When the Bills run: Sean McDermott doubled down on the idea that LeSean McCoy will be back with the Bills in 2019. If that’s the case, it would be nice to see something from the veteran running back in the final game of the season. “It’s a huge priority. It hasn’t been where we need it to be,” offensive coordinator Brian Daboll said this week. “That starts with me. To get the run game going, it’s a lot more than just the running back. I’ve got a lot of confidence in LeSean.” McCoy has been tough against Miami at home the previous three years, running for 290 yards and gaining 70 through the air to go along with four total touchdowns. Rookie quarterback Josh Allen made the Dolphins look silly in the first meeting, running for 135 yards and embarrassing old friend Kiko Alonso in the process. EDGE: Bills.
When the Bills pass: Allen took a step backward in the loss to New England. Perhaps that was to be expected for a rookie going against a Bill Belichick defense for the first time. Yes, he was hurt by his receivers not being able to make more plays for him, but that’s not the only reason his completion percentage was less than 50 percent. All quarterbacks deal with drops and other mistakes. It can be true that he needs better players around him, and also needs to play better himself. The Dolphins rank third in the NFL with 27 interceptions. Cornerback Xavien Howard, a Pro Bowl selection, leads them with seven, but he’s been out of the lineup since hurting his knee in the first game against Buffalo. He’s questionable for Sunday. EDGE: Dolphins.
When the Dolphins run: The Miami Herald posed an interesting question this week: Why don’t the Dolphins run the ball more? Miami averages 4.7 yards per carry, which is No. 8 in the NFL. Despite that, they attempt just 23 rushes per game, which is the eighth-fewest in the league, according to the Herald. Part of the reason for the lack of carries is Miami’s success rate on third down, which is just 30.5 percent, 31st in the NFL. That means fewer plays. Miami also struggles with short-yardage situations. According to Football Outsiders’ “power” rankings, Miami is converting a first down or touchdown on 61 percent of runs on third or fourth down that need 2 yards or less. That ranks 25th. EDGE: Even.
When the Dolphins pass: Ryan Tannehill will start for Miami, likely for the final time. It’s expected the Dolphins will pass on picking up Tannehill’s contract for 2019, which includes a whopping $26 million salary-cap hit. Tannehill has played some good football during his time with the Dolphins, but not enough for the team to commit that kind of money. The problem is, there is no easy way to replace him. The Dolphins will be picking in the middle of the first round, and it’s not projected to be a great quarterback draft, anyway. Part of the problem has been Tannehill’s protection. Miami has given up 16 sacks in the last three games, even though Tannehill is averaging just 22 passing attempts per game in that stretch. On the season, the Dolphins have given up 48 sacks. Buffalo’s pass defense has given up just one 300-yard game to an opposing quarterback all season – to Tom Brady in Week 8. Brady went for just 126 yards last week against the Bills. EDGE: Bills.
Special teams: Stephen Hauschka missed a 43-yard field goal short against New England in calm conditions. What’s his range going to look like if there’s some wind Sunday at New Era Field (which there always is)? Hauschka’s recent, injury-induced struggles have contributed to the Bills sinking to 30th in Football Outsiders’ rankings of special teams. Dolphins long snapper John Denney revealed in an interview with the Palm Beach Post this week that he considered coming to Buffalo back in 2005. Denney’s brother, Ryan, played eight seasons for the Bills. John Denney is 40 – the second-oldest player to ever appear in a game for the Dolphins – and has played in 223 consecutive games. EDGE: Dolphins.
Coaching: Miami’s Adam Gase is a name to watch on Black Monday. The thinking in South Florida is that he’ll be back for a fourth season, but it wouldn’t be a total shock if team owner Stephen Ross changes his mind. The Dolphins could finish 8-8, which is remarkable considering they are 30th in yards gained and 25th in points on both offense and defenses. Two of the six worst seasons in point differential in team history are the last two years. Bills coach Sean McDermott doesn’t have to look far for motivation Sunday. The announced retirement of veteran defensive tackle Kyle Williams should provide that. EDGE: Bills.
Prediction: Bills 24, Dolphins 17.