Dolphins look to turn fortune around vs. Bills in pivotal matchup
With each passing week, every game for the Miami Dolphins has represented another opportunity to improve their record towards their goal of making the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
Now it’s different. Thursday’s home game against the Buffalo Bills is truly a must-win situation.
Both teams suffered tough losses last week and own identical records at 5-4 for second place in the AFC East behind the New England Patriots. Neither team wants to slip back to .500 in a crowded playoff race. Miami has been defeated three straight times by their division rival, with their most recent 29-10 loss on Sept. 14 giving Buffalo the crucial tiebreaker, and can’t afford to be swept by them for a second consecutive season.
"It’s a very important game," said Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin. "I said to the team in the locker room after the game in Detroit that it is an AFC East game. It is the middle of November already. It’s hard to believe. If you want to be a great football team, you have to play great in your division. This is a big game. It’s a big division game. It’s a home game. You have to play well."
The Bills lost a close contest 17-13 to the Kansas City Chiefs last Sunday to end their two-game winning streak but remain extremely confident that they will get a victory at Sun Life Stadium against the banged-up Dolphins.
"I ain’t going to lose no sleep, man," said Bills CB Leodis McKelvin following their loss to the Chiefs. "I’m just going to take (myself) home, put myself to sleep and get ready to play the Dolphins and beat that [expletive], point blank, period."
With a re-tooled offensive line protecting a hobbled quarterback Ryan Tannehill and running back Lamar Miller against a team that leads the NFL in sacks, Miami must somehow equal their effort two weeks ago against the San Diego Chargers to have any chance at victory, as well to keep their playoff hopes alive.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
QB Ryan Tannehill vs Bills defensive line
Tannehill has won just once against the Bills in his pro career. He can’t afford a second straight mediocre performance from the offense in his seventh appearance against them.
"Yeah, I hate losing," Tannehill said of his personal struggles against Buffalo. "I don’t play to come out and play close games and lose. You play to win. We haven’t played good football, I haven’t played my best football against them. It’s a big game for us to step up and do that, a night game on national TV. It’s a big opportunity for us."
To make matters worse, he’s dealing with sore shoulder and ankle issues in a shortened week. With his mobility in question, it could affect his entire performance against a fearsome defensive line.
Dolphins: Miami’s average points allowed per game of 19 points is currently the fifth-fewest in the NFL. Detroit’s 20 points scored last Sunday were the most allowed since Oct. 12 against the Green Bay Packers in Week 6.
Bills: Buffalo recorded six sacks last Sunday, with Marcell Dareus notching three of them, to lead the NFL with a total of 34 for the season.
Dolphins: With running back Lamar Miller limited to just 10 yards against the Lions because of a shoulder issue, the Dolphins ran for a season-low 50 yards. Though they still rank seventh in the NFL with 127.6 rushing yards per game, they were held to 80 against the Bills in Week 2.
Bills: If you think the Dolphins’ playoff drought is bad, just remind yourself that the Bills haven’t reached the postseason in 14 years. A second straight loss coming off their bye week could effectively make it 15.
Dolphins: Did not practice on Tuesday — G Daryn Colledge (back), CB Cortland Finnegan (ankle); Limited in practice — TE Charles Clay (knee), DE Dion Jordan (hamstring), RB Lamar Miller (shoulder), S Jimmy Wilson (hamstring), LB Koa Misi (ankle)
Bills: Did not practice on Tuesday — DE Jarius Wynn (knee); Limited in practice — CB Ron Brooks (groin), WR Marcus Easley (knee), RB Fred Jackson (groin), WR Marquise Goodwin (ribs)
DID YOU KNOW?
Despite their recent struggles vs. the Bills, the Dolphins lead the series 56-40-1 and are 31-16-1 at home.
"It’s different and I think a lot of the focus has been, as I’ve said before to the team, is we aren’t going to be able to practice Buffalo’s blitzes live with a fast speed like we would in a seven-day week. Conversely, our secondary and linebackers aren’t going to be practicing all of their pass concepts the same way. A lot of it has to be mental, has to be the film study and those types of things. It’s a little bit different, without a doubt." — Philbin on whether this week’s preparation is a challenge because of the shortened schedule.
"We don’t look at that for the most part. We just have to come out and do what we do best and that’s play football. We do the talking on the field." — Running back Lamar Miller on how he and the team look at comments from a Buffalo Bills player guaranteeing a win on Thursday.
"It’s going to be tough, but I’m willing to do it. I’m going to say it and I’m going to keep saying it, I’m going to do what the team needs me to do to try to help the team go out there and compete the best I can." — Ja’Wuan James on moving to left tackle.
The Dolphins will travel to Denver to face the Broncos next Sunday, Nov. 23 at 4:25 p.m.