1. Weighing the factors of playoff seeding and player health in Week 17
With a win against the Patriots, the Bills have locked themselves into at least the No. 3 seed based off the New York Times playoff simulator. If Buffalo beats the Dolphins in Week 17, they will officially be the No. 2 seed. If the Bills lose to Miami, they need the Browns to beat the Steelers in order to remain the No. 2 spot. If Buffalo loses and Pittsburgh wins, the Steelers would take the No. 2 seed.
The million dollar question heading into Week 17 is play or rest the starters. Do you play the starters hoping for the No. 2 seed and no injuries? Or do you rest the starters and hope your backups can come through with a win? A win will guarantee the higher seed, but it's not needed. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that backup quarterback Mason Rudolph will start against the Browns on Sunday. Tomlin said more starters may also sit, but he didn't want to name any names yet.
With that in mind, it makes the argument to rest or play starters a bit more interesting. Bills head coach Sean McDermott said he has a plan, but that will stay within the team. McDermott did say Pittsburgh's decision to rest Ben Roethlisberger does and does not factor into their decision.
"Yes and no," McDermott said on if it impacts what the Bills do. "I think at the end of the day it all comes back to again making sure we're in the right by our team. And the best thing for us, and I'm sure Mike [Tomlin] is doing the same thing for his team, is we're always trying to weigh every factor we can, every variable, put that into the equation to help us make a good decision here."
2. Miami's playoff hopes are on the line
While the Bills can rest easy knowing they are in the playoffs, the Dolphins are still in the hunt. Like Buffalo in seasons before, there are several things that can happen to get Miami into the playoffs. One difference--none are riding on a Cincinnati win.
Miami ranks fifth in the AFC's playoff standings right behind the Tennessee Titans. Here is what needs to happen in Week 17 for the Dolphins to stay alive in the postseason according to the NFL.
- MIA win OR
- BAL loss OR
- CLE loss OR
- IND loss OR
- MIA tie + BAL tie OR
- MIA tie + CLE tie OR
- MIA tie + IND tie OR
- MIA tie + TEN loss
Believe it or not, Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has a shot at making it to the playoffs for the first time in his 16-year career. Fitzpatrick said the team would love nothing more than going to the playoffs.
"I want to go," Fitzpatrick said. "I want to feel what it's like. I think we have a special team. I think this team all year long has fought. And for me, it's not just this year, it's the last two years and trying to build this foundation and build this vision of what Coach Flores thinks that we are. I'm proud of the fact that I've really been able to contribute to that and have a strong contribution."
3. Dolphins and Bills haven't had this happen since 1999
Regardless of who wins on Sunday, Buffalo and Miami will finish the regular season each having a winning record together for the first time since 1999.
Flashback to 1999 when the Bills went 11-5 and finished in second place in the AFC East. That year the Colts won the division for the last time before moving to the AFC South. Buffalo's quarterback Doug Flutie finished the year completing 264 passes for 3,171 yards and scored 19 touchdowns. Wide receiver Eric Moulds led the team with 994 receiving yards and seven touchdowns while running back Jonathan Linton led the backs with 695 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns.
The Miami Dolphins finished that season 9-7 and third in the AFC East. Miami quarterback Dan Marino completed 204 passes for 2,448 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Tony Martin led the wide receivers with 1,037 yards and five touchdowns.
Times have surely changed in the AFC East, but the Bills aren't crowning themselves kings just yet. The players have subscribed to not treating any win like it's bigger than another. Even after sweeping the Patriots for the first time since 1999, the Bills won't bask in it longer than 24 hours because Week 17 is on deck.
"It's continuing finding ways to get better, and that's what we're doing," Bills safety Jordan Poyer said. "We're not treating any game like it's bigger than the other. Just continuing to get better day in and day out, one day at a time."
4. How Miami's defense went from worst to first
Miami has gone from worst to first in points allowed per game from 2019 to 2020. The Dolphins ranked 32nd last season allowing an average of 30.9 points per game. After using free agency to bolster their defense, Miami is allowing the least points per game in the NFL at 18.8 points per contest.
The Bills beat the Dolphins in Week 2 where Miami allowed 31 points, which they have only surrendered more than 30 points three times this season. Buffalo's offensive coordinator Brian Daboll and the Bills offense will have to be on their A-game because Miami takes the ball away frequently and gets off the field quickly. The Dolphins tie for the most takeaways in the NFL with 27. Cornerback Xavien Howard leads the league with nine interceptions.
When it comes to 3rd down defense, Miami is also the best. They let teams convert at a league-low rate of just 30.7% of the time. Since Week 12, they are also allowing a ridiculously low amount of touchdowns in the red zone. The Dolphins are giving up touchdowns only 18.2% of the time when opposing teams are in the red zone. The next team closest to that number is Seattle who is allowing opponent red zone touchdowns 41.7% of the time.
Daboll said it doesn't matter who plays or rests because the goal remains the same.
"We're trying to win one game here, that's what we live by," Daboll said. "That's what has gotten us to this point. What we're going to continue to do is prepare for a really good team that's the best on third down and top-five red zone defense, the best scoring defense. They're well-coached by [Josh] Boyer and [Brian] Flores and the rest of those guys on that staff."
5. A shot a FitzMagic?
We know Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick can unleash FitzMagic at any point. FitzMagic made a return in Week 16, and hopefully he got it all out of his system before Sunday's matchup.
During the Dolphins final seconds of their game against the Raiders, all they needed was one shot to put them in range to kick a field goal to win the game. Miami was down by two points with :19 seconds left in the game. The Dolphins had the ball on their own 25, Fitzpatrick was getting ready to throw when a defender pulled his face mask sideways. Fitz had no way of seeing his release, but it was no problem. That's when FitzMagic arrived. He blindly tossed the ball 34 yards down the field to Mack Hollins who caught it. A roughing the passer call moved the ball to Vegas' 26-yard line where Jason Sanders kicked a game-winning 44-yard field goal.
The Dolphins beat the Raiders 26-25 to help keep their playoff hopes alive. Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said Fitzpatrick has a lot of courage.
"One of those quarterbacks who can be really, really hot and really use his skills to affect defenses," Frazier explained. "His experience is an ally for sure. He does a great job of being able to identify coverages and put offenses in the right place with the right plays. That's probably his biggest strength is experience.
"And then he has a mentality where he's not afraid to make certain throws. Sometimes that works out very, very well and other times it can come back to bite you. But his courage and his willingness to stand in the pocket and make those hard throws and his veteran experience are assets for him as a quarterback."