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The banged-up Miami Dolphins play their final home game of the season Sunday against the division rival Buffalo Bills. Miami's razor-thin chances of making the playoffs depend on a number of other games going their way, but none of that matters if the Dolphins can't beat the Bills, losers of two straight games.
Miami will have to do it without a number of key players, including starting WR Davone Bess (ruled out for the second straight week with a back injury), kicker Dan Carpenter, and potentially leading receiver Brian Hartline (who is questionable with a back injury).
"It's a demanding game and unfortunately guys get injured in this game," Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said Friday. "That's just the landscape of the profession."
When the Dolphins have the ball: With Bess and maybe Hartline out, the Dolphins are expected to lean heavily on RB Reggie Bush, who is just 105 yards away from topping 1,000 yards rushing for the second straight year. His backup, Daniel Thomas, was placed on injured reserve this week, but rookie Lamar Miller may be the only offensive skill player as dynamic as Bush.
Untested receivers Marlon Moore, Rishard Matthews, Armon Binns, and Marcus Thigpen will be thrown into the fire with rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. When these two teams last met, Tannehill was held to just 141 yards passing with two interceptions, while the entire offense could only muster 60 yards rushing.
Mario Williams, Buffalo's $100 million defensive end, has come on as of late with 10.5 sacks. Even so, the Bills are third-to-last in run defense, giving Miami an opportunity to control the game with its pounding rushing attack.
When the Bills have the ball: Buffalo has excelled in the run game, even with top running back Fred Jackson on injured reserve. Backup CJ Spiller has filled in admirably, rushing for 1,047 yards on an eye-popping average of 6.5 yards per carry.
Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a rougher go in 2012, completing 62% of his passes but throwing 15 interceptions (sixth-most in the NFL) and averaging just 6.6 yards per attempt (28th among qualifying passers).
The Dolphins will be missing LB Koa Misi, out with an ankle injury. DE Cameron Wake already has 14 sacks this season, tying his career best from 2010. Miami's defense did not give up a touchdown in the teams' last meeting, holding Buffalo to four field goals but forcing zero turnovers.
Who has the edge? Despite missing many key players (including kicker Dan Carpenter), the Dolphins have more talent, and their strengths (run defense and rushing offense) should give them an edge.
The pick: Dolphins 17-Bills 9
Details: Buffalo Bills (5-9) at Miami Dolphins (6-8)
TV: CBS, 1:00 pm, Don Criqui, Randy Cross
Line: Dolphins by 4.5
Previously: Buffalo won 19-14 in Week 11