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The Dolphins Face a Mystery Opponent in a Game that Decides Their Playoff Fate

Yes, I am aware that the Miami Dolphins, your Miami Dolphins are traveling to Orchard Park to play the Buffalo Bills. No one can dispute that no matter what kind of evidence they present. What isn’t certain is exactly what version of the Buffalo Bills will the Dolphins be playing. Are they going to be playing the one that plays all their starters throughout the whole game? Will they be playing a Bills’ team that rests some of their starters, or will it be a combination of both. Well, we just don’t know. So far, Bills’ coach, Sean McDermott, hasn’t really announced what his intentions are for how he’s going to handle his strategy.

Earlier in the week, I said based on similar comments like this that McDermott said, that if you have to keep secrets about who you’re starting then that means that you’re planning on resting some of your guys. Because if you were just going to start your guys, why wouldn’t you just say that? To throw the Dolphins off? I can tell you with extreme confidence that Brian Flores is preparing his guys to play Josh Allen, Stephon Diggs, and the rest of their starters. But then I started thinking about it a bit more and I think it will be mystery opponent #3, which is McDermott will play all his guys but eventually take some of the key starters out somewhere during the game whether they’re winning or not. I think he rides the fence. He can play all his guys then take them out and say that he wanted to get some action but that their ultimate goal is to focus on next week. Yes, that means he’s not putting as much stock in the #2 seed, which would give his team two home games in Buffalo where around 6,700 fans will be allowed to destroy all the tables they can. I could easily be wrong about McDermott’s plan but that’s what I see happening.

None of that really matters for the Dolphins who with a win can make the playoffs not as a #7 seed but as the #5 seed. That’s important because, mentally, it says that they didn’t need the extra playoffs seed to get into the postseason. Don’t get me wrong, I couldn’t care less if they back door their way into the playoffs, but it would be nice to win and go 11-5.

We all know that Mariano Rivera Ryan Fitzpatrick will not be available to sprinkle any Fitzmagic if the opportunity presents itself. This means that the game is firmly in the hand of Tua Tagovailoa. I know that may give many the heebie-jeebies, but I’m excited to see how he handles it. I think even the biggest Tua defenders(I would consider myself a moderate Tua defender) can be honest with themselves and say that he needs to play better than he did against the Raiders. We should be able to admit that he needs to let it rip a bit more and trust that his guys can come down with the ball even if there’s a guy on their hip.

I think we also can admit that Chan Gailey needs to take the restrictor plate off his young rookie quarterback. This analysis by Chris Kouffman of 3 Yards Per Carry is very smart and I believe to be quite on point.

To me, Tua is not a play-action only quarterback like Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, and other guys. He’s more of a drop-back passer, who can succeed with some play-action but doing just play-action is not the best way to use his attributes which are his accuracy and reading defenses. He doesn’t bring a quarterback by numbers approach like the guys I listed. So, it stands a good reason that Gailey, in a game where the Dolphins desperately need, to let Tua do what he does best. I expect a bit more of an aggressive Tua.

Hopefully, Tua will have Miami’s best receiver, DeVante Parker back. But at this point, who knows.

Cool to see Jakeem Grant as questionable. I would have thought there was no chance that he plays on Sunday. I still think that but the questionable tag is encouraging.

The Bills, don’t have that extensive of an injury report besides Cole Beasley being out. That’s actually a pretty big loss for Buffalo.

Defensively, the Bills pose many issues for a Dolphins defense that ranks first in scoring defense. Earlier this year, Josh Allen had his way with the Dolphins throwing for 415 yards along with four TDs. Miami only lost by three but it felt like more, at least to me it did. Byron Jones got injured on the second play of the game and the Bills, wisely, went after Noah Igbinoghene, and well, the rookie didn’t have a great day.

This time, Jones is healthy and the Dolphins are a much different, better team than they were back in September. So are the Bills.

The Bills are the #4 overall offense, averaging 392 yards a game. They’re second in the league in passing yards a game with 282 a game. In the last three games, the Bills are #13 in rushing. This means they are incredibly balanced. Even though, Josh Allen didn’t hurt Miami with his legs in their first meeting this year, mainly because he didn’t have to, I fear his running ability. It seems like Josh is learning to use his supreme running ability when he needs to in big games. He’s run for 35 and 33 yards in his last two games and it just appears he can run for any 3rd or 4th and short whenever he wants. Hopefully, Shaq Lawson can play and be part of a defense that doesn’t allow Allen to be too comfortable.

