Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday at New Era Field:
1. Keep Cameron Wake and the Dolphins' pass rush from controlling the game.
The Bills' biggest problem is their passing game, which, even before the knee injury that sidelined Tyrod Taylor for Sunday's overtime victory against Indianapolis, has failed to find consistency.
A coach's decision and injuries have caused the Bills to line up with three quarterbacks, including rookie Nathan Peterman and third-stringer Joe Webb. None has been effective enough to diminish the conversation about finding an answer elsewhere after the season, but they also haven't been helped by the supporting cast. Mediocre or unhealthy receivers have been one problem.
Poor pass protection is another trouble spot that could pose a huge problem Sunday. The Dolphins are capable of making life miserable for Taylor, especially if Wake is able to capitalize from the edge on the extra blocking attention Ndamukong Suh draws from his tackle spot.
The Bills have to make a point of finding success with quick, three-step drop passes, or this will be yet another long day for Taylor at home, where he has had some of the worst performances of his career this season.
2. Don't let Jay Cutler do another Tom Brady imitation.
Cutler had a remarkable performance in leading the Dolphins to a 27-20 victory against the New England Patriots last Monday night. Not only did he throw for 263 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, he also did an excellent job of using rollouts and scrambles to befuddle the Patriots' pass rush.
Cutler showed tremendous pocket awareness, especially with the Dolphins often compromising their pass protection by going with empty backfields, and was accurate with his throws.
He showed command on the offense, frequently calling audibles to adjust to what the Patriots' complex and ever-changing defense was showing before the snap. That, of course, should be more difficult for Cutler to do over the din of Sunday's crowd.
3. Win what figures to be a highly challenging coaching battle against Adam Gase.
Gase is an exceptional tactician. The Dolphins have had their issues, and he shoulders some of the blame for their being under .500.
But he has managed to get more than could be expected from the emergency replacement he signed at quarterback, Cutler, after losing starter Ryan Tannehill to a season-ending knee injury in August.
Gase also was the decided winner in a battle of coaching wits with the master, Bill Belichick, on Monday night. The Dolphins had answers for the variety of fronts and coverages the Patriots showed, and Gase even used staples of the New England offense — such as empty formations and sending running backs on deep pass routes — that Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia struggled to stop.
The Dolphins' defense also was able to confound Brady with pressure from all angles and coverages that took away a group of targets weakened by the suspension of tight end Rob Gronkowski. The Bills' pass-catchers don't stack up to the Patriots', even without Gronk.
It will take offensive coordinator Rick Dennison's very best scheming to help open things up for the passing game.
4. LeSean McCoy must gain far more than the 39 rushing yards he needs to reach 10,000 for his career.
It doesn't look as if New Era Field will be covered with as much snow as last Sunday. Therefore, McCoy doesn't figure to have the same edge in footing he enjoyed against the Colts.
Still, he and his offensive line must find the continuity the running game has lacked. Does he need to have another 150-plus-yard game, including a 20-plus-yard touchdown? Not necessarily.
But if the Bills are to have any chance of getting the better of a defense that ranks 16th overall and 15th against the run, McCoy has to again create some of his own running room with ankle-breaking cuts and open-field acceleration. The line also has to do its share by winning enough battles with Suh and others in the front seven to give McCoy running room.
5. Don't let Kenyan Drake do a Jay Ajayi imitation.
Lest anyone forget, the last two times these teams met, the Bills' defense allowed Ajayi to gain 200 yards in each game. Though no one has done that against Buffalo this season, the unit is performing worse overall and ranks near the bottom of the NFL against the run.
And although Ajayi was shipped to the Philadelphia Eagles earlier in the season, the Dolphins still have a dynamic and powerful runner in the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Drake, who has rushed for 434 yards and is averaging 4.8 yards per carry. He explodes well through the hole and possesses a great deal of open-field speed.
The Bills must be especially disciplined with maintaining gap control, or Drake could easily gash them the way Ajayi did.