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A rivalry renewed or one that's never left? The story behind the magnitude of Week 4's Bills-Dolphins matchup

Josh Allen (17), James Cook (28). Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins, Wild Card Game, January 15, 2023 at Highmark Stadium.
Josh Allen (17), James Cook (28). Buffalo Bills vs Miami Dolphins, Wild Card Game, January 15, 2023 at Highmark Stadium.

While Sunday's Bills game against the Dolphins is just the next one on the schedule, it's one that's drawing national attention. The top two NFL offenses who are averaging a combined 73 points per game, some of the fastest players in the league and the second-best defense will all be on display. 

"This is my No. 1 game of the week for so many reasons," NFL Network's Cynthia Frelund said. "And for football fans, it should be people's No. 1 too because AFC East aside, these are two of the most intriguing teams in all of football, right? Both of these teams could easily be playing in Las Vegas. And this could be big because seeding matters. These two teams matter. 

"We're kind of lucky that this first matchup is so soon because it's going to give us a great measuring stick throughout the season for how both teams are evolving."

Even though it's only Week 4, this game also holds weight when it comes to the race for first place in the AFC East – the Dolphins are currently first in the division with a 3-0 record, the Bills are sitting at 2-1.

"These two play so early in the season, they're going to see each other again," said CBS sideline reporter Tracy Wolfson, who will be covering the game. "We know it's the final week of the season that they'll be playing against each other. And then of course, we expect these two teams will wind up in the playoffs as they did last year in the Wild Card round.

"You can only take so much from one game, but it certainly sets up nicely and helps in terms of tiebreaker situations and edges when it comes down the stretch. This is a huge, huge AFC East battle. These two teams are certainly separating themselves from the rest of the pack, and it's only Week 4."

Scroll to see archival photos from Bills vs Dolphins games throughout the years!

If you talk to any Bills fan, this game also has meaning because it has shades of the old Bills-Dolphins rivalry. It all started in the 1970s when one team had the others' number. The Dolphins won 20-straight against the Bills from 1970 to 1979. Because of that, it wasn't a rivalry founded on great competition but one founded on distaste for the team that seemed almost impossible to beat, but that was only for a time.

The Bills finally ended the streak in 1980, beating the Dolphins 17-7 in Buffalo. Fast forward to the 1990s, this rivalry turned into one of two great teams going at twice a year. Buffalo had Marv Levy and Jim Kelly. Miami had Don Shula and Dan Marino. Those names, including many others, meant hard fought wins and several meetings in the playoffs.

Bills Wall of Famer Steve Tasker, who played for the Bills from 1986-1997, remembers the intensity of the rivalry.

"We played well against the Dolphins in the 90s, no question about it," Tasker said. "Jim Kelly, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Smith, we had we had too many good players. Don Shula would come up with Dan Marino and a bunch of guys, and they were hard to beat. He was a great coach.

"Those rivalries were always meaningful too because the Dolphins were trying to win the championship. They were trying to win the division like we were, and they were in a position to do it. A lot of times the second meeting was for the division. Or even more so, it was for home field advantage. They were games that mattered. Much like this game this week."

Buffalo Bills fan Tom Farley with his wife, Mary Jo and sons, Ben, Peter and David at One Bills Drive, September 27, 2023.
Buffalo Bills fan Tom Farley with his wife, Mary Jo and sons, Ben, Peter and David at One Bills Drive, September 27, 2023.

Longtime Bills fan Tom Farley, who will be in attendance for this huge game, also happens to be celebrating his 300th consecutive home game. Farley thinks the rivalry between the two never ended. His most memorable Bills-Dolphins game is when the Bills ended the streak.

"September 7, 1980 after 20-straight losses to the Dolphins, we finally be them," Farley said. "It was the year before I got season tickets, but I sat about five rows up by the Bills sideline near the goal line. They finally beat that team. The goal posts came down. I have that ticket stub in my wallet. I've had it in my wallet since 1980."

Farley's attendance streak began a few years after that game in 1985. The season ticket holder didn't realize he was getting close to number 300 until a close friend, who was also a season ticket holder, missed a home game for the first time in what felt like forever.

"I went back and looked at it and went, 'Well I haven't missed a game since this date,' and started adding them up," Farley said. "So for like 10 years, Mike Costello was in my sights. He was Lou Gehrig, and I was Cal Ripken. I passed him a couple of years ago, and this year is 300.

"So, it just kind of grew organically because it was just like, 'I gotta go to the next one and I want to go to the next one.'"

Buffalo Bills fan Tom Farley with game ticket stubs, at One Bills Drive, September 27, 2023
Buffalo Bills fan Tom Farley with game ticket stubs, at One Bills Drive, September 27, 2023

What Farley remembers most about the division rivalry in the 90s is the playoff wins. The Bills and the Dolphins faced each other 24 times in the 90s—the Bills won 15 of those matchups, three of which came in the playoffs.

