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Frozen fish don't squish, but Western New Yorkers would be just as happy to crackle the mackerel in Orchard Park today.

A lot rides on this one game, and Buffalo Bills fans know it.

As the Bills and the Dolphins meet in Rich Stadium today, the AFC East championship and home-field advantage for the playoffs are up for grabs.

While there is a scenario -- a Miami loss and Buffalo win next weekend -- that could make today's game meaningless, no diehard fan here is thinking that way.

In fact, most are hoping for an end to a springlike December in time to freeze the filets off a Dolphin wide receiver.

"I'm going to Mass at 10:30, and I'll be honest with you -- I'm going to light a candle for the Buffalo Bills," said Mike Morgan of Lackawanna.

"I got a shot and a beer bet going that we'd win in New York, lose to Miami and then win in Washington," he said. "But now I got a different idea. I think the kids are going to play."

The AFC's unofficial "Game of the Year" has been building excitement here this week despite the last-minute Christmas rush and preoccupation with tensions in the Middle East.

Even the weather should make it interesting. Buffalo, which has been pushing 60-degree temperatures this week, will see the leading edge of a "Yukon Express" cold front sometime today as winter arrives with a flourish.

Depending on the front's timing, Rich Stadium could see a mix of rain, freezing rain and bursts of snow, all borne on brisk lake winds. Jim Kelly won't have to ice his knee, and Dan Marino could need all the Isotoners he can muster.

For the record, the National Weather Service forecast for Miami today calls for mostly sunny skies, a high in the low to mid 80s and gentle breezes.

"For us, things could start in the mid 30s and get right down into the 20s during the game," said Buffalo weather service office meteorologist Ed Reich, who claims no relation to Bills quarterback Frank Reich.

"At times it'll be a mix of snow, sleet, and you could see some freezing drizzle or freezing rain. A lot of the guys from this office are going."

Early today, the guys at Paul Robel's Service Station at Ridge and Abbott Roads plan to have two cars decorated for the contest and parked where fans en route to the stadium can see them. They made some signs earlier, but some overenthusiastic fans stole them.

Mark Favata of the American Bar & Grill and Sports Cafe at the Ramada Inn on Transit Road in Lancaster, said one outcome of the day's game is certain -- "an overflow crowd" for the sports bar that can handle about 500 patrons.

Extra people and extra service bars are being set up.

"By noon, we will be pretty much full," said the sports director for the bar that had a "Buffalo Is All Reich" party Friday.

The Spinnaker Lounge at the Sheraton Harborfront Hotel in Dunkirk also expects brisk business during the game, and Callahan's at 5450 Southwestern Blvd. in Hamburg had folks standing in line late Saturday and a capacity crowd of 250 booked for brunch today.

"It will be a zoo," said Philip Ortiz of the Big Tree Inn, about half a mile from Rich Stadium at S4277 Abbott Road, Orchard Park. "After the game, we will have a line waiting to get in. You stock the coolers more and hire a couple more people."

Leonard Falsone, a project manager for Shell Oil, came home from New Orleans to catch the game -- and to visit his family for Christmas.

He said he had his parents get him tickets for Sunday's game "after the Dolphins ran over the Bills in the first game" early in the season.

"The last time we came back for Christmas, it was for the Houston game two years ago," he said. "We figured we didn't have to come up last year because the Bills were going to come to New Orleans to play in the Super Bowl."

Who will win?

"The Bills," Falsone said. "Reich will somehow come through."

He didn't specify whether he meant Frank the quarterback, or Ed the weatherman.

Here's luck, to both.

Dear Santa:
We know it's a tad early, but let's not quibble. We're not asking for much -- just one point more than you give the Miami Dolphins today.

Of course, if you want to make it a blowout, that would be fine, too. We've been good this year, and the Bills have stopped all that bickering -- and besides, Buffalo's always been good for your image.

Yours truly,
Bills Fans

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