By Conor Perrett
With the NFL playoffs underway, Sunday’s Wild-Card matchups kicks off with two divisional opponents, whose games this year were exhilarating.
The Dolphins and Bills are no strangers with each other, but one important thing will be missing in this matchup: Tua Tagovailoa. The Miami QB is set to miss the game with a concussion leading Buffalo entering the game as -13.5 point favourites in the bookies.
This is the largest point spread in playoff history.
Buffalo Bills (13-3)
Playoff Power Rankings – 2nd
DVOA Rankings: Offence – 2nd, Defence – 4th, ST – 1st: Overall – 1st
The Bills enter the playoffs having won seven consecutive games and ranking second in both points scored and allowed this season. They are viewed as one of the most complete teams in the league, with star quarterback Josh Allen once again having a dominant season.
Allen finished the regular season with a total of 5,045 passing and rushing yards and 42 touchdowns. The offence can go toe-to-toe with anyone but some sloppy interceptions does not make this team perfect. With 14 interceptions on the year, Allen’s play style is always going to be reckless but it has especially been a problem in the red-zone.
Nevertheless, Miami have only intercepted eight passes all season, with only the Giants causing less among the 14 playoff teams. Buffalo’s run game has also started to get some spotlight with backs Devin Singletary and James Cook sounding out the run game and completing the offence.
Matchup to keep an eye on – Bills’ run defence.
It’s no secret Miami will look to run the ball when they’re down to their third-string QB, Spencer Thompson. They’ve also had a lot of success doing it in their previous two matchups this season as well and will need it more than ever for this game. If Buffalo is able to shut it down, it could be a long night for the Dolphins.
Miami Dolphins (9-8)
Power Rankings – 14th
DVOA Rankings: Offence – 7th, Defence – 15th, ST – 28th: Overall – 8th
Miami entered this game as the biggest underdogs in the Wild-Card round, mostly due to their injuries on offence but also one win in their last six games. The season had its ups and downs but at points this Dolphins team looked like one of the best in the year.
The offence was a force through the month of October and November, with Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle speed being too much for opposing defences. They were then buyers at the trade deadline as deals for Bradley Chubb and Jeff Wilson came to fruition.
Then the month of December hit with a tough run of games and the third concussion of the season for Tua and their form started to fall apart. The Dolphins also managed to scrape their way into the playoffs with a 9-6 win against the Jets on the last day of the regular season, but it seems it only delayed their end to the season by a week.
Matchup to keep an eye on – Blitzing against Josh Allen
One of Miami’s identities on defence is rushing the passer with an extra man.
The Dolphins send at least five pass rushers on 36.4 percent of their pass-rushing opportunities, the third highest rate in the NFL this season. It just so happens through advanced metrics, Allen has had some of the least success against the blitz this year. This could be the way to slow Allen down, but they must be careful or he could make Miami pay with his arm or legs.
Week 3 – Bills @ Dolphins – 19-21, Dolphins Win
Week 15 – Dolphins @ Bills, 29-32, Bills Win
Being in the same division, both these teams played twice this year and their games were electric. In Week 3 we saw a close event that saw Buffalo dominate the time of possession. Miami fought hard in the fourth quarter though and scored a touchdown to take the lead and a 4th down stop on their two-yard line closed out the game.
Their next matchup in Week 15 was a snowstorm, where Allen and Tagovailoa dualed it out. After trading touchdowns all game, Buffalo got the ball last and in a scramble to clear the snow, kicker Tyler Bass was good on his 25 yard field goal in a walk-off win.
Missing their starting quarterback in Tua and running back in Raheem Mostert, while being on the road in Buffalo, nothing is in Miami’s favour.
Starting seventh-round rookie Skyler Thompson at QB, he made some appearances during the season but when faced with an elite defence, he’s looked like a seventh-round rookie. The Bills just so happen to have an elite defence and will be aggressive in their approach to cause panic.
This could open up a few shots for speedy receivers Hill and Waddle, as Mike McDaniel will surely have some things up his sleeve. But to keep that up for four quarters with the talent differential on display feels like an huge up-hill battle for Miami.
Dolphins 10-31 Bills