The end of the regular season is here and it's a rematch with Miami. Just two weeks after the Bills handled the Dolphins at home they head to South Florida to play them again.
Here are the top seven storylines as the Bills get set for their second meeting with Miami:
1. IT MEANS EVERYTHING TO BUFFALO
The Dolphins were eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday, but the Bills are still alive. And thanks to the NFL's flexible scheduling, the teams they're jostling with for the fifth and sixth playoff seeds in the AFC will also be playing at 4:25 pm Sunday.
The other three contenders are home: Baltimore against Cincinnati, Tennessee hosting Jacksonville, and the Chargers up against Oakland.
Not since 2004 have the Bills had a chance to clinch a playoff spot on the final Sunday of the season. That one didn't work out so well—the Bills lost 29-24 at home to Pittsburgh's backups and Buffalo was out.
The Bills need a win this week and some help—Baltimore losing to the Bengals, or the Titans andthe Chargers losing their home games. Head Coach Sean McDermott knows the setup, but he's trying to keep his team focused on the proceedings in South Florida.
"I think the easiest answer to that is, really, if we don't win it's not going to matter," McDermott said this week. "Focus on the task at hand and what's in front of us and that means, through all the scenarios that are out there, the one common theme is [the] Bills have to win so we've got to do that first."
2. SOME SECOND HALF POINTS WOULD HELP
The Bills have gone into a second half funk in terms of points scored in recent weeks. In their last five games, they have a total of nine points scored (3 field goals, zero touchdowns) in the third and fourth quarters. They did score an overtime touchdown to beat the Colts three weeks ago.
That touchdown is the only one the Bills have scored after halftime in the last five games. Thanks to building some first half leads, Buffalo has won three of those five games.
It's a trend that has caught the attention of Bills offensive coordinator and play-caller Rick Dennison.
"Well certainly, you want to score every quarter," Dennison says. "We struggled earlier in the year scoring early. Now, we're scoring early and not scoring late, so we're trying to make adjustments, take a look at what we've got and what we're not doing right. It's going to come down to just being consistent and execute every play."
Overall this season, the Bills are seventh from the bottom in the NFL in second half scoring, averaging 9.3 points per game after halftime.
3. THE BIG PLAY IS BACK—MAYBE?**
The Bills hit some big chunk passing plays last Sunday in Foxboro—four of them to be exact of 30 yards or more. That followed a four-game span where they settled for a total of two big passing plays.
Prior to last week, Buffalo had not had four passing plays of 30 yards or more in one game since Kyle Orton did it in Oakland in 2014.
Getting deep downfield is essential for any offense, especially Buffalo's, which relies so heavily on the run game. Deep passes loosen up opposing defenses and give LeSean McCoy and company more room to run.
Last week's success may be a result of Tyrod Taylor's increasing comfort level with new downfield passing targets. It was the third game this season Taylor and Kelvin Benjamin have both been in the starting lineup, and the fifth game for Taylor and Deonte Thompson.
4. RED ZONE BLUES
The Bills biggest problem in New England last Sunday was their failure to put up touchdowns in the red zone. They went 0-4 inside the Patriots 20-yard line. That stat includes the controversial Kelvin Benjamin no touchdown ruling.
For the season, the Bills are just about in the middle of the pack when it comes to red zone touchdown production. They rank 18th, finding the end zone 54-percent of the time.
Against the Dolphins two weeks ago, they went 3-4 in the red zone then dropped off to no touchdowns in four trips inside the Patriots 20 last week. Some red zone consistency would go a long way towards getting a win out of Miami this week.
5. WHO ARE THE BILLS DEFENSIVELY?**
The Bills defense has been tough to figure all season long. They've had standout games against the likes of Carolina, Atlanta and Kansas City alongside meltdowns against the Chargers and New Orleans. They're 30th against the run, 18th against the pass. They're fifth from the bottom in sacks in the league, but sixth from the top in interceptions. Who are they?
Two weeks ago, against the Dolphins, they were the takeaway machine that has played a part in several Buffalo wins this year. The Bills picked off Jay Cutler three times in that game.
The Bills have had seven games this year where they had two or more takeaways. They are 6-1 in those games. The best thing the Bills do on defense this year is take the ball away.
6. TRE WHITE FINISHING STRONG
Rookie CB Tre'Davious White has put together outstanding games in recent weeks. He may now be the favorite to be the NFL's Defensive Rookie of the Year. And two weeks ago, against Miami, he had one of his best games—seven tackles, one interception and three passes defensed.
Miami's talented corps of WRs will be a challenge, but White seems to embrace every challenge thrown his way. Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier says White's solid play frees him up to make certain defensive calls, knowing the rookie CB can handle the pressure.
"A lot of times, people at this point aren't really threatening him very much in the passing game," Frazier says. "When they do, he's able to stand up to the test and it allows you, as a play-caller, to do some things at times that you might not be able to do if you didn't have that type of corner."
7. IS MIAMI PRIMED TO BE A SPOILER?
It's the end of a disappointing season for the Dolphins. They were officially eliminated from playoff contention last Sunday with their loss at Kansas City. And that game had some ugly moments including a sideline shouting match between wide receiver Jarvis Landry and Head Coach Adam Gase.
So, after winning 10 games in 2016 and making the playoffs, Miami is out of the postseason for the 14th time in 16 years. There are worse playoff droughts ongoing in the league (ahem) but not many.
We won't know for a while Sunday if the Dolphins are focused on the game and motivated to ruin Buffalo's playoff chances. But don't be surprised if they are. The roots of this rivalry run deep and the two teams had some scrappy encounters two weeks ago in Orchard Park that may flare up this week.