They just played a month ago, and they’ve had interesting games since then. But it would be overstatement to say the Bills and the Dolphins are headed in opposite directions.
Buffalo has lost two of three since it beat Miami four weeks ago. The Dolphins have won two of three since then. But the Bills are still on course for a playoff spot — and Miami is still likely to earn a top five draft pick.
Round two, the 112th all-time meeting between the Bills and the Dolphins, is set for Sunday. Here are the top storylines to follow this week leading up to the game:
1. “TANKS” FOR THE MEMORIES?
Miami was 0-5 when the Dolphins came to Buffalo last month and seemingly in total “tank” mode —accepting losses to improve their 2020 draft position.
They don’t appear to be in tank mode anymore – with back-to-back wins over the Jets and the Colts.
“We’re going out to win every game. Period,” Miami Coach Brian Flores said this week. Their four-point upset win at Indianapolis last Sunday opened some eyes around the NFL, and maybe in the Dolphins locker room as well.
“We got two more wins than the rest of the world thought we were going to have this year,” said rookie defensive tackle Christian Wilkins. “Guys are starting to buy into Flores’ vision,” he said, “the team-first culture.”
2. BUFFALO’S OFFENSE STILL A “WORK IN PROGRESS”
The Bills scored 16 points in Cleveland last week, only 14 by the offense. They average 19.3 points scored per game — only seven NFL teams average fewer.
“We’ve got to score more points,” head coach Sean McDermott has said repeatedly since the loss in Cleveland. The man in charge of plotting the path to more points is offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
“We have to find a way to score more points, whether that’s running or passing,” Daboll said this week. “I think when they try to stop one thing, then that needs to open up other things, and we need to do a good job of executing that.”
Daboll may have been thinking about the Bills struggles in the pass game in Cleveland, when the Browns loaded up the tackle box, inviting the Bills to throw it. They did, 41 times, with little success. The Bills were determined not to beat their heads against the wall, running into a defensive scheme with eight-or-more players loaded up to stop the run.
“Is there a time you need to run it no matter what?” Daboll asked. “Sure, absolutely. But at that point, based on the things we were getting and adjustments we made, that’s the decision we made.”
3. MIAMI WILL TEST BUFFALO’S RUN DEFENSE – AGAIN
Buffalo’s defense has been solid this season, ranked third in the NFL this week. But there are some chinks in the armor — the Bills are 21st against the run, thanks to the last five weeks.
In their first four games, Buffalo’s run defense gave up an average of 84 yards per game on the ground. In the last five, including the win over the Dolphins, they’ve allowed 141 yards rushing per game. Miami ran it 30 times for 109 yards against the Bills.
Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier thinks Buffalo’s recent opponents are following the same playbook for the type of runs they try out on his team.
“It’s still following us, for sure, “Frazier says. “Similar runs are showing up and at times we’re defending those runs very well. Other times, a run will get out on us and we just have to develop that consistency ... we have to continue to work at that.”
Miami’s leading rusher last month against Buffalo was second-year running back Mark Wilson with 66 yards. He will sit out this week; game two of his four-game suspension for conduct and substance abuse.
4. ANY MAGIC LEFT?
The Bills face another dose of ‘Fitz-magic’ this week, as Ryan Fitzpatrick gets ready for his fifth start since returning to the lineup for the game in Buffalo October 20.
And he may not be coming out of the starting lineup for a while. Brian Flores said this week Fitz will remain in the lineup for “the foreseeable future.”
There’s a chance for another remarkable career milestone for Fitzpatrick looming. If he throws two touchdown passes, he’ll become just the eighth player in NFL history, drafted in the seventh round or lower, to throw for 200-or-more career touchdowns. Amazing.
5. DIFFERENT FISH THIS TIME
It’s not just the running back Mark Walton who’s out of the lineup. Miami has lost one of its top receivers since the last time it played the Bills.
Undrafted rookie wide receiver Preston Williams went on injured reserve last week after tearing his ACL against the Jets two weeks ago. The 6-5 product of Colorado State caught six passes against the Bills, and he had 32 catches for three touchdowns in eight games played this year. The Dolphins expect he’ll be back for the 2020 season.
6. JOSH AT HIS BEST VS MIAMI?
He’s only faced them three times, but Bills quarterback Josh Allen has done some of his best work against the Dolphins. In three games, he’s completed 60 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and rushed for 262 yards and two touchdowns.
Allen’s 2018 finale against Miami in Orchard Park may have been the best game of his young NFL career. He threw for three touchdowns and ran for two.
In his only game in Miami, last December, he threw two touchdown passes and ran for 135 yards. His last second heave to tight end Charles Clay in the end zone just missed winning the game.
7. HOMECOMING FOR SEVERAL BILLS
It’s a road game, but a homecoming game for several Bills who are natives of South Florida. Wide receiver John Brown is from Homestead, guard Jon Feliciano is from Davie, running back Frank Gore, wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie and safety Jaquan Johnson are natives of Miami, and rookie running back Devin Singletary grew up in Deerfield Beach.