The end of the line. The Bills season finishes with a game against Miami for the second year in a row. But this time, the game is in Orchard Park. And this time, there’s very little at stake for either team.
Here are the top storylines this week, as the Bills finish off 2018 with a game against the Dolphins:
1. WHAT DO THEY PLAY FOR?
That’s a question some Bills fans may be asking—what’s at stake for their favorite team with the playoffs out of reach?
Possible answers: roster spots for next year, revenge for the loss at Miami four weeks ago, better performance than a week ago in New England.
For head coach Sean McDermott, the motivation is simple, and it falls in line one of his core principles: growth. Improvement. Using every opportunity available to get better for the future.
“Continued growth,” McDermott answered, when he was asked what he was looking for from the Bills this week. “Continued opportunities to put our best foot forward and grow this young football team. We play a certain way and that’s up to our standard, that’s our goal every week, whether we’re playing on a Sunday afternoon for the playoffs, or we’re playing on a Sunday afternoon when we don’t have a chance to get into the playoffs, which is the case this season.”
2. DOLPHINS COME IN WITH ISSUES
For the Dolphins, this week’s game comes with some long term, big picture issues. SI.com reports the team is reportedly ready to fire Vice President of Football Operations Mike Tannenbaum when the season ends. It would be the end of his four-year tenue with the team. Miami started the year 3-0 but has lost eight of the last 12 games.
The SI report says Tannenbaum is gone, but GM Chris Grier and head coach Adam Gase will return next year. That comes a day or two after reports that team owner Stephen Ross was interested in hiring one of the Harbaugh brothers, either Jim at the University of Michigan, or John with the Ravens, to take over as Dolphins’ coach. Clearly, there’s a buzz of uncertainty about the future of the Fins.
3. QB QUESTIONS ALSO WITH MIAMI
Ryan Tannehill has only played in 10 of the Dolphins last 34 games, but he’s healthy now, and ready to start in Buffalo Sunday. And ready to continue as Miami’s starter next year if the team will have him back.
There’s speculation that after seven years, and with a 27-million dollar salary cap hit next year, Miami may be ready to move on after this season. Tannehill hopes that’s not the case.
“I love this organization,” he told reporters in Miami this week. “I love the guys on this team. I love competing with the guys on this team. I’ve been here my whole career and love it in South Florida, love what South Florida brings to the table. So yeah, I’d love to be here.”
4. JOSH ALLEN LOOKING TO BOUNCE BACK
Bills QB Josh Allen makes his 11th and final start of his rookie season this Sunday. And he’s looking for a better day than the one he had last Sunday in Foxboro.
Allen’s numbers were not good against the Patriots, and his struggle on third down was tough to watch. The Bills finished 2-12 on third downs, and Allen admitted this week New England caught him off guard early in the game with different looks and pressures on third downs.
“They were doing a good job on defense; they were game-planning pretty well,” Allen said. “They threw a couple things at me that I hadn’t seen or didn’t think that they would do. We tried to adjust, and it was just a little too late.”
5. REVENGE MATCH?
There was the New Year’ Eve clinching a year ago in Miami, a game that included some scrappy play. Then there was the Bills’ four-point loss at Hard Rock Stadium four weeks ago, a game that ended with an incomplete pass to Charles Clay in the end zone.
The Bills and Dolphins have had some memorable moments in their last two matchups. Zay Jones hauled in two touchdown passes last month in Miami. Josh Allen ran for 135 yards. The Bills outgained Miami 415 yards to 173, and yet still lost.
There may be an element of payback in the air this week in Orchard Park.
6. LAST DANCE FOR SOME VETERANS?
The Bills have plenty of additions to make to the roster in the upcoming offseason. And there’s likely to be some notable subtractions as well.
A year ago, veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams gave some thoughts to retiring, but decided to come back for the 2018 season. His plans for next year? Williams isn’t saying yet. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent next spring. And when asked this week, the 35-year old veteran told the Associated Press he’s not ready to say when he will make up his mind.
“I think whenever the decision comes out will be the appropriate time,” Williams said.
Last year, Williams had several members of his family and close friends on the field postgame, after the Bills beat Miami in Orchard Park. Will there be a similar potential farewell visit this week?
Williams’ 35-year old friend and teammate, Lorenzo Alexander, might also play his last game in Orchard Park this week. ‘Zo’s third year with the Bills has been excellent, and he’s expressed interest in returning. But he’s also nearing the end of his contract, and the Bills will need to craft a new one provided they want his leadership and production on the roster for another year.
7. HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE?
A year after winning six of eight home games, the Bills have had trouble ‘defending their dirt’ at One Bills Drive. They’re 3-4 at home this year, with a chance to get to the .500 mark with a win over Miami this week.
And if the path to the postseason goes through the division, the Bills have some work to do on that front also. They are just 1-4 in the AFC East this year. They went 3-3 in the division in 2017.