I won’t lie - it’s took a lot to muster up the energy to write this week’s Preview & Prediction article. The utter obliteration of the Miami Dolphins at the hands of the Baltimore Ravens took a lot out of me. So much, in fact, that I’ve been unable to bring myself to look at any social media or other reporting on last Sunday’s sledgehammer to the gut. I wouldn’t have thought that a single game could atomize all the goodwill that the 2023 Dolphins had rebuilt in me, but here we are. The blowout loss was bad enough, but the injuries added to the insult put me in a deep funk. It also dropped my prediction record another notch:
driftinscotty’s 2023 Straight Up Predictions
|My Straight Up Season Record
|My Straight Up Season Record
But we get back up off the mat and try again, right?
Regardless of the current physical and emotional state of the team, the Dolphins have a chance to win back much of the ample faith that was lost in Baltimore last week. They host the despised Buffalo Bills in primetime on Sunday, with a chance to win the AFC East and the #2 seed in the conference. A win over a Bills team that has utterly dominated them for a half-decade would be a huge step towards repairing the mass destruction suffered at the hands of the Ravens.
Normally, I provide all sorts of season stats for each team to compare them. I’m throwing that out for this matchup, though, since we all know that this game is not about anything either team did back in September, October, or even November. Any weird ups or downs that happened back then are irrelevant at this point. On top of that, Buffalo is a wildly quirky team that almost defies normal analysis. More on this later.
For now, I want to look at what these teams have done in their most recent three games to see what might be in store for this Week 18 marquee matchup.
Dolphins’ Last 3 Weeks
I won’t get way into the weeds here, since we all know our Dolphins and the games have been broken down thoroughly by the other excellent contributors and fans on this site. Just a quick recap:
Week 15 vs Jets: Miami completely dominated New York on the back of a fantastic defensive performance, shutting out the hapless Jets’ offense while Tua and the offense put together a steady if not spectacular performance that resulted in a 30-0 win. It was an impressive showing for a team that was still missing several key starters, particularly along the offensive line and in the defensive backfield.
Week 16 vs Cowboys: The Fins gutted out a nice 22-20 win on a last-second field goal, marking their first win over a “quality” opponent all season. It was another solid showing by the defense over one of the best offenses in the NFL, with the Fins’ offense again doing just enough to come away with the victory. At this point, all arrows were pointing up for our guys.
Week 17 at Ravens: Just a disaster. Despite getting back ace free safety Jevon Holland, the defense was crushed in a way that I honestly did not think was even possible since the return of Jalen Ramsey back in week 8. From that point right up through the Cowboys game, the defense had been playing like a top-5 group in the league. Well, Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense took that reputation and used it as a sweat rag, dropping 56 points on them in such an effortless fashion that I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t help that the offense, after a solid start to the game, could barely get itself together. Tua was pressured a ton and had a few bad misthrows (along with some excellent ones), his receivers were dropping balls, and the run game had to be abandoned early due to the massive deficit. The highly questionable decision by Mike McDaniel to leave the starters on the field late in an unwinnable game also yielded the worst possible result: the loss of stud pass rusher Bradley Chubb for the rest of this season (and likely part of 2024) due to a blown ACL. It wasn’t just the team falling off a cliff, but then also having an atom bomb dropped on the scattered carcasses.
Bills’ Last 3 Weeks
Week 15: The week before they came to Miami and lost, the Dallas Cowboys went up to Buffalo and got embarrassed. Eschewing their usual offensive strategy, the Bills went away from running the offense through Josh Allen and simply ran the ball down Dallas’ throats. They amassed a whopping 266 rushing yards, allowing Allen to take a game-long breather during which he only threw the ball 15 times, completing merely seven of them for 94 yards. Final score: 31-10, and the second half wasn’t close at all.
Week 16: The Bills went to LA to face a completely lost and massively injured Chargers squad, and Buffalo toggled itself into its infamous “play with your food” mode. The Chargers, somewhat energized by a new (interim) head coach and a circle-the-wagons vibe, played hard behind backup QB Easton Stick, getting out to a 10-0 lead on Buffalo. Josh Allen had a pretty pedestrian game overall, looking rather shaky early on. Still, he put together enough big throws and timely runs to help get his team on track. Neither the offense nor defense ever developed a full flow against LA, but they did enough to eventually get Easton Stick to regress into looking more like a bargain version of Gardner Minshew. This, in turn, allowed the Bills to take a 21-13 lead in the 3rd quarter. The Chargers chipped their way back into the game, thanks to a couple of Buffalo turnovers, and LA field goaled their way to a 22-21 lead with under six minutes left. True to form, the Buffalo offense put their game faces on, steadily drove down the field while gobbling up most of the remaining time, and hit a field goal with under 30 seconds left, ultimately holding on and winning 24-22.
