Dolphins' 30-7 victory three months ago in Miami gave them a 35-13-1 lead and snapped a six-game Buffalo winning streak in series. Miami went 20-0 against Buffalo in 70s, but advantage was only 11-9 in '80s. Dolphinshave not won here since Nov. 16, 1986 when they rallied from 21-10 halftime deficit to win, 34-24, as Dan Marino passed for 404 yards, a stadium record, and four touchdowns.
Bills on offense
The great imponderable is how having quarterback Frank Reich play will affect the Bills' offense. Before Jim Kelly was hurt last week, the Bills were in fine tune. . . . Way to beat the Dolphins is with power football. When Reich beat them last year, the Bills marched 76 yards in 15 plays for TD on their first possession. Reich threw only one pass. Can Buffalo do that again? With exception of first Jets game, when they spread defense then ran inside for 292 yards, Bills have gotten away from that style of game. . . . Dolphins did not stand up at all to power game of Giants (131 yards rushing), Raiders (177), Redskins (222) and Eagles (257), but have defensive speed and quickness to play with finesse teams. . . . Key to defense is linebacker John Offerdahl, who one way or another has been involved in one-third of his unit's plays. It would be more except that Offerdahl comes out on passing downs when Miami makes wholesale changes. This could cause Bills to think about using no-huddle in some portion of game to keep Miami's run defenders on the field. . . . Miami defense has some talent but mainly it's playing well because of confidence and enthusiasm.
Dolphins on offense
Despite all the hue and cry about Miami's running game, the Dolphins really don't have a dependable one. Miami was held to combined rushing total of 87 yards in their three losses with Sammie Smith gaining only 17 yards in 18 carries in those games. Smith is big, strong and gifted but many believe Marc Logan a harder and more dependable runner. Miami running game would get a huge lift if blocking fullback Tony Paige is ready to return. . . . Key to the offense is Marino. Bills feel Marino is having his best season although his passing numbers are pale in comparison to some of his earlier years. Reason: the way he's controlled games and clutch plays he's made (Dolphins are converting 42.2 of third-down plays and 81.8 of fourth-down plays). . . . Mark Clayton is due back this week after suffering a partial tear of right medial collateral ligament six weeks ago. The other Marks Brother, Mark Duper, leads team with 46 receptions for 709 yards and is having best season since 1986. Injuries have sent Dolphins culling free agent market for wide receivers all season. They have used eight, including ex Bear and Cowboy Dennis McKinnon, the most recent acquisition. . . . Line matchup to watch: Miami's rookie LT Richmond Webb, a No. 1 pick and a Pro Bowl selection, against Bruce Smith.
A reasonably healthy Will Wolford is needed at LT against Miami Pro Bowl selection Jeff Cross. . . . Bills have scored a TD on their first drive last five games and seven of the last eight games, and on their first two drives the last two games. . . . Free safety Mark Kelso probably will be active again, but it remains to be seen if he will play except in an emergency. . . . With Rick Tuten, Buffalo punting situation has improved since first Miami game, when John Nies had kicks of 31, 32 and 34 yards which cost him his job. . . . There are five new Bills since first Miami game (Gary Baldinger, Carwell Gardner, Clifford Hicks, David Pool and Tuten). . . . Bruce Smith, threatening NFL single season sack record, hasn't had a sack in his last five games against Miami.
Teams have started doubling Cross more and, as a result, his sack total has dropped precipitously. After getting 9 in first eight games he has 1 1/2 in the last six. . . . Although tight end Ferrell Edmunds has been target of hometown boo birds because of numerous drops and holding penalties, he made Pro Bowl mainly on strength of five-catch, 76-yard game against Seattle last week. . . . Dolphins have been taking out four linebackers and two defensive linemen on passing downs and inserting DE Brian Sochia, DT Karl Wilson, LB E.J. Junior and DBs Kerry Glenn, Rodney Thomas and Liffort Hobley. Hobley was in linebacker position. He won't play today (injured reserve with knee injury). When Hobley went out of Seattle game last seek, starting LB Hugh Green stayed in. . . . Seven Dolphins, including Sochia, were not on active roster for first Bills game.
Tough one to call because no one knows how much loss of Kelly will affect Bills' offense. Look for Buffalo to grab early lead and hang on against Marino passes in wild finish. PREDICTION: BILLS, 24-23.
-- MILT NORTHROP