by Greg Gabriel, Buffalo Sports Page NFL Expert
Buffalo Bills fans in their 20’s and 30’s probably don’t know about the early days of the Bills/Dolphins AFC East Rivalry. But as a former Bills season ticket holder and the son of a season ticket holder from 1962 thru 1983, I certainly do.
In the eyes of Bills fans, the games against the Dolphins were the biggest games of the season if only because the Bills couldn’t beat Miami. In the decade of the 1970’s, the Buffalo Bills went 0-for-the-decade with not so much as a win the dreaded Dolphins. Twenty straight times the Bills went down at the hands of the Dolphins and I was at 10 of those games. It was always so heartbreaking. The Bills finally ended that streak on September 7, 1980 when they beat the Dolphins 17 – 7 at New Era Field (then called Rich Stadium)
Now it’s nearly 40 years later since the Bills ended that losing streak and those days are long gone, as is the attitude of Bills fans in games against Miami. The games are important because the Dolphins are an AFC East Division opponent, but they don’t feel as important as they once were.
South Florida Forecast
Sunday the Bills travel to Miami to meet the Dolphins in the first of two meetings between the two clubs in this 2018 season. Miami comes to Buffalo on December 30th to close out this season. Somehow I feel it’s fitting that the Dolphins have to play in Buffalo on the last day of the season when temperatures could be in the teens. That gives the Bills a distinct advantage.
Speaking of the weather, the Bill having to travel to South Florida in early December is also a big advantage for Miami. The Bills are practicing in 20 and 30 degree weather in Buffalo and having to play in the hot, humid weather of Miami late in the season helps the Dolphins tremendously.
In October, the Chicago Bears played in Miami following their bye. The Bears had won three in a row and were playing great football but with the game temperatures in the low 90’s and the high humidity the Bears looked very sluggish and lost in overtime. It was probably the worst game the Bears defense played all season.
This Sunday when the Bills play at Miami, the forecast is for sunny weather and mid 80’s temperatures along with high humidity. That weather could very well have the same effect on the Bills as it did on the Bears.
Because of that, the Bills have to be ready to play a lot of guys and rotate on defense more than usual. Miami is not that good of a football team, but the home field advantage they hold is huge.
Tannehill Back At QB
Last week in Indianapolis the Dolphins played well against a good Colts team but not well enough and feel 27 – 24. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill played for the first time in almost two months for Miami and that helped their passing game.
Tannehill is a more accurate passer than Brock Osweiler as well as quicker and better decision maker. He also has far more mobility and is able to extend and make plays with his feet. With Tannehill at quarterback, Albert Wilson and Kenny Stills become much more dangerous for the Bills defense. The Miami run game is strong with Frank Gore and Kenyon Drake splitting the carries. Drake has been limited in practice this week with a shoulder injury but he should be ready Sunday.
A key for the Bills defense in this game will be their ability to rush the passer. Miami has given up 28 sacks on the year, so if Buffalo can create pressure and hurry Tannehill they can force him into making mistakes. In five games he has thrown five interceptions.
Run The Football
The Bills also have to be able to run the football. Miami gives up an average of almost 140 yards a game on the ground. It’s imperative that the Bills comes close to that number and wear down the Miami defense.
With rookie Josh Allen at quarterback, we don’t know what to expect. Allen has his hot streaks but like most rookie quarterbacks, he can be inconsistent. Josh has to get the help from his run game in order to help his passing efficiency.
The Bills currently sit at 4 – 7 on the season. It’s very possible they finish with a 7 – 9 record. I have them losing this week in Miami as well as losing at New England later in December. If the Bills can win their remaining home games they will have a better than expected season. The key for them to finish at .500 is to win in Miami. While it is unlikely, it is also very possible but like I always say, they have to play just about a perfect game.