Week 17: Last week, the Bills hosted the lowly Patriots. It was another weird game where the Bills did nearly everything they could to hand a win to the visitors. Fortunately for Buffalo, the 2023 Pats are way better at executing the “here, you take the W” strategy. New England ran the opening kickoff back for a TD, and then forced a 3-and-out on the next series. Pats QB Bailey Zappe then took that early momentum and hurled it right back to Buffalo with a knucklehead interception that gave the Bills a short field to work with, resulting in a field goal. The two teams exchanged punts after that, with Zappe then throwing an even dumber interception deep in his own territory - this one ultimately converted into a Bills touchdown. Two plays later, Pats tight end Pharaoh Brown lost a fumble, giving Buffalo yet another short field to work with, which the Bills turned into another three points. After an exchange of punts, a Pats miscommunication on a passing route led to a pick-six for Buffalo. New England got it together on the following drive for a TD, putting the score at 20-14 Bills at the half. The second half was essentially: Bills touchdown to get the score to 27-14. Exchange of punts. New England touchdown to make it 27-21, and then both teams’ offenses sputtering until the Bills were able to grind down the remaining five-plus minutes for a somewhat sloppy win.
This is normally where I take what I saw in the opponent’s most recent games to suss out what the Fins will be dealing with. But this is the Bills. They defy analysis based on such methods. Time and time again in the last five seasons, Buffalo will look like a barely-average team for several weeks, and then turn into a Madden cheat code team when they play Miami. It’s unreal. They’re like that super smart kid in high school who will blow off lower-stakes homework assignments and projects for the entire year and then absolutely ace the SAT to get into Princeton. For our purposes, it has led to the Bills being 10-1 against the Dolphins in their last 11 meetings, with that one loss being the “Swelter Bowl” in September last season. You know - the one where the Bills outgained us 497 yards to 212 but still lost the game 21-19 because half their team was carted off with heat exhaustion in the second half. That one flukey (but satisfying) win aside, they have owned this team. And if you haven’t seen Josh Allen’s career numbers against Miami, do yourself and favor and don’t look - it’s downright depressing. I’ll have a few final thoughts on this towards the end of this article, but let’s have a look at the unit matchups, just for cacas and chuckles.
Unit Matchups: Miami vs Buffalo
Before digging into this too deeply, I have to acknowledge the injury situation. Earlier in the week, I was in a full panic, with roughly 17,000 current, former, and future Dolphins players showing up on the injury reports. By Friday, things looked markedly better. Aside from the known absences of players now on IR, including Chubb and several other key starters, the main loss will be Xavien Howard. Everyone else who had been on the list looks like a full go, including the returns of right guard Robert Hunt and linebacking captain Jerome Baker.
The only issue here is that Buffalo is noticeably healthier. Aside from the several players who have been on IR for several weeks already, the only “regular” player who might miss the game is center Mitch Morse. Otherwise, this Bills team is in about as good a shape as a team can be in week 18.
How do the units compare?
