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Film Preview: Will the Miami Dolphins Claim the AFC East this Sunday?

It’s hard to know what to make of this Dolphins team, but they do have some season trends working in their favor this Sunday.

Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills Photo by Bryan M. Bennett/Getty Images

This is a week to week league and the Miami Dolphins will need to rebound quickly from their worst defeat of the season if they want to secure the biggest win this franchise has seen in decades. This contest between the Dolphins and Bills will be for the AFC East title and the #2 seed going into the playoffs. The stakes are high and they’ll be playing in prime time again this season. If this Dolphins team is different than years past, we’ll know after this upcoming weekend.

Lets break down some keys to the game and look at how Miami can win this game...

Which Trends will Prevail?

This Dolphins team has looked like a different group at home (aside from the Tennessee collapse). So far in 2023/24, they’re 7-1 with a +138 point differential and the defense is only allowing an average of 16.9 points per game at Hard Rock Stadium (as opposed to 29.4 on the road). The Dolphins have only faced the Bills once at home over the last two seasons, and they beat them... while they dropped the other three games in Buffalo. They are fortunate that this pivotal showdown is occurring on their home turf.

There is one other trend that doesn’t work in Miami’s favor and that’s Fangio’s historical performances going up against Josh Allen and the Bills. Allen is 3-0 when facing a Fangio defense and is 64 of 90 (71%) for 864 yards, 8 TDs and 1 interception (a 126.3 passer rating). I think the game earlier this season is one that we can excuse as the defense struggled against everyone they faced. I was, however, surprised to see those numbers against his talented and established defense in Denver.

Protect Tua & Stick to the Run

In their last game against the Bills (and pretty much every game where the offense has struggled), they’ve not been able to keep Tua clean in the pocket. Some of that is just the circumstances they now find themselves in missing their entire interior offensive line (though there is hope that they get back right guard Robert Hunt for this game). It’s also a problem with the game script. If the defense falls behind early, they’re forced to pass at a higher clip and the opposing defense can pin their ears back.

In Buffalo, earlier this season, Tua was sacked four times and pressured on roughly a third of his dropbacks. Those numbers aren’t horrendous on their own, but when you factor in how quickly Tua typically get’s the ball out, they look worse. To beat this Bills team, they need to slow down the pass rush by running the football. With the pass protection as banged up as it is and while (likely) missing Jaylen Waddle, they are going to have a hard time winning a shoot out.

The same game plan they had in their last two wins (Jets & Cowboys) needs to prevail in this one. Play patiently on offense, run the football, and avoid the big mistakes. This is an experienced and disciplined Bills defense. If you start dropping back too much, their pass rush will start to get home and turnovers will happen... it’s inevitable.

Can the Defense Bounce Back?

This defense is coming off (arguably) their worst performance of the season. The Ravens and Lamar Jackson did just about whatever they wanted against this group. It was surprising to see from this defense as it had been one of the best in the NFL over the last couple months of the season. They lost Xavien Howard early in that game, but I don’t really think that would’ve made a massive difference.

Well prior to the Ravens dropping 56 on this group, their week four game against the Bills was rock bottom. They struggled to do just about anything in that game. The tackling was bad, they failed to cover on the back end, and the line of scrimmage was won by the Bills. At the time, the idea was that the defense (under a new scheme) just hadn’t gelled yet. And there is definitely some credence to that idea as they went on to be one of the better defenses in the NFL for the 2023 season.

This all begs the question: what will Fangio’s game plan look like for this contest? For starters, it should involve Jalen Ramsey shadowing Stefon Diggs (who torched them for 120 yards and three touchdowns in week 4). The Bills have some good secondary weapons with James Cook, Dalton Kincaid, Dawson Knox, and Gabe Davis but you have to pick your battles and letting Diggs cook you again is a recipe for disaster.

This defense also should consider bringing pressure more than they typically do. After losing Jaelan Phillips and Bradley Chubb, their primary edge rushers for this game are likely to be Andrew Van Ginkel, Emmanuel Ogbah, and Melvin Ingram. Maybe Ogbah and Ingram can turn the clocks back for an afternoon, but you can’t risk Allen having all day in the pocket.

Final Prediction

This would be the biggest win the Miami Dolphins have had in a few decades if they’re able to knock off the Buffalo Bills. It would mean a 12 win season (their most since 1990) and an AFC East title (their first since 2008). The Dolphins have been decimated by injuries, but there is still a path to victory in this game. In order for that to happen, their defense needs to bounce back after a tough performance against the Ravens and they need to keep Tua Tagovailoa clean in the pocket. This is a different team at home and they’ll find a way to knock off the Buffalo Bills in an ugly prime time game 21-17.