The Miami Dolphins will be taking on the Buffalo Bills Thursday night at Sun Life Stadium, just four days after Miami's bitter last-second loss to the Detroit Lions. The Dolphins also lost left tackle Branden Albert for the season, which may be the bigger blow.
Miami has proven to be a resilient team this year, so it will be interesting to see what type of performance they put out just four days after losing a heartbreaker. Will Miami finally beat the Bills, who have physically bullied the Dolphins in three straight meetings?
Here are this week's five things to watch for in what might be the most pivotal game of the Dolphins' 2014 season:
1. Reason for optimism
You want a reason for optimism heading into this game?
The Lions and Bills are very similar teams. But the Bills don't have a quarterback.
What does this mean? It means that the Dolphins defense should be able to shut down the Bills offense.
Miami's defense has been smothering the run lately. Doing so in Thursday's game and forcing Buffalo to be one-dimensional and lean on the passing game is the Dolphins' ticket to victory defensively.
It will be interesting to see how the game develops being that the Dolphins may be without two key defensive starters, middle linebacker Koa Misi and cornerback Cortland Finnegan. Misi is a huge part of a successful run defense in Miami, and Finnegan has enjoyed a resurgent year in Miami. It's seems more likely that Misi plays than Finnegan at this point, but having either out hinders the Dolphins defense.
2. Hungry, determined Dolphins
This team will be angry from the loss they suffered last week.
This team will be ready to take on their division rival at home.
This team will play with attitude and make it a contest to the very end if they have to.
This team is resilient, and will show the nation just how resilient they are when they put on another hard-nosed performance Thursday night against their physical division rivals the Bills.
3. Life without Branden Albert
Ja'Wuan James will be thrown into the fire Thursday when he will start at left tackle for the first time since high school against a dominant Bills defensive line. The interior of the Dolphins offensive line will also have a tough task in dealing with two wreaking-ball defensive tackles.
Both defensive end Mario Williams and defensive tackle Kyle Williams are dominant pass rushers that can wreak havoc in the run game, so it will be interesting to what plays Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor draws up to attempt to neutralize the Bills' defensive line.
This trench battle will be a key factor in this Thursday night divisional matchup.
4. Down & distance
Staying ahead of the chains is always key in football, but even more so against a good defense. The Dolphins must be able to produce consistent positive yardage on first and second downs in this game. Falling into third-and-long could force the Dolphins offense to make a game-changing mistake (for example, the interception Ryan Tannehill threw against the Lions on a 3rd and 7).
5. Big plays
The Dolphins must produce a few huge, game-changing plays in this game to come out victorious. A key turnover, chunk yardage offensive plays, electric returns, some form of big plays need to be produced by this Dolphins team to produce energy, momentum and, most importantly, points on the board.