Despite the lingering distraction of the bullying scandal, the surging Miami Dolphins have a chance to reach the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
Looking for a season-high fourth consecutive victory, the visiting Dolphins can possibly clinch that playoff berth Sunday while trying to avenge an earlier loss to the Buffalo Bills, who will be without their starting quarterback and top receiver.
Miami (8-6) opened with three straight wins then dropped four in a row prior to the scandal involving teammates Jonathan Martin and Richie Incognito that drew front-page headlines across the country. The investigation into the matter continues.
Instead of folding, the Dolphins have won five of seven. With victories over Buffalo (5-9) and the New York Jets at home next weekend, Miami would head to the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
A win Sunday and losses by Baltimore and Cincinnati would clinch that postseason berth sooner.
"We are fighters," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said. "We've been through a lot. Guys are tough and are able to handle anything that happens on the field."
Tannehill has completed 64.6 percent of his passes for 843 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions during Miami's three-game run, made up of road victories over the Jets and Pittsburgh as well as Sunday's 24-20 home win over AFC East-leading New England.
Mike Wallace has three TDs in four games and topped the 100-yard receiving mark for the second time during that span with six receptions for 105 against the Patriots.
Miami allowed an average of 28.5 points during its four-game slide Sept. 30-Oct. 27, but has yielded 18.4 over the last seven. Tom Brady threw for 364 yards with two TDs last weekend, but rookie safety Michael Thomas intercepted him on fourth down with seven seconds left to seal the victory.
Miami held Buffalo to 268 yards but recorded only 293 during a 23-21 home loss Oct. 20. Tannehill threw three TDs but was picked off twice, one of which was taken back by Nickell Robey for the game's first touchdown.
Ex-Dolphin Dan Carpenter made three field goals, including the winner with 33 seconds left as Buffalo overcame a four-point deficit after three quarters.
"Every game is important, and certainly this one coming up against the Buffalo Bills is very important," coach Joe Philbin told the Dolphins' official website. "We've attempted to approach each and every game the same way.
"We're going to take a look at obviously what (Buffalo did) the first time."
Looking to win a third straight away from home, Miami has a chance to go undefeated on the road in December for the first time since it went 3-0 in 2008. The Dolphins had won three of four in Buffalo before losing 19-14 there last Nov. 15.
A sprained right knee kept Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel out of the October game against the Dolphins, and a left knee injury will keep him from playing Sunday. Thad Lewis, who went 21 of 32 for 202 yards with an INT and no TDs while getting sacked four times at Miami, will make his fourth start of the season and first since Oct. 27.
In danger of a fifth straight season of double-digit losses, Buffalo looks to win consecutive games for the first time since Sept. 16-23, 2012, after defeating Jacksonville 27-20 last week.
"We'll look to do whatever we have to do to win because it's critical for us to win," coach Doug Marrone said. "And I think when you win, you learn a lot from that."
Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller helped the Bills roll up 198 rushing yards last week while rookie Robert Woods had five catches for 82 with a TD.
Stevie Johnson had one catch a day after his mother passed away, and he'll miss this contest while remaining with his family.
Buffalo forced three turnovers against the Dolphins in October and recorded four against the Jaguars. The Bills, however, have allowed an average of 149.0 rushing yards over the last five games.
Miami running backs Daniel Thomas and Lamar Miller combined for 103 in the first meeting with Buffalo.
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