The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins will play for the AFC East title on Sunday Night Football in the final game of the regular season.
If the Bills win, they will claim the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, their fourth-straight AFC East crown and the right to a home Wild Card playoff game — with another home playoff game to follow should they win in the first round.
A loss, however, will complicate things for the Bills playoff hopes, as they will need either a loss from the Pittsburgh Steelers or Jacksonville Jaguars to guarantee the Bills a spot in the Wild Card.
The Bills, however, are leaving the hours spent on the ESPN Playoff Machine to the fans and reporters.
"We are solely focused on our level of play and the Miami Dolphins," said head coach Sean McDermott Wednesday morning after being asked if he would watch the games around the NFL that might have an impact on the Bills' playoff chances.
Because the Bills and Dolphins will serve as the finale of the NFL regular season, fans and players alike will know whether a loss in Miami will cause the Bills to miss the playoffs altogether or if they can afford a slip-up in Hard Rock Stadium. Josh Allen doesn't care.
"We'll know that before, but again, it doesn't change our mindset," Allen said after Wednesday's walk-through. "Every time we step on the field, we're trying to win a football game."
The Bills have already bested the Dolphins once this season, a 48-20 Week 4 win in Highmark Stadium. But, just as the Bills have evolved over the past 14 weeks, the Dolphins will look different on either side of the ball on Sunday.
One constant, however, will be the challenge of shutting down wide receiver Tyreek Hill, one of the fastest players in the NFL and the league-leader in receiving yards.
"He's unique. I mean, in my 20-some years in the NFL, there's no one else like him that I've seen in terms of what he can do on the field, what he's been able to do this year," said McDermott.
By using motion before the snap, Hill and the other speedsters on the Miami offense are able to generate speed ahead of running their routes. The Dolphins send players in motion on 78.5 percent of plays, the most in the NFL. Hill doesn't typically run across the field before the snap, instead going in motion towards the closer sideline to get a head start on a route – or just distract defenders ahead of a running play.
"Watching a little bit more tape than usual, just because how they're moving guys around is a little bit different than other offenses and just being on the same page with, whether it's the (linebackers) or the safeties and us watching tape together," said nickel corner Taron Johnson on how the Bills defense will approach preparing for Miami's dynamic offense.
Against Buffalo in Week 4, Hill had three catches, a season-low, for 51 yards, his second-lowest receiving yards this season.
Johnson, who has faced Hill several times throughout his career, will rely on his previous experiences in how he approaches the challenge Sunday.
"The speed is obviously different," Johnson said. "Thankfully, I mean, I've been going against him pretty much my whole career so, it's a challenge, just gotta make sure we all know where he's at."
Cornerback Rasul Douglas, who was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week after his two-interception performance against the Patriots, also harped on how unique of a challenge it is to defend Tyreek Hill.
"He brings something that no one else brings," Douglas said. "What is this, his second year in a row with 1,700 receiving (yards)? Like, that's crazy."
Douglas faced Hill earlier in the season when he was still with Green Bay as well as last year on Christmas Day, when he intercepted Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa with just over 90 seconds remaining to seal a win for the Packers.
The Bills pass coverage has played at an elite clip over their last four games, allowing just one passing touchdown since their Week 13 bye week.
"I think they're doing a really good job of communicating and being on the same page and I think that's really where it stars," McDermott said. "So the quality of the play usually is congruent with that communication and them executing on the same page there."
A development that will likely affect the Bills' gameplan will come from the defensive side of the ball for the Dolphins, led by longtime defensive coordinator Vic Fangio. Before their Week 4 matchup, the Dolphins blitzed at the third-highest rate in the NFL. After Week 17, the Dolphins' blitz rate has dropped over 15 percent as they now send five or more players at the fourth-lowest rate in the NFL.
The Dolphins still, however, are effective at generating pressure, holding the fourth-highest pressure rate in the league by sending fewer defenders and clogging up the passing lanes, keeping five or six defensive backs in on over 86 percent of plays.
"I believe Vic (Fangio) is one of the top defensive coordinators and play callers in the NFL," McDermott said. "He's been doing it for years … he does a great job on that side of the ball and they've got a very good defense and making sure they make you work for things and I think that's a big piece of being a good defense."
While Miami will be missing key starters on their defense, such as cornerback Xavien Howard and outside linebacker Bradley Chubb, Buffalo players know their opponent will have a 'next man up' mentality.
"Well, you feel for guys who get injured," said center Mitch Morse. "Guys who cheer for that, they haven't played the game. They don't know what this does to a person or a team. I think they're still a very, very sound football team. I think their interior guys really are playing at a high level and they cause a lot of destruction in there."
McDermott announced Wednesday that wide receiver Justin Shorter's practice window has closed, meaning the Bills' 2023 fifth-round pick will return to the injured reserve.
"Sometimes it's a numbers deal, right?" McDermott said Wednesday morning. "He hasn't really played most of the year, it's tough to come in and do that late in the year and so I thought he did a good job just in terms of getting himself some work in there."