"In the four-year Super Bowl run, the third AFC Championship game was in Miami and my wife surprised me," Farley explained. "We went down and saw the Bills beat the Dolphins in Miami to go to yet another Super Bowl. That was wonderful."

Fast forward to 2023 and you have two teams who are off to great starts and have already seen each other in the playoffs once. The Dolphins are coming off a game where they scored the most points in an NFL game since 1966 and the Bills are coming off a game where they posted nine sacks and five takeaways. 

The back and forth between these two teams in the 90s looks to be very much back for the 2020s.

"It's awesome because I think this has been missing from this Bills franchise since the Jim Kelly and the Dan Marino days," CBS Sports NFL analyst Chris Trapasso said. "To be two of the top teams in the AFC, high powered offenses and have star players on the defensive side. It brings up a lot of nostalgia with anyone from Western New York, so it definitely adds more to what just on paper looks like a really awesome game."

"I think both these teams are really quality teams," Tasker said. "When you're in a division, and you see him twice a year, you circle that. No question, you circle that game on the calendar. And this game feels exactly like those games back when both those teams decided they were gonna go the Super Bowl. They wanted to go, they had aspirations, and these two teams are no different."

The Bills will wear blue jerseys with white plants and blue socks this week against the Miami Dolphins.

These two teams are no different because of the talent and coaching on each roster. The Dolphins are running an offense that most teams can't come close to because of their speed, and they lead the NFL averaging 43 points per game. The Bills have an offense that's hard to replicate thanks to their quarterback Josh Allen, and they're averaging the second-most points per game in the NFL. 

"What Mike McDaniel has really been good at is using quick passes, motions and catch and run opportunities," Frelund said. "The top six speeds reached from Week 3 were all Miami Dolphins players, so they're leveraging speed and they're not really asking people to block. They're sometimes going with out breaking routes or in breaking routes, and they're switching that up to get speed mismatches. That's what's really different this year with how it's been working. 

"Now here's the problem, they haven't faced a defense that's anything like what this Bills defense can be, like we saw last week. The ability to generate almost 70% pressure is going to be a problem on any quarterback no matter who you are or how fast you try to throw. If they're able to get pressure like that, then that will be pretty incredible."

Like the Dolphins offense, the Bills defense has also been off to a hot start. They're allowing the second lowest points in the league at 11.7 points per game, have the most takeaways (9) and tie for the second-most sacks (12).

Bills head coach Sean McDermott knows Miami's offense is going to try to get them in uncomfortable situations, McDermott says that's where their fundamentals come into play.

"They've exposed people in a lot of ways in the run and the pass," McDermott said. "So you try and be fundamentally sound in what you do. And I think that's the biggest thing is make sure we're getting off blocks, make sure we're tackling. I think that's the biggest thing you can do is emphasize the things that always come into play in a football game, and that's the fundamentals."

Through three games, Bills fan Tom Farley is confident in the direction the team is headed, despite having an early-season loss.

"I'm very comfortable with the way our defense is playing," Farley said. "We haven't been playing some of the big-name quarterbacks, but I was looking and the Dolphins are plus 59, meaning they've scored 59 more points than they've given up. The Bills are plus 56, and we lost a game by six points...we're at home, so I'm feeling comfortable."

Being at home is most certainly a factor in this one because Bills Mafia will bring the juice.

"We're gonna need them big time this week," Josh Allen said of Bills fans. "They can disrupt a game, especially when the opposing team's on offense, third down, especially. When we have that type of juice, you can feel it, you can use it to your benefit. So we're gonna need them this Sunday."

Game 300 will be no different for Farley because just like always, he's planning to make an impact with his voice.

"I take making noise to be important," Farley said. "I can't get in the quarterback's face. I can't tackle anybody. I'd get steamrolled anyway if I tried. So, I can only make noise to have an impact on the game. So that's what I try and do before every snap when the Dolphins or the visitors have the ball, I'm screaming as much as I can."

As far as a cherry on top for his monumental milestone, Farley wants to see the Bills win big.

Whether it's a rivalry renewed or one that never died, this level of competition in Week 4 and the re-match we will get in Week 18 is better for the NFL.

"We saw it with Patrick Mahomes coming on with him and Joe Burrow, and that's become a rivalry," Wolfson said. "Of course, with Mahomes and Josh Allen, and that's become a rivalry. And so now to have Miami in the mix is just awesome. The more you can have this competition, these stars, the more rivalries that are out there, it is certainly better for the NFL."

Since Josh Allen has entered the league, he's beaten the Dolphins in nine out of the 11 games he's faced Miami, including the playoffs. At home, Allen's undefeated against them. He averages three touchdowns a game and has a 104.8 passer rating when playing the AFC East foe.

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