Miami Dolphins vs. Buffalo Bills: Matchups, prediction for AFC East showdown

The Buffalo Bills have won six straight vs. the Miami Dolphins, and something remarkable must happen for the streak not to run to seven.

The Buffalo Bills (4-2) are rested, loaded, and probably still a bit angry. That’s a dangerous combination for a Miami Dolphins team that has lost six straight, hasn’t beaten the Bills since December 2018, and has not won in Buffalo in five years. Miami’s last two 2021 losses came against two of the NFL’s worst teams — the Jaguars and Falcons. The Bills, meanwhile, haven’t played since their wild 34-31 loss to the Titans on Monday Night Football. Nevertheless, Buffalo is still in prime position to win the AFC East once again. Heading into this matchup featuring the first-place Bills vs. the last-place Dolphins (1-6), 3.5 games separate these teams.

Miami Dolphins offense vs. Buffalo Bills defense

This is the most complete Bills squad since the Jim Kelly era, and it’s because the defense has caught up (and perhaps even surpassed) the offense. Buffalo’s defense ranks first league-wide in scoring (16.3 points per game), yards (270.2 per game), yards per play (4.7), passing yards (180.5), yards per pass (5.3), first downs (15.5) — and a bunch of other stats. And they have all of those lofty rankings despite a letdown game in Nashville two weeks ago when they allowed a season-high 34 points and an embarrassing 7.1 yards per play.

But the Dolphins are not the Titans — far from. Miami’s offense doesn’t have a top-10 ranking in any major statistical category. They are 28th in yards both per game (307.6) and per play (4.9). Only the Jets, Texans, and Bears score fewer points per game than the Dolphins (18.1).

Tua Tagovailoa vs. Bills defense

Tua Tagovailoa, truth-teller. “I don’t know if I would ever use the word fair because really nothing is fair, especially in the life that we live,” Tagovailoa said this week when asked if he has been given a fair shake.

Of course, he’s right. The NFL doesn’t care about feelings. It cares about winning. And the Dolphins haven’t done nearly enough of that with Stephen Ross as owner, which is why the team has made a push to land Deshaun Watson ahead of Tuesday’s trade deadline.

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But the most Dolphin-y part of this whole saga is this: Tagovailoa is actually playing pretty well in Year 2 (completing 69.5% of his passes for 7 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, and 7.1 yards per attempt). Certainly, he’s better than he was in Year 1. But he also got hurt, again. And he’s about to face a defense that entered Week 8 leading the NFL in takeaways (16) and interception rate (4.9%).

Advantage: Bills

Dolphins weapons vs. Bills defensive backs

The Dolphins’ most-used skill position players in Week 7 were a rookie speedster asked to be a possession receiver (Jaylen Waddle), a tight end who historically doesn’t block (Mike Gesicki), a tight end who historically doesn’t catch (Durham Smythe), the last running back taken in the 2019 NFL Draft (Myles Gaskin), and a guy who should be playing special teams (Mack Hollins).

It’s no wonder the offense stinks. The Dolphins are not dynamic because Will Fuller and DeVante Parker have been hurt, Albert Wilson has been invisible, and Jakeem Grant has been traded. Parker could return this week, but it won’t change much.

And it won’t change much because the Bills’ defensive backfield is ridiculous. They have perhaps the best safety tandem in the NFL. Micah Hyde entered Week 8 second among AFC defenders with 3 interceptions. Quarterbacks have a cumulative passer rating of 34.4 against Jordan Poyer. Hyde is tied with Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson for the team lead in pass breakups (5). We haven’t even gotten to their best player, Tre’Davious White, who has allowed all of 6 touchdowns on 261 career targets.

Advantage: Bills

Dolphins offensive line vs. Bills defensive front

The Dolphins’ glass when it’s half-full: The offensive line has improved in recent weeks. The half-empty version? It had nowhere to go but up.

Miami made the right decision to make a change at left tackle. Austin Jackson — a first-round pick in 2020 — was awful there, so the Dolphins moved him to guard and started rookie Liam Eichenberg at LT. Miami still ranks 31st in rush offense (80.1 yards per game) and 23rd in yards per carry (3.9), but the team’s pass blocking isn’t egregious (6.1% sack rate).

Unfortunately, that line is about to run into a buzzsaw. The Bills rank sixth in run defense (89.7 yards per game), 11th in sack rate (6.9%), and are really good in situational football.

