With the bye week in the rear-view mirror, the Miami Dolphins return to action Sunday with their first divisional game of the season. Coming into Sun Life Stadium are the Buffalo Bills, one of the few franchises that has had a worse decade than Miami.
Though the 2-4 Bills have not made the playoffs since the Clinton administration, Miami head coach Joe Philbin refuses to take them lightly. "They are a very athletic team," he said Wednesday. "They have good speed, even their front people on defense are quick and athletic. It’s a quality football team."
A win would cheer Dolfans, who have seen their team lose two in a row after a promising 3-0 start. Miami has a lot of problems to fix, though, and this week will be the first opportunity in two weeks to see if Philbin and his staff can right the ship.
When the Dolphins have the ball: The Dolphins' offense has had its ups and downs, but it has been mostly down thus far. Miami leads the NFL in sacks allowed per game, and the running game (a strength in 2012) is in the bottom third of the league. Paradoxically, though, Buffalo struggles defending the deep pass. They have given up 13 receptions of 30 yards or more this season.
The Bills could be the salve that Miami needs. Buffalo is near the bottom of the league in rush defense and 22nd in pass defense, giving up 395 yards per game altogether. But the Bills excel in the pass rush, racking up 21 sacks in 6 games.
DE Mario Williams already has 8 sacks, while LB Kiko Alonso leads the team with 4 interceptions. It will take a herculean effort from Miami's offensive line to keep QB Ryan Tannehill's jersey clean on Sunday. Look for the Dolphins to go to RB Lamar Miller early and often, along with screen passes and quick slants to counteract Buffalo's pass rush.
When the Bills have the ball: Buffalo though they had their signal-caller of the future when they started rookie QB EJ Manuel in week 1, but his knee injury in Week 5 has forced the Bills to call on South Florida native Thaddeus Lewis, who made just his second career start last week.
Though Buffalo's passing game has been shoddy (only 4 teams have fewer passing yards), they are one of the best rushing teams in the NFL thanks to RBs CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson. They are averaging 4.2 and 4.6 yards per carry, respectively.
Miami has not given up many yards on the ground, but that is because opponents have had huge success through the air. The Dolphins have given up 287.6 yards passing per game, even though opponents are completing just 60% of their passes.
Who has the edge? Miami's run defense will be put to the test, but if they can take the lead early and force the Bills into a pass-first offense, their chances of victory are good. This one will not be as lopsided as the betting lines indicate, however.
The Pick: Dolphins 21-Bills 17
Details: Buffalo Bills (2-4) at Miami Dolphins (3-2)
TV: CBS, 1:00pm, Bill Macatee, Steve Tasker
Line: Dolphins by 7.5
Previously: Miami won 24-10 at home in Week 16 of 2012