The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills complete their 2022 home-and-home series on Saturday night. A Week 15 meeting of the two AFC East rivals could go a long way to deciding who wins the division title this year, with either Miami sitting one game behind the Bills and holding the head-to-head tiebreak or the Bills pulling out to a three-game lead with three games remaining. The AFC playoff picture will be impacted by Saturday’s results - but in which way?
The Dolphins and Bills are familiar opponents, but every game in this series is unique. Between injuries, weather, and just overall play, the Dolphins and Bills are never the same teams when they meet. To get a better idea of who this iteration of the Bills are, and what Miami should expect to see later tonight, we turned to Buffalo Rumblings’ TheAfghanTwilight for some insight.
Josh Allen is still Josh Allen, but he has not seemed at full Josh Allen over the last several weeks. Is this the ulnar collateral ligament injury he sustained in his throwing elbow earlier this year, or is there something more impacting the Bills offense?
There’s been much debate about Allen’s recent play, but it’s quite possible Bills Mafia and the media have put way too many expectations on his performance. He’s still playing incredible football, the likes of which few QBs are capable. Interestingly, Allen is the top-rated quarterback when facing pressure this season.
I think it’s a myriad of things, least of which may be that elbow injury. At many points of the 2022 NFL season, the offense has run through the Allen-Diggs connection, and it alone. There’s been zero consistency from any receiver other than Diggs. We’re talking wide receivers Gabe Davis and Isaiah McKenzie, and tight end Dawson Knox. Fortunately, Diggs is Diggs and he’s been incredible this season. But on plays where the defense wins its battle against him, Allen has often pressed trying to find completions elsewhere, or put his trust in receivers who simply fail to make plays.
Those issues are why I believe Buffalo brought back wide receivers John Brown and Cole Beasley. The word around Bills circles is that Allen asked for them both. It would make a lot of sense, given his previous connection with the pair, and his belief that adding them back to the offense might right the ship. Beasley’s role was never adequately filled when he left. Wide receiver Jamison Crowder was brought in to do the job, but he was injured before he could cement himself, and McKenzie just doesn’t seem to have the same abilities the offense needs out of its slot receiver.
We all know the heat played a role in the Week 3 meeting between these two teams, with the Dolphins winning 21-19 in Miami. Now, it sounds like there will be lake-effect snow hitting Orchard Park right in time for this game. How do you think the weather impacts this game and what adjustments to the game plan do you expect to see from the Bills?
I’m going to be brutally candid about things, and I may go on a bit here – so forgive me. Look, I honestly believe the bravado that McDaniel is showcasing regarding the weather won’t play out well for him on Saturday night. It’s true that the Dolphins can’t practice in elements that replicate what much of the Northeast faces in December, so it’s a real challenge to adequately prepare. It’s also true that Lake Erie is a bona fide monster as a weather influencer. Lake-effect snow is almost never without hazards, though I believe they pale in comparison to the health effects of extreme heat.
We’ve heard that Tua Tagovailoa dealt with snow in Alabama and there was some talk of experiencing it in Maryland through workouts with his brother. But come one – Alabama snow is decidedly not Western New York Great Lakes snow, and a couple practices in Maryland will not prepare anyone for the unique systems that come off the lake. I’d imagine it’s sort of like trying to explain to someone what it’s like to experience a hurricane, when they have no experience with a proper comparison.
We saw what happened before Thanksgiving, where almost seven feet of snow fell on the Buffalo area and forced the Bills to play in Detroit. That’s not expected for Saturday, but a foot of snow is in play via some weather models. It’s absolutely going to alter the way the Dolphins operate on offense and defense. Snow favors the offense in ways – because skill players know where they’re headed, while the defense must react. But precipitation and wind make it more than difficult to throw and catch a football. I don’t expect the Bills to alter their gameplan much regardless of weather conditions. Allen is Allen and he’s confident throwing the ball in any sort of situation. He even insisted on doing so in the infamous wind game against the New England Patriots – where Allen went 15-of-30 for 145 yards and 1 TD, while Mac Jones went 2-of-3 for 19 yards and nada. While there’s a stat for everything under the sun, it’s interesting to learn that Tagovailoa hasn’t performed well when the temperature drops below 50, going winless in four tries with a passer rating of 61.4.
So for as much as Mike McDaniel and Tua Tagovailoa may want to downplay the elements, it very likely already has played a bit of head games with them this week. It’s going to make for very interesting television on Saturday night. I’d recommend heading to YouTube to watch the following highlights:
- Bills-Colts 2017 Snowvertime game;
- going further back to 1990 and enjoying the Bills-Dolphins 1990 Divisional playoff game in a blizzard;
- or this fun watch from 2002, when Ricky Williams eviscerated the Bills’ defense.
The Bills were also dealing with injuries all across the roster in Week 3 - both from in-game dehydrating/cramping issues and from more serious things. Micah Hyde, Dane Jackson, Ed Oliver, and Jordan Phillips were all ruled out of the game on the injury report, while Jake Kumerow, Christian Benford, Spencer Brown, Dawson Knox, Isaiah McKenzie, and Ryan Bates all missed at least some playing time during the game due to injuries. We should not see the heat injuries - maybe hypothermia and frostbite, but not heat issues - in this game, and the Bills seem healthier than they were back in Week 3. Who did we not see in the first game who could have a big impact on this game? And, do you expect anything out of Cole Beasley this week or will he need more time to get up to speed?
