Bills vs Dolphins prediction, keys to the playoff game as Buffalo faces Tua-less Miami

ORCHARD PARK - Miami Dolphins running back Jeff Wilson made an interesting analogy Thursday when he was asked about the difficult task his injury-depleted team will face in its AFC wild-card game Sunday afternoon against the Buffalo Bills.

“If you put Muhammed Ali and Mike Tyson in the ring, they’re going to be rocking each other the whole fight until somebody eventually falls,” Wilson said, insinuating that the Dolphins, in a playoff game, not to mention a fierce division rival, aren’t going down without a fight.

Here’s the problem for Miami, though. Right now, the Bills are Ali circa 1964 when he knocked out Sonny Liston to win the heavyweight title. The Dolphins are the 38-year-old version of Tyson when he couldn’t beat some dude named Kevin McBride in his final bout in 2005.

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That Ali would have shredded that Tyson, and that could very well happen between the Bills and Dolphins. Mismatch is not a word that gets used often in the NFL because the line between being a good team and a not so good team is razor thin. But it’s hard to envision a scenario where the Dolphins can come into Highmark Stadium in their current state, particularly without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and beat Josh Allen and the Bills.

Of course, nothing is a given, and the Bills can’t think that by just showing up they’ll win. This is a division opponent that knows them well, beat them early in the season in a game Tagovailoa didn’t even have much of an impact on, and certainly has some star-level players up and down the roster.

Did anyone think the Bills could possibly lose to the Jets in November? How about the Jaguars last season? For that matter, who had Ali losing to Ken Norton in 1973, or Tyson getting knocked out by Buster Douglas in 1990?

You just never know in sports. There’s no script, no one truly knows the ending, and the Bills are keenly aware of this.

“We’re focused on the task at hand, which we know is no small feat,” center Mitch Morse said, echoing the mantra that coach Sean McDermott has been drilling all week. “This is a very dangerous team coming in here, both sides of the football and it really doesn’t matter who’s at the helm at quarterback for them. They have playmakers on the defense that can really carry this team, and it’ll be just a really great competitive match come Sunday.”

Here’s my preview of the game:

Buffalo Bills on offense: Play a clean game

Bills quarterback Josh Allen rushed for 77 yards against the Dolphins in the Dec. 17 game at Buffalo.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen rushed for 77 yards against the Dolphins in the Dec. 17 game at Buffalo.

If you want to know one way - maybe the only way - the Bills could lose, it would be if Allen and the offense have a sloppy day and turn the ball over multiple times. That’s always a recipe for disaster in the NFL, and it certainly is the best path for a huge underdog to pull an upset.

The Bills finished the season at zero in the turnover margin thanks to 27 giveaways which were the third-most in the league and four more than the next playoff team (the Chiefs, Cowboys, Seahawks and Vikings all had 23). Allen’s 14 interceptions were tied for second-most in the league and his five picks in the red zone led the NFL. Against Miami, Allen lost a fumble in each game which led to 10 Dolphin points.

If the Bills avoid the big mistakes, their offense - which ranked second in the NFL in points per game (28.4) and yards per game (397.6) should be able to exploit a Miami defense that is missing several key defensive backs and ranked 23rd in points allowed (23.5), 18th in yards allowed (337.8), 27th in passing yards (234.8), and 26th in completion percentage against (66.6%).

Up front, the Dolphins have a tremendous DT duo in Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler, they have an elite edge rusher in LB Jaelan Phillips as well as potentially dangerous ones in Bradley Chubb and Melvin Ingram, and active LBs in Elandon Roberts and Jerome Baker who are tackling machines. This will be a challenge for the Bills mundane offensive line.

But in the secondary there are issues. They’re missing three would-be starters and their best CB, Xavien Howard, has not had a great season. At the other CB, they’ve been going with rookie Kader Kohou who has surprised, but he’s still a rookie. In the game in Buffalo last month, Stefon Diggs didn’t really get much going, but he was back in the groove last week against the Patriots and Allen needs to keep that going.

One thing Miami’s defense has done well is stop the run. They ranked fourth at 103 yards per game and in the two games against the Bills, the Dolphins did a nice job on the Buffalo RBs but, as has often been the case, they had no answers for Allen who gained a total of 124 yards. Allen was kept in check by the Patriots last week, and the Dolphins may want to consider using a spy on Allen more than they have.

Buffalo Bills on defense: Control Tyreek Hill, Jaylen Waddle

Tyreek Hill finished second in the NFL with 1,710 yards receiving.
Tyreek Hill finished second in the NFL with 1,710 yards receiving.

Yeah, I know, that’s easier said than done. Miami’s dynamic duo has spent the entire season lighting up defenses as they have combined for a staggering 3,066 yards on 194 catches with 15 TDs. Ah, but here’s the catch: The bulk of that came with Tagovailoa at QB.

In the last two games with Teddy Bridgewater and Skylar Thompson at QB, that duo managed only 14 catches for 174 yards and no TDs, albeit against two good defenses in the Patriots and Jets. The only game the WRs excelled without Tagovailoa was in Week 6 against Minnesota. That day, Thompson started but got hurt almost immediately, and Bridgewater played very well as Hill and Waddle combined for 18 catches for 306 yards yet Miami still lost to the fraudulent Vikings. Alas, Bridgewater isn’t playing Sunday, either.

Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel is known to be a sharp offensive mind and he’s going to need to find a way to set up Thompson for success. What has worked all season for Miami is short passes to Hill and Waddle who would then pile up run after catch yards. And when teams began to creep up to the line, Tagovailoa could occasionally burn them deep which is why the Dolphins actually ranked second in the NFL in yards per play at 6.14, just ahead of Buffalo (6.13). It remains to be seen if Thompson can function in that setup, mainly because he’ll have to be able to read Buffalo’s coverage quickly and deliver.

Herein lies another problem for the Dolphins. Thompson will need time to make some of those plays, and Miami’s offensive line is in shambles. Star LT Terron Armstead is questionable, but even if he plays, he's dealing with four separate injuries. With Brandon Shell questionable, the Dolphins may be down to their fourth RT of the season, and LG Liam Eichenberg is doubtful. With this tattered line, the Bills defensive front - which hasn’t been that impactful in recent weeks - needs to have a dominant day.

Even at RB, the Dolphins will be limited. Raheem Mostert, who gained 136 yards in the Dec. 17 game in Buffalo, is out due to a broken thumb, so Wilson and Salvon Ahmed will have to pick up the slack. In this case, there isn’t much of a dropoff from Mostert to Wilson, but still, that’s one less weapon Miami has.

Sal’s prediction: Buffalo Bills 30, Miami Dolphins 13

Anything is possible in the NFL, and no one can debate that. Upsets occur every week, and sometimes the results of some of these games blow your mind, leaving you to ask, “How did that happen?” Miami beating Buffalo in this game, given all of its injuries, would certainly fall into that category, but I can’t see that happening.

The Bills are the better team even if the Dolphins were fully healthy, and in this situation, Buffalo has advantages all over the field, especially at quarterback. The only way the Dolphins can win this game is if the Bills lose it, plain and simple. That means making a series of mistakes such as turnovers, or penalties that wipe out big plays or take points off the board, or defensive breakdowns that allow Hill or Waddle to make game-changing plays. Even if the Bills do some of that, it won’t be enough to get Miami over the hump.

Bills vs. Dolphins: News and notes

Jeff Wilson may have to carry the load for the Dolphins in their run game.
Jeff Wilson may have to carry the load for the Dolphins in their run game.

▶ Since McDermott came to Buffalo in 2017, he is 10-2 vs. Miami including 6-0 at home. Josh Allen is 8-2 as the starting QB with 27 TD passes and four rushing TDs. He has thrown multiple 10 passes in all 10 of his starts against Miami.

▶ Allen can join Matt Ryan as the only QBs with at least 300 passing yards and three TD passes in three consecutive postseason games. He can also become the first QB in NFL history with at least four TD passes in three consecutive playoff games.

▶ Buffalo’s seven-game winning streak to close the regular season is a new team record. Meanwhile, Miami needed to snap a five-game losing streak last week to qualify for the playoffs.

▶ The Bills defense led the AFC in fewest points allowed (17.9) for the third year in a row, and in the NFL it ranked second this season behind only the 49ers (16.3).

▶ Devin Singletary had a career-high 1,099 scrimmage yards (819 rushing, 280 receiving) this season and joined Thurman Thomas as only the only Bills with 900-plus scrimmage yards in each of his first four seasons.

▶ Diggs ranked fourth in the NFL with 108 catches and fifth with 1,429 receiving yards this season. Only he and Davante Adams have at least 100 catches in each of the past three seasons. Diggs also became the first Bill to have two seasons with at least 10 TD receptions.

▶ Tremaine Edmunds led the Bills with 102 tackles this season, his fifth straight season in triple figures.

▶ Thompson will join Dan Marino (1983) as the only Miami QBs to start a playoff game as a rookie. No rookie QB has won an NFL playoff game since Russell Wilson of Seattle in 2012, though Brock Purdy of the 49ers will have that chance on Saturday.

▶ Both Mostert and Wilson produced career-best seasons in terms of scrimmage yards, Mostert gaining 1,093 and Wilson 1,045.

2022 Buffalo Bills schedule

Thursday, Sept. 8 at Rams, W 31-10

Monday, Sept. 19 vs. Titans, W 41-7

Sunday, Sept. 25 at Dolphins, L 19-21

Sunday, Oct. 2 at Ravens, W 23-20

Sunday, Oct. 9 vs. Steelers, W 38-3

Sunday, Oct. 16 at Chiefs, W 24-20

Sunday, Oct. 23 Bye week

Sunday, Oct. 30 vs. Packers, 8:20 p.m.

Sunday, Nov. 6 at Jets, L 17-20

Sunday, Nov. 13 vs. Vikings, L 30-33

Sunday, Nov. 20 vs. Browns, W 31-23

Thur. 11/24 at Lions, W 28-25

Thur. 12/1 at Patriots, W 24-10

Sun. 12/11 vs Jets, W 20-12

Sat. 12/17, vs. Dolphins, W 32-29

Sat. 12/24 at Bears, W 35-13

Mon. 1/2 at Bengals, ppd.

Sun. 1/8 vs. Patriots, 35-23

Sun. 1/15 vs. Dolphins, 1 p.m.

Sal Maiorana can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.To subscribe to Sal's new twice-a-week newsletter, Bills Blast, please follow this link:

This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills vs Dolphins predictions and keys to playoff game in Buffalo