We've made the transition from Playoff Caliber to Championship Caliber. That means one thing — it's the playoffs, baby. The Bills will take on a team they know better than most in the first round of the playoffs.
Here are 6 things to know ahead of Wild Card Weekend.
1. How Damar Hamlin will provide inspiration in the playoffs
The uplifting news that Bills players heard about Damar Hamlin's recovery definitely inspired Hamlin's teammates to take the field against the Patriots. After finishing up the regular season with a 35-23 victory over New England and hearing Hamlin was transferred to Buffalo, the Bills will continue to be inspired by their teammate as they take on the postseason.
"Having him near nearby will give us more comfort," Sean McDermott said. "I know his parents are going to be with him there, and I think that helps as well. And knowing that he's well taken care of, he's got a great medical team around him here in Buffalo."
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said they want to make Hamlin proud as the playoffs begin.
"He's in our hearts," Frazier said of Hamlin. "You saw that, it was evident on Sunday. You see how the guys feel about him, so I think they want to carry that all the way through these playoffs and really keep him in mind and play as if he were out there with us on every single down. We want to make him proud as he's watching us perform, and I think guys are going to keep him close to their hearts as they get ready for the next ball game."
2. Who will be Miami's QB?
The biggest question of the week—who the heck will play quarterback for the Dolphins on Sunday? Tua Tagovailoa is still out with a concussion that he suffered during their Week 16 game against the Packers. Skylar Thompson came out of the Jets game with some bumps and bruises, and Teddy Bridgewater is still working through a dislocated pinky finger. A tough spot for any team to be in as the playoffs begin.
Since all three quarterbacks are experiencing some type of injury, McDaniel said he's preparing game plans for each one. McDaniel said he's not going to get ahead of himself with wondering when Tagovailoa will be healthy but is hoping to have more information on Wednesday.
"I don't want to influence by over asking or trying to micromanage what the process is," McDaniel said. "When he's ready to — when he's medically cleared to practice, he'll practice. Until then I'm not doing anything."
Tagovailoa has started in both games against the Bills this season. In Week 3 when the Dolphins beat the Bills 21-19, the QB completed 13 of 18 pass attempts for 186 yards, threw for one touchdown and had a 123.8 passer rating. In Week 15 when Buffalo beat Miami 32-29, Tagovailoa completed 17 of 30 pass attempts for 234 yards, threw for two touchdowns and finished with a 104 passer rating.
Tagovailoa finished the year with eight QB wins and led the NFL with a 105.5 passer rating. He also averaged 272.9 passing yards per game (5th), 8.87 yards per pass attempt (1st), completed 64.8% of his passes and threw for 25 touchdowns (tied for 8th).
Bridgewater has started in two games and played in five for Miami this season. In those five games, he has completed 62% of his passes for 683 yards and has thrown for four touchdowns and four interceptions. The QB has a 85.6 passer rating and averages 8.6 pass yards per attempt.
Thompson has started in just two games and played in seven for the Dolphins this season. In those games, the QB has completed 57% of his passes for 534 yards and has thrown one touchdown pass to three interceptions. He has a 62.2 passer rating and averages 5.1 passing yards per attempt.
3. Bills vs. Dolphins, the third act
The Bills and Dolphins split the regular season with a win each, setting up a rubber match in the Wild Card round.
The two also ended the regular season on very different notes. The Bills finished with a seven-game win streak and a 13-3 record. The Dolphins, on the other hand, are heading into the playoffs after losing five out of their last six games and a 9-8 record to end the regular season.
In their Week 3 matchup, the Bills had the Dolphins in just about every statistical category and had the lead at multiple points throughout the scorcher of a game. Buffalo had 497 total yards of offense to Miami's 212 and held the ball for more than 20 minutes longer than the Dolphins. The Bills had the ball with 1:33 left in the game but unfortunately couldn't get within field goal range to win it.
In their Week 15 matchup, Josh Allen threw four touchdown passes and held the lead for most of the game. When the Bills were down by eight at the start of the fourth quarter, they would not be denied and scored on their final two drives to win the game. During their last possession, the Bills orchestrated a 15-play drive that drained the clock with six minutes remaining and ended with a game-winning field goal.
As the regular season wraps up, here's where the two teams rank in terms of stats.
