The Bills have one game left out of their three straight against AFC East opponents. So far, so good, because Buffalo has the opportunity to win all three and set themselves up nicely in the race for the division title.
Here are 6 things to know ahead of Saturday night's game.
1. Rematch vs. Miami
In a lot of ways, this game feels like forever ago. The last time these two teams played was in Week 3, and both were undefeated heading into the matchup. The Dolphins remained undefeated because they beat the Bills 21-19.
If you look back at the box score it tells an interesting story because the Bills looked like the better team on paper, but unfortunately that didn't translate to the win column. Buffalo had the ball on offense for 20 more minutes than Miami did and ran 51 more offensive plays than the Dolphins. The Bills had 31 first downs, the Dolphins had 15. Buffalo had 497 total yards of offense to the Dolphins' 212. You get the picture.
It came down to the Bills efficiency in the red zone (2/4) and being totally gassed on offense due to the heat, which led to players dealing with heat exhaustion and cramping. Buffalo had a three-point lead in the beginning of the third quarter but then missed a field goal, had a turnover on downs and could not score on the final possession of the game when they were down by two. It was a frustrating loss, but it was also a hard-fought game, and there was a lot to be proud of even though the Bills didn't get a win.
Fast forward to Week 15 and the Bills get a second chance against a division opponent. Heading into this game the Dolphins are averaging 24.3 points per game (9th in the NFL) and allowing 24 points per game on defense (tied for 22nd). The Bills are averaging 27.2 points per game (4th) and allowing 17 points per game on defense (2nd).
As offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey begins game planning for the matchup, he believes it's important to find new ways to attack.
"They do a really good job of adjusting and doing some certain things," Dorsey said. "So I think the importance of trying to create some uncertainty on their side of the ball a little bit with some different looks and some different concepts and things like that to try to keep them off balance is important while not losing your own identity."
2. The state of the AFC East
As it stands right now, the Bills are No. 1 in both the AFC and the AFC East. Next in line in the AFC are the Chiefs (10-3), the Ravens are third (9-4), the Titans are sitting at fourth (7-6), the Bengals are fifth (9-4), Miami is sixth (8-5) and the Patriots are seventh (7-6). In the AFC East, the Bills have a two-game lead on the second place Dolphins, the Patriots are third (7-6) and the Jets are in last place (7-6).
The Bills have two more divisional games remaining, including Saturday's against Miami. They'll close the regular season out against the Patriots in Buffalo. Divisional games are always important but as we get closer to the end of the season, teams are getting ready to clinch a playoff spot and there's potential for that to happen on Saturday.
If the Bills win on Saturday, they will clinch a playoff spot but can not clinch the AFC East until the following week against the Bears.
Sean McDermott said their focus isn't on the plenty of playoff scenarios but on getting a good game plan together against a team that beat them the first time around.
"It's an opportunity to focus one week at a time and get ourselves ready to go play our best football," McDermott said. "That's really what our intent is."
3. Offense getting back to their 3rd down ways
The Bills didn't have their best performance on third down against the Jets. They converted only two of their 13 third down opportunities (15%). Going into the game, the group was converting 51.7% of their third downs, which was the best in the NFL. After Sunday's game, they now rank second, converting third downs 48.7% of the time.
The Dolphins defense is allowing teams to convert 42.6% of the time on third down, which ranks in the bottom half of the NFL (25th). Miami's highest ranking on defense has to do with their ability to stop the run. They're allowing just over 100 rushing yards per game (108.3), which ranks seventh in the NFL.
Offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey said going forward, they need to make sure they're putting themselves in favorable opportunities to convert on third down.
"I think a lot of it is one obviously, our execution and just making sure that we're on top of the details of protection assignment of routes depth, route location, and decision by the quarterback, and getting guys the ball," Dorsey explained. "So, it's overall execution I think first and foremost. But then what really kind of goes into that as well is I think we were probably a little bit higher on third and longer situations last week as well. So, we need to make sure we're doing a good job of giving ourselves a good opportunity on first and second down to convert on third down by staying out of third and longer type situations."
4. Consistency out of the young DL
The Bills wish they had Von Miller as a part of their defensive line for the rest of the season but since that's not the case, the defensive line got to work and stepped up in his absence against the Jets. Several players shined and worked in tandem to finish the day with eight quarterback hits. The young defensive linemen really stood out with Greg Rousseau and A.J. Epenesa combining for three sacks, two forced fumbles and two batted passes.
"That's big," Sean McDermott said. "And it's never one guy, it's really a sum of the parts type of deal when you're talking about the defensive line, right? So, they rush together – they have to rush together in order to get to the quarterback. Occasionally you get an isolated one-on-one win, but it's all got to be coordinated.
"I think they've really done a good job of preparing with Coach (Eric) Washington to execute the game plan during the week, and then executing come game time."
The coaches were happy with the defensive line's performances and are looking for consistency out of the group in the final four regular season games. They'll definitely need the defensive line's help against a Miami offense that ranks near the top of the league in many categories. The Dolphins have had a great passing offense this season thanks to quarterback Tua Tagovailoa's play and the addition of wide receiver Tyreek Hill. They average 277.9 passing yards per game (2nd), 8.3 passing yards per attempt (1st), have 48 receptions of at least 20 yards (2nd) and are scoring touchdowns 62.5% of the time in the red zone (7th).
Since the Dolphins have one of the best offenses in the NFL, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier thinks it'll be important for the defensive line to work together with the secondary in third and long situations this week.
"We got to make sure that we get our rush and coverage working together," Frazier said. "And then when we bring pressure, being able to win when we bring pressure. But it's an area where we need to improve. We're going to need to be better this week against Miami. When you get a team into those long yardage situations on third down, you need to get off the field."
5. From the sun to the snow
Week 3's game against the Dolphins in Miami featured crazy high temperatures on the field. It was 89 degrees, but temps on the field felt closer to triple digits because the Bills bench was directly in the sun the entire game. After the game, quarterback Josh Allen said it wasn't easy to breathe at points throughout the game as the offense was on the field for more than 40 minutes. Multiple players left the game due to cramping and heat illness. It was an exhausting game for everyone.
The extreme heat the Bills faced in Miami won't be anything like the weather on Saturday. It'll be the complete opposite as the Dolphins will face an extreme of their own with temperatures they're not used to. The early weather reports are reading lows in the 20s and a 60% chance of snow with accumulations up to three inches on Saturday night.
"In Western New York here, always a part of our preparation," McDermott said of preparing for weather. "And it looks like we could get some snow. So, we'll just keep an eye on it as we move through the week."
6. Back-to-back Saturday games
The weird schedule continues for the Bills. They started the season going Thursday night to Monday night. Then, they picked up three road wins in 12 days. And to cap it off, the Bills will finish the regular season with just one Sunday game remaining. In the next three week's they'll go Saturday night to Saturday on Christmas Eve before having a Monday night game for Week 17.
Right now, their final game of the season is labeled as TBD in regard to what day and what time it will be played. It'll come down to if there are or aren't any playoff implications in Week 18 against the Patriots.