Tre’Davious White was still on Injured Reserve at that point, and he’s finally back to full speed on the field. His presence will certainly help the Bills this weekend. Jordan Poyer was also out in Week 3. Poyer’s an incredible safety who will undoubtedly have a huge impact on Saturday’s outcome. Buffalo’s secondary will look completely different to Tagovailoa compared to their meeting in September, and it doesn’t favor his chances to push the ball downfield. If defensive tackle Ed Oliver can suit up, he’s been an absolute handful for offensive lines this season. In the Dolphins’ favor is of course the Bills’ loss of edge rusher Von Miller and once again defensive tackle Jordan Phillips. However, the depth on the defensive line is so robust that those losses have been mitigated to this point by others such as defensive end Greg Rousseau and defensive tackle DaQuan Jones.
Bringing back Cole Beasley is a smart football move by general manager Brandon Beane. While with the Bills initially, Beasley would come out of nowhere in the biggest moments of a game to move the chains. He’s an incredible route runner and he has an uncanny way of reading defensive coverages to diagnose the sweet spots in between the sticks. But will he have a profound impact in Week 15? It’s difficult to know at this point. Yes, Beasley played with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a couple weeks this season, but he quickly had enough of Tom Brady and retired. (Can you blame him?) He’s apparently been playing basketball to maintain endurance and explosiveness, but he needs to be up to speed with the nuances of offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey’s play calls. It’s the same offense, essentially, but called differently than prior seasons.
The Bills offense gets a lot of love, probably mostly because of Allen, but the defense is still a strong unit as well. They are currently ninth in the league in overall defense and fourth against the run, but they are 19th against the pass. While the weather will likely impact the passing games for both teams, why the disparity? How are teams attacking the Bills through the air?
I’d chalk the disparity up to the unsettled nature of the CB2 position, and to the absence of Tre’Davious White until Thanksgiving Day. Throw in losing Micah Hyde for the season in Week 2 and Jordan Poyer missing four games, and it spells trouble as players who normally wouldn’t play significant snaps are suddenly thrust into featured roles.
Beyond those injuries though, the situation at CB2 is still a real issue of concern. Head coach Sean McDermott has been coy in press conferences about rookie first-round cornerback Kaiir Elam sharing snaps on the field with Dane Jackson or alternating in recent weeks between a healthy scratch and active but riding the bench the entire game. It’s not clear what exactly, if anything, Elam has done wrong on the field — other than occasionally taking rookie lumps. But despite those, he’s played decent this season – to such a degree that their continued use of a clearly struggling Jackson is maddening. Elam has elite speed, but he’s in some sort of doghouse. He played lights out against Hill in Week 3, so hopefully he makes it back on the field Saturday night.
It’s possible that their other rookie cornerback, Christian Benford, was supposed to lock down the position, but plans changed due to him being injured several times this season. Whatever the situation is, it lacks clarity for everyone outside One Bills Drive. All we can do is speculate, and hope that things change for the better heading into the playoffs.
How are teams attacking the Bills through the air? Viciously targeting everyone other than White and Poyer, for sure. A lot of the profound issues (the Justin Jefferson catch, for example) can be attributed to players who don’t attempt to knock down the pass. There seems to be a bit of a trend with teams’ top receivers going off against the Bills, Sure, some of that can be attributed to rules that favor a passing league, while also noting that there are some elite wideouts in the NFL. At various points this season, teams have exploited the game-day roster in terms of injury replacements. You may recall that the Dolphins did so quite well using Jaylen Waddle on one key series of the second half in Week 3. Buffalo didn’t have anywhere near the right personnel to defend what Miami was dishing out at points of that game.
The line for this game is hovering around the Bills favored by seven points, according to DraftKings Sportsbook. That probably feels about right, between the weather maybe keeping the scoring down and the Dolphins’ offensive struggles the last two weeks - though Miami does seem to get up for a game against the Bills. How are you feeling about this line? Does Buffalo easily cover the spread or do you think Miami could keep this close (or - the right answer - pull off the upset win)?
I think it’s a fair line, but it is also important to note that the Bills haven’t been truly explosive on offense for some time now. The weather is going to play a huge role unless the lake pushes the storm in another direction. Interestingly, I believe that favors the Bills. While they’ve been dogged this season for lacking a traditionally dominant run game all season (and further back), they’re the only team in 2022 to rush for over 100 yards in each game. So if the Snow Miser shows up and puts a lid on the Allen & Diggs show, I feel confident they have the right personnel to win on the ground in a whiteout. Miami can keep it close if McDaniel takes the idea of heavy snow seriously and suddenly finds the running game he’s known for. If their offense continues to only run through Tagovailoa/Hill/Waddle, they could be in for a long day. The question could become: “How good is the Dolphins’ kicker in snow and wind?”
Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.