Points per game – Bills: 28.44 (2nd), Dolphins: 23.35 (11th)
Total yards per game – Bills: 397.6 (2nd), Dolphins: 364.5 (6th)
Third down conversion percentage – Bills: 50.3% (1st), Dolphins: 36.2% (24th)
Red zone efficiency- Bills: 60.3% (9th), Dolphins: 60% (10th)
Turnovers – Bills: 27 (30th), Dolphins: 21 (tied for 8th)
Points allowed per game – Bills: 17.88 (2nd), Dolphins: 23.47 (24th)
Total yards allowed per game – Bills: 319.1 (6th), Dolphins: 337.8 (18th)
Passer rating allowed – Bills: 82.1 (4th), Dolphins: 95.3 (28th)
Takeaways – Bills: 27 (t-4th), Dolphins: 14 (t-30th)
Red zone efficiency – Bills: 44.9% (2nd), Dolphins: 59.3% (23rd)
4. Can Allen stay hot vs. Miami?
Josh Allen's career numbers against the Dolphins are pretty amazing. He has eight wins in 10 games against the divisional foe, and in those 10 games the Bills have averaged 32.6 points per contest.
In his career against Miami, Allen has averaged 268.4 passing yards per game, three touchdowns per game and 7.5 passing yards per attempt. Allen has also totaled 31 touchdowns and has a 106.1 passer rating against the Dolphins. His best game statistically against them came in Week 2 of the 2020 season when the Bills beat the Dolphins 31-28. Allen threw for four touchdowns and 415 yards, picked up a passer rating of 146.7 and 11.86 yards per pass attempt.
Allen finished the regular season by throwing a total of 4,283 passing yards (7th), combining for 42 total touchdowns (2nd) and averaged 267.7 passing yards per game (6th).
This week, Allen will get a Dolphins defense that finished 24th in the league allowing 23.47 points per game and 18th in allowing 337.8 total yards per game. They allowed quarterbacks to complete 66.7% of their passes (27th) and post a 95.3 passer rating (28th), all while picking up only eight interceptions (29th).
5. Plenty of weapons to stop on Miami
The Dolphins can attack defenses in a slew of ways thanks to players like WR Tyreek Hill, WR Jaylen Waddle, RB Raheem Mostert and RB Jeff Wilson Jr.
Defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said his players need to do a good job of stopping the run without sacrificing their pass defense on Sunday.
"They have two guys in the passing game and you ignore them, they can make it a long day for you, so you have to pay attention to them," Frazier said of Hill and Waddle. "Yet, you still got to deal with this run game. So, it presents some challenges. And that's one of the reasons for a long time they were one of top offenses in the league because of that two headed monster that they have."
Hill finished the regular season with 119 receptions (2nd in the NFL), 1,710 receiving yards (2nd) and seven touchdowns, while Waddle finished with 75 receptions, 1,356 receiving yards (7th) and eight touchdowns. They are the only two wide receivers on the same team to each have over 1,300 receiving yards each. Waddle also led the NFL averaging 18 yards per catch.
Mostert was Miami's leading rusher and racked up 181 carries for 891 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns this season. Wilson wasn't far behind, picking up 176 carries for 860 rushing yards and five rushing touchdowns. Mostert and Wilson are one of two running back tandems to each go over 800 rushing yards this season.
While Mostert has had a productive season, he might not be available on Sunday. Mostert suffered a thumb injury in Week 18 and McDaniel said it's hard to know if he'll play.
"It's a serious injury," McDaniel said. "It's hard to know if he'll be able to play this week. I never put anything past Raheem Mostert, I've learned that over time. But it was a significant break of his thumb, and he'll be addressing that this week."
In their first meeting, the Bills did a good job of containing Mostert (8 attempts, 11 rushing yards) and Hill (2 catches, 33 receiving yards) who only combined for 44 total yards. Although, Waddle did go off for a couple big plays and finished the day with four catches for 102 receiving yards. In their second meeting, even though the Bills won the game, Dolphins playmakers posted some big numbers. Mostert had 17 carries for 136 rushing yards, Waddle had three catches for 114 receiving yards and a touchdown and Hill had 69 receiving yards and a touchdown. We will see what Frazier dials up on Sunday to limit these playmakers.
6. An unforgettable atmosphere
Highmark Stadium was oozing with energy when Nyheim Hines returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown last Sunday. It was an epic atmosphere that many won't ever forget. It's the type of atmosphere that definitely felt like the playoffs, and thankfully Bills Mafia will have the chance to bring that type of energy again on Sunday.
"I know our fans and they love playoff football, and we can't wait to be out in front of them this weekend," Sean McDermott shared. "They did such a fantastic job this past weekend supporting the team and the crowd noise. It's tough to play here. And I think anyone that plays here would tell you that. No one likes coming to Buffalo, especially this time of year. So I can't wait to see our fans take full advantage of that this weekend."
An emotional win at Highmark Stadium. Check out the best postgame photos from Buffalo's 35-23 win over the Patriots to close the 2022 regular season.