The Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills, rivals in the AFC East, have yet to play each other this season but will battle twice over the final three weeks of the regular season.
Buffalo (7-6) will host Miami (6-7) on Sunday in a game with playoff implications.
The Dolphins will host the Bills in the season finale, but if Miami loses this Sunday, its slim playoff chances will all but vanish.
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The matchup figures to be even, although the Bills are more familiar with what should be brutal weather for many Dolphins player. The forecast is a high of 36 degrees, a low of 2 degrees, and snow.
Quarterback play should be another key.
While Jay Cutler is coming off his best performance of the season in the Dolphins’ 27-20 upset win over the New England Patriots on Monday night, the Bills aren’t exactly sure who will be behind center.
Rookie Nathan Peterman, a fifth-round pick out of Pitt, has started twice this season, including last week in Buffalo’s 13-7 overtime win over the Indianapolis Colts in snowy conditions.
However, Peterman left that game with a suspected concussion, and he had practiced this week only on a limited basis through Wednesday. He has a few more tests to pass to gain medical clearance and is highly questionable for Sunday.
Bills veteran quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who has started 11 games this season but sat out Sunday due to a knee injury, looked a lot more mobile during this week’s practices.
Taylor believes there is a good chance he will play this week, which is very good news for the Bills because their only other option is Joe Webb, who has thrown just seven passes this year.
“It feels good — it’s just pain tolerance,” Taylor said when asked about his injury. “Since this happened, I haven’t had any setbacks.”
The Bills, as of now, hold one of two AFC wild-card playoff spots. The other spot is currently held by the 8-5 Tennessee Titans.
Miami is one game behind Buffalo but would also have to hurdle the Baltimore Ravens (7-6) and the Los Angeles Chargers (7-6). In addition, the Oakland Raiders have the same 6-7 record as Miami.
That’s a lot of traffic for the Dolphins to weave through if they want to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
On the other hand, the win over first-place Patriots and star quarterback Tom Brady gave the Dolphins a boost of confidence.
“It seems like guys are walking around different,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “It seems like they feel good about what we’ve got going on.”
Among those good things on Monday were holding the Patriots to 25 rushing yards and pitching a shutout while defending New England on third downs, as the Patriots were 0-for-11.
In addition, Miami won the turnover battle 2-0 and hit or sacked Brady eight times.
“It was a good win for us,” Gase said, “but if we lose (to the Bills), nobody is really going to (care).”
Buffalo has its own issues.
Besides the question mark at quarterback, Bills wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin aggravated his knee injury in last week’s game. He tried to practice this week but was very limited, and his absence would be a major loss.
The Bills could look to get more passes to tight end Charles Clay, the ex-Dolphin who has made 34 grabs for 389 yards and two touchdowns this season.
Buffalo’s biggest weapon, however, is running back LeSean McCoy, who has rushed for 1,007 yards, five touchdowns and a 4.2-yard average this season. He has also caught 48 passes for 304 yards and one touchdown.
It was McCoy’s 21-yard run in overtime on a third-and-2 play up the middle that beat the Colts last week. McCoy had 156 yards rushing in that game, averaging 4.9 yards despite snowy conditions.
Taylor, if he is healthy, is another running threat with 334 yards and three touchdowns this season.
Miami, which found its short-passing game on Monday, will be challenged to move the chains if the weather becomes an issue.
Cutler owns a 6-5 record as a starter this season, completing 64.1 percent of his passes. He has thrown for 18 touchdowns while getting intercepted 11 times.
His main receiving targets are possession receiver Jarvis Landry (88 catches, 745 yards, eight touchdowns) and deep threat Kenny Stills (50 catches, 751 yards, six touchdowns). Running back Kenyan Drake has emerged since Jay Ajayi was traded, rushing for 120 and 114 yards the past two weeks.