Even with a struggling offense and a poor home record, the Miami Dolphins remain in contention for a playoff spot.
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The Dolphins hope to improve their slim postseason chances by avoiding a third consecutive home loss and earning a season sweep of the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.
Though Miami (7-6) has alternated wins and losses in its last eight games and not won consecutive contests since the first two weeks of the season, it’s one of three teams sitting two games out of a wild-card spot in the AFC.
The Dolphins’ playoff hopes received a boost with a 10-6 win over the New York Jets last Sunday. Miami’s most realistic road to the postseason may be to catch the struggling Jets, who are 9-4.
Despite a season-low 131 yards – including just 30 passing yards – the Dolphins outlasted New York in rainy conditions to win their second straight road game.
"You win and lose as a team and I think that’s the thing that our guys understand," coach Tony Sparano told the Dolphins’ official website. "This is a team, they are a very close team, I mean they enjoy being with each other, they really do."
That could be a reason the Dolphins remain in playoff contention, and an attribute that might help them improve on a 1-5 home record.
Though the Dolphins have totaled 10 points in consecutive home losses to Chicago and Cleveland, they have seemingly winnable games against Buffalo (3-10) and Detroit in south Florida before closing the regular season at New England.
Miami has won four of five over the Bills, including two straight at home. The Dolphins opened the season with a 15-10 victory at Buffalo.
Miami’s Chad Henne was 21 of 34 for 182 yards in that contest. Even with star receiver Brandon Marshall back after missing two games with a hamstring injury, Henne was 5 of 18 for 55 yards against the Jets, although he did find Marshall for the game’s only touchdown.
"We have to play better on offense," said Sparano, whose team ranks 31st in the NFL with 17.3 points per game.
Henne has not been much better at home of late, throwing eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions while losing six straight starts at Sun Life Stadium.
Miami might choose to keep the ball on the ground against a Buffalo defense ranked last in the league giving up 165.8 rushing yards per contest.
Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams combined for 127 yards and a touchdown on 31 carries versus Buffalo on Sept. 12. Though Brown has averaged a disappointing 49.5 yards per game this season, he’s run for 250 and three TDs in his last three against the Bills.
The Dolphins’ defense has managed to make up for some of the deficiencies on offense by allowing 13.8 points and 264.4 total yards per game in the last five.
Though Miami held the Bills to a season-low 166 total yards in the season opener, Buffalo has averaged 325.6 while winning three of five.
"This Buffalo Bill team coming in here is going to be ready to go here and they’re getting better and better," Sparano said.
Fred Jackson rushed for 112 yards on 29 carries and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw a touchdown pass in his 14th straight game as the Bills avoided a third straight defeat with a 13-6 home win over Cleveland last Sunday.
"We’re not fighting for a lot but pride right now," Jackson said. "We want to come in and finish the season strong."
Fitzpatrick, four shy of matching Jim Kelly’s team record for consecutive games with a TD pass, was 17 of 26 for 246 yards with a touchdown and an interception in his only appearance versus Miami, a 31-14 Bills win Nov. 29, 2009.
Jackson has rushed for more than 100 yards in three of his last five games. He’s gotten just 28 carries in his last three versus Miami, but has managed 134 yards and two TDs.
Buffalo is without veteran receiver Lee Evans after he suffered a season-ending ankle injury against Cleveland.
The Bills, 1-5 on the road, last won at Miami 13-10 on Nov. 11, 2007.