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BILLS' DRIVE FOR FIVE BEGINS AGAINST DOLPHINS

Mathematically, the Buffalo Bills are still alive in the wide-open AFC playoff race.

Realistically, the Bills may have to win the AFC East to end their two-year playoff drought.

It also might require the Bills to run the table, in other words, win their last five games. That appears to be a tall order for a team that hasn't won five straight in a season since 1998.

But the Bills (5-6) have to start somewhere, and the first day of the rest of their season begins today when they host the AFC East-leading Miami Dolphins (7-4) in Ralph Wilson Stadium.

The Bills are seeking a season sweep over their division archrival, something they haven't done since 1999. The Dolphins had won four straight in the series before Buffalo rolled to a 23-10 win in Miami on Oct. 20.

A lot has changed since then.

The win over the Dolphins was the second of three straight wins for the Bills, who were seen as a major player in the AFC at the time.

But the Bills are now reeling courtesy of a season-high three-game losing streak that has many fans and media writing them off as a playoff contender.

The Bills aren't ready to give in yet. Still, they can't afford any more setbacks. The Bills' season isn't over if they don't win today, but they probably can start thinking about their vacation plans if they don't.

Meanwhile, the Dolphins are very much alive, though it didn't look that way a month ago.

Dolphins fans, who have booed quarterback Jay Fiedler mercilessly over the years, can't wait for his return from a broken right thumb.

Fiedler isn't ready yet, so the Bills will see backup Ray Lucas again. That's good news to Bills fans, who saw Lucas throw four interceptions and lose two fumbles in the previous meeting.

Lucas has gotten progressively better since that dreadful day, not that he could get any worse. He has helped lead the Dolphins to back-to-back wins and a one-game lead in the division.

With Fiedler possibly returning next week, the Dolphins hope they can squeeze one more decent game out of Lucas.
e-mail: awilson@buffnews.com

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