And the most dangerous part for the Dolphins? There’s not just one pass rusher to key in on. Ten different Bills have sacks in 2021, led by Gregory Rousseau’s 3. A.J. Epenesa is a wrecking ball. Just ask Tua. It was Epenesa’s hit that broke Tagovailoa’s ribs in Week 2.

Advantage: Bills

Buffalo Bills offense vs. Miami Dolphins defense

The Bills are hitting their stride and have scored 31+ points in each of their last five games. In fairness, all of those games have been against bad defenses. Still, you can only play the teams on your schedule, and Brian Daboll has taken care of business.

The Bills rank second in points (33.8 per game) and third-down efficiency (50%), sixth in yards (411.5), and 11th in yards per play (5.9). Their average time of possession (32:40) is fourth-best in football.

There’s been no bigger disappointment in Miami than the play of its defense. A year after ranking fifth in scoring defense, first in third-down stinginess, and seventh in red-zone stops, the Dolphins — with mostly the same personnel — are now 30th (29.6 points per game allowed), 31st (51.6%), and 14th (68.6%), respectively, in those three categories. No team has given up more yards per game (414.9) through seven weeks.

Brian Flores has fallen a long way from Super Bowl 53.

Josh Allen vs. Dolphins defense

The Dolphins just got carved up by 94-year-old Matt Ryan, who went for 336 yards and 2 touchdowns in a come-from-behind Week 7 Falcons win. So what’s Josh Allen going to do to them? Probably more of what he’s done against Miami his whole career.

Allen has won six of his seven career starts against the Dolphins, throwing 19 touchdowns to just 5 interceptions and averaging a robust 8.2 yards per pass. Furthermore, Allen — who has also averaged 53.6 rushing yards per game against Miami — put together that résumé against Dolphins defenses that were far better than this group.

After a slow start to the season, Allen has become the player we all expected to see. He has a 5-to-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and ranks seventh in EPA+CPOE (0.166), ninth in passer rating (103.6), fifth in QBR (64.5), and 15th in yards per pass (7.5).

Advantage: Allen

Bills weapons vs. Dolphins defensive backs

What has happened to a Dolphins pass defense that ranks 30th in yards (297.1), 26th in yards per pass (7.7), and 27th in interception rate (1.1%)? There’s no easy answer. Xavien Howard has regressed, but he’s still a more-than-solid cover man (51.2% of targets completed, 7.9 yards per target). Yet, he and Byron Jones have combined to allow 6 touchdowns on 79 targets — a big reason why the Dolphins have the league’s sixth-highest passer rating against (104.1).

If there’s any small blessing, it’s that Buffalo won’t be at 100% this weekend. Allen’s top red-zone target, Dawson Knox, is out with a broken hand. Knox has caught a third of Allen’s touchdown passes. Nevertheless, the Bills still have plenty of other ways to score.

Emmanuel Sanders has been a huge pickup for the team, averaging 17.2 yards per catch. Stefon Diggs is well on his way to his fourth-straight 1,000-yard season. And Devin Singletary’s 5.2 yards-per-carry average is fifth among AFC running backs.

Advantage: Bills

Bills offensive line vs. Dolphins defensive front

The Bills have an excellent offensive line. Their microscopic sack rate (3.5%) ranked third in the NFL through Week 7. Football Outsiders also gives Buffalo particularly high marks in run blocking, which gibes with the raw data.

Buffalo is seventh in rushing offense (130.7 yards per game). That makes sense since starting right tackle Spencer Brown — who has been solid since replacing a benched Cody Ford in Week 4 — is dealing with a knee injury that kept him out of practice this week.

Former first-round pick Christian Wilkins (2 sacks, 4 tackles for loss, 6 QB hits) is having a fine third season for Miami. He and Emmanuel Ogbah (11 QB hits, 3 TFLs) are about the only Dolphins front-seven defenders who can say that.

Rookie Jaelan Phillips has been promising in spurts but inconsistent. The Dolphins have the third-worst sack rate in football (4.4%), and a lack of pass rush has left Miami’s secondary exposed.

Advantage: Bills

Betting line and game prediction

The Dolphins went a decade without losing to the Bills. Now, they’re well on their way to going a decade without beating them. The Dolphins’ past four coaches (including interim Dan Campbell) have beaten the Bills a combined five times.

On paper, this could be the most lopsided matchup yet (which is saying something). The Bills are first in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average). The Dolphins are 28th. Buffalo is laying 13.5 points, and the Dolphins have kept things close since Tua has returned to the lineup. We like the Bills to win, but they’ll fall just short of covering.

Dolphins vs. Bills Prediction: Bills 33, Dolphins 20

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