Dolphins Offense vs Buffalo Defense: The Bills’ defense is still very good, despite losing guys like Matt Milano and Tre’Davious White for the season. Monster interior lineman Daqoun Jones made his return last week, solidifying a strong front seven that bullies opposing lines and harasses QBs with extreme prejudice. Tua is still very good against the blitz, and there is still enough reasonably healthy talent on the offense to mitigate this to an extent. However, the Bills go to great lengths to ensure that they don’t give up big plays - something that was the calling card of the Dolphins in the first couple months of the season. With Robert Hunt back on the line and Terron Armstead and Austin Jackson locking down the tackle spots, I think the Dolphins will be able to move the ball OK, though it’s not going to be easy. Buffalo’s defense is quite adept at sniffing out trick plays and maintaining discipline - a vulnerability of weaker defenses that McDaniel often exploits. This one is going to be a gut-check of the offense to see if they can power through a relentless defense. Slight advantage: Bills
Dolphins Defense vs Buffalo Offense: This is still where my real concern lies. If this were four to eight weeks ago, I would fully expect our defense to keep something of a lid on Josh Allen and the ever-dangerous, often dynamic Bills offense in ways they just weren’t prepared to do in that week 4 game in Buffalo. But the injuries on defense, coupled with how we saw that group get absolutely shredded by Baltimore last week have me seriously worried. It’s not even that Buffalo’s offense has looked all that great the last couple of months. They haven’t. Josh Allen has recently looked more like he did for the long middle part of last year, when he was battling a shoulder injury. He still throws a great deep ball, but his accuracy on short and middle passes has been really suspect. All that said, he’s been able to do just enough at the right times, and he’s still a bulldozer of a runner who’s nearly impossible to bring down in the backfield. WIthout Jaelen Phillips or Bradley Chubb to contain the edges, it’s very difficult for me to see how the defense is going to keep the Bills in check for more than a handful of brief periods. Advantage: Bills
Special Teams, Coaching, and Other Factors
Special Teams: This is actually an area where the Fins are probably better than the Bills. It’s not by a large margin, but Buffalo has had a few special teams gaffes of late. Miami’s unit improved steadily through November and early December, and they’re respectable to good in every aspect of the kicking game at this point. Advantage: Dolphins
Coaching: There are still a lot of things I like about Mike McDaniel, and my jury is still out on him. Last week was his worst week as an NFL head coach, to be sure, in terms of what unfolded on gameday. However, he’s built up enough goodwill for me to give him the benefit of the doubt on his ability to rally the troops after a horrific loss. Sean McDermott is clearly superior right now, though. Though the wins haven’t often been clean or pretty, he has his team yet again charging hard through December and looking very much like a strong playoff team. Advantage: Bills
Locale: It’s in Miami, and the game got flexed to primetime, removing any chance that the sun, heat, and humidity will be there to lend a helping hand (I don’t like it, but I get it - this is the marquee game of the week, by far). Right now, the forecast is calling for a cool evening and light, steady rain through the day but stopping right before kickoff. No real advantage conveyed there. I have to say this, though - I have a sneaking suspicion that Bills fans are going to take over Hard Rock. Those fans are nuts, and they will travel. The local Dolphins fans? Not so nuts, and not so numerous. No shade on those Fins fans who do show up for the games and cheer on our team - you guys are great. There just aren’t enough of you to overpower a bunch of angry, northwestern New Yorkers who fly down in a frenzy. I heard it in their game against the Chargers in LA - it was essentially a Bills home game, over 2,000 miles away from Orchard Park.
Other Potential X-Factors: Things the Dolphins may have going for them include the need to redeem themselves after an awful loss. There’s also the fact that this team hasn’t lost back-to-back games all season, speaking to their ability to regroup and rebound. Still, I repeat: for literally five years straight, when the Bills play the Dolphins, they morph into another animal. An animal resembling King Kong after a gamma ray bath. Whatever they’ve done in the weeks or months before each game simply does not matter. Sports just work that way sometimes - one team will just have another team’s number for years, even if that other team is a good one. For the last couple of years, I’ve tried to ignore this, several times predicting plucky Dolphins wins where they overtake a vulnerable-looking Buffalo squad. Aside from that anomaly of a win in September of 2022, I’ve been wrong every time. Now, as long as Sean McDermott is the coach, Josh Allen is the QB, and the Bills have a relatively healthy roster, I have to face the fact that every ounce of mystical mojo is with Buffalo in this divisional rivalry.
Prediction: Bills 31, Dolphins 20
I think I’m going to throw up. I so desperately hope that I’m completely wrong about this. I hope that last week’s brutal loss to the Ravens was a really weird blip in what has otherwise been the most entertaining Dolphins season by the best Dolphins team in a really long time, and that our guys show the character and fortitude to beat the BIlls and win the AFC East for the first time since 2008. But my brain is telling my heart that it needs to hit the bench on this one. Until the Dolphins actually beat the Bills in a sustainable way that shows us that they can truly knock the bully down, I just can’t predict a win.
What are you all thinking out there, Fins fans? Is your outlook as bleak as mine, or do you see Mike McDaniel guiding our guys to a huge, rebound win this Sunday night? Add your comments below, and we’ll see where our heads are at.