It is back to football after the bye week for the Buffalo Bills. Over the next three weeks, the Bills have a chance to solidify their status as bonafide playoff contenders.
This Sunday is the first of three straight games at home for Buffalo. And their next three opponents have a combined won-loss record of four wins and 13 losses. There’s a chance for the Bills to build up a head of steam starting this Sunday.
Here are the top storylines this week as the Bills and Dolphins get set to renew their rivalry:
1. WILL IT BE ROSEN OR FITZ?
It’s a question likely to be answered early this week — what do the Dolphins do at quarterback? Second-year man Josh Rosen was benched last Sunday against Washington after a miserable start to the game. Everyone’s favorite journeyman vet, Ryan Fitzpatrick, came in to lead Miami to a near win.
After doubling down on Rosen as his starter in the postgame locker room Sunday, Dolphins first-year head coach Brian Flores seemed to back off a little Monday.
“You never want to just pull a guy for one bad game,” he told Miami reporters. “I think this is still an ongoing conversation between myself and our coaching staff. We really gotta take a look at Buffalo and see what they’re doing. We’re always going to try to put what we feel is the best group out there.”
2. QB CLASS OF 2018 MATCHUP?
If Miami goes with Rosen, it will be the first NFL matchup between a couple of 2018’s first round quarterback draft picks. Josh Allen went to the Bills with the seventh overall pick. Rosen went three picks later to Arizona.
Allen has faced Jets quarterback Sam Darnold twice in the NFL, with one win and one loss. He went head-to-head against Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson at the end of the Ravens win over Buffalo in 2018, both quarterbacks coming off the bench in that one. And three weeks from now, Allen is scheduled for his first head-to-head matchup versus Cleveland’s Baker Mayfield.
Allen has been among the most successful of the five first round quarterbacks as a starter in the league so far. He’s won nine and lost seven. Lamar Jackson is 10-3, Mayfield is 8-11, Darnold is 5-10, and Rosen is 3-13.
3. A NEW NO-NAME DEFENSE?
The Dolphins no-name defense became their trademark in their 1972 Super Bowl run. The Bills defense, without any big-name performers, has been one of the NFL’s best the last two years.
And cornerback Levi Wallace may be the biggest unknown. He walked-on and won a National Championship at Alabama. And he sat on Buffalo’s practice squad for the first half of last year, before starting the last seven games of 2018. He’s lined up as a starter opposite Tre’Davious White every game this year and has become one of the Bills top performers.
“Levi has really solidified a position that, up until he became a starter for us, was really in flux,” says defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier. “He's solidified that spot for us, which has also helped our defense.”
“He's really an unsung hero in a lot of ways. He gives us a chance to be more flexible defensively and not having to always match up Tre’Davious to the best receiver.”
In five games this year, Wallace has been targeted 39 times, the second-highest number of targets in the league. He knows playing opposite White means more teams will go his way.
“They have to throw the ball at one of us,” Wallace told One Bills Live this week. If I start playing really well, they’ll start throwing the ball at him. If he starts playing well, they’ll throw the ball at me. We’ll both make plays. And then you have two of the best safeties in the league tracking the ball down as much as they can. I just think you have to pick your poison to see where you want to throw the ball.”
4. JUST WHAT THE OFFENSE NEEDS?
The Bills average 18 points per game this year. The Dolphins defense gives up twice that many —36 points per game. You’ll understand if the Bills offense looks at this week as a possible antidote to some of their offensive shortcomings.
Miami is last, or second-to-last, in six different defensive rankings, including points allowed per game.
5. TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES?
Are the Dolphins losing deliberately to enhance their draft position next spring? That’s what some observers think, most notably columnist Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald, who has encouraged them to “tank.”
Others, like Sports Illustrated NFL senior editor Gary Gramling, say “tanking” offends them.
“I really dislike what they’re doing with that team,” he told One Bills Live. “I hate this whole approach. Maybe it works long-term, but I don’t think it’s necessary in the NFL, the way that parity is built in. And there’s really not that much difference, talent-wise, from team to team. It just bothers me.”
6. RETURN OF THE ‘MOTOR’?
The Bills have been patient with the hamstring strain suffered by rookie running back Devin ‘Motor’ Singletary. He was injured in week two, then sat out the next three games and the bye week.
He’s been close to returning, and now may be ready this Sunday, five weeks after suffering the injury. The Bills will spend the practice week making sure Singletary is good to go.
He was good when he played, averaging 12.7 yards on 10 carries through two games. And offensive coordinator Brian Daboll would welcome a jolt of dynamic playmaking potential to his running game.
“We know he has good short space quickness,” Daboll says. “He's a guy who you can hand the ball to and hand it inside and run the same type of runs with Frank (Gore). He can run it outside. I think anytime you're without a player that you think can help your football team, other guys need to step up. They did. And we'll see where he is this week.”
7. SUCCESS AFTER THE BYE WEEK
Bills head coach Sean McDermott has altered his approach to the bye week during his tenure in Buffalo, giving players more time off. The Bills had six days off this past week. He’s consulted with his mentor, Andy Reid, about the best way to handle the time between games.
Reid’s teams, the Chiefs and the Eagles, have gone 17-3 in the game right after the bye during his NFL career. And McDermott’s Bills are a perfect 2-0 after the bye, with wins at home against the Bucs and the Jaguars the last two years.