And that’s where I think this game will be won or lost for the Dolphins. This Miami wins based on their defense. Like it or not, that’s the reality we’re living in. Will the Dolphins be able to get any kind of pressure on Allen? Right now, the Bills’ offensive line, which doesn’t get talked about a lot due to Allen and Diggs being awesome, has been playing very well and keeping Allen very clean. Here are the sack numbers in the last three games.

Yep, the Bills have been the best team over the past three weeks in giving up sacks with giving up less than one. In the last three games, the Dolphins have ranked #8 in the number of sacks a game with averaging three a game. I think they need at least that many on Sunday. And it be nice if they were to do it with only rushing four but that’s probably too much to ask.

To me, I feel like the Dolphins can only get to the quarterback when they bring pressure and even then I see many times where they do bring pressure only for it to be easily picked up. That won’t bode well for the Dolphins even with their very strong secondary. I assume they’re going to live by their word of playing man defense. That’s fine if you get pressure on the quarterback but if you don’t, Allen and Diggs will make Miami die by that sword. We know the Dolphins aren’t the best against crossing routes. I think they’ve improved over the year but Allen and the Bills destroyed the Dolphins with that route concept.

The Dolphins have eaten up bad quarterbacks all year. Good quarterbacks have had their way with them but mostly early in the year. Wilson, Allen Newton with his legs, and Mahomes(yes I know he thew three INTs but he also threw for 393 yards and three TDs).

Getting off the field on 3rd down will be crucial. I know we know this but I needed to say it. The Bills, are the best at 3rd down conversions.

Conversely, the Dolphins are #1 at 3rd down defense.

Like the late Dave Williams of Drowning Pool would sing, “Something’s got to give!”

A couple of turnovers produced by the Dolphin’s defense would also be wonderful. They've gotten a turnover in 26 straight games. It needs to be 27.

Brian Flores and Josh Boyer have done a good job of making game plans throughout the year. They will need to have a really good plan in place if they want to stop the Bills just a little bit. In Flores we trust.

I’m interested to see if the Dolphins have any special teams wrinkles that they’ll unveil. You’d think a potential last game of the season, can’t hold anything back now mentality would be in place.

Mr. Money in the Bank, Jason Sanders, yeah I don’t worry about him. Get him in range and forget about it.

I actually think the offense will do at least one trick play. I sort of think they have to. Using the Wildcat with Bowden and Perry would be something I’d look to do to try and generate offense.

Feed Mike Gesicki. Actually, scheme up plays for him so that he can go up and get it. We saw what he can do against the Raiders when you actually let him play football. Let him, Parker, Bowden play football and Tua will find them.

With Solomon Kindley questionable, it’s hard telling what the offensive line will look like. Whatever the combination is, the Dolphins need to run the ball with Gaskin. Get Gaskin the ball any way you can because he’s feeling it right now. He turned a 6-yard catch into a 57 yards score. Run screens to him, let him run it inside. Sprinkle in Ahmed when you could but make no mistake, this needs to be a Gaskin game, again.

The weather is not in the Dolphin’s favor.

I hope it rains more than snows because I feel teams that are good at passing are at an advantage in the snow. If it rains, nobody is that good at throwing a wet football.

The announcers will be Kevin Harlan and Trent Green. I’m kind of mixed on this. Trent could be alright but I imagine he’ll be all over Tua and the Dolphins if they don’t perform well. Won’t need to hear that if that happens.

Prediction

The pressure the Dolphins get on Allen and if Tua can step up and throw the ball more than five yards will be what this game will be about. I think both things could happen. Obviously, the question is will it happen. I want very badly for the Dolphins to win this game. It’s hard to make a prediction with not knowing the cards that Sean McDermott is holding. So we’ll make three predictions, one for every possible opponent.

If the Bills go with their full squad and don’t sit anyone

Dolphins 24 Bills 34

If the Bills sit their key starters

Dolphins 27 Bills 20

If the Bills do a mix of starting and sitting starters

Dolphins 30 Bills 25

The Dolphins control their own destiny, which is a great thing. They also can back door their way into the playoffs, which will great as well. Any loss by the Ravens, Browns, or Colts and Miami is in. The Browns are dealing with some COVID stuff at the moment plus it’s a revenge game for Mason Rudolph. I think the Steelers have the best chance at helping the Dolphins out. Hopefully, the Dolphins take care of business and won’t need the help.

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