including four straight. Edwards threw a career-high four touchdown passes as the Bills cruised to a 38-17 victory the last time these teams met, Dec. 9 at Buffalo.