By Abe Gutierrez
It’s crunch time for Adam Gase and the (9-5) Miami Dolphins, as they find themselves sitting in the sixth and final playoff spot entering week 16 of the 2016 NFL season. With a pair of AFC East divisional opponents that are itching to spoil Miami’s playoff dreams, the remaining two games on the schedule will be a true test of the Dolphins’ fortitude.
After beating up on the New York Jets last week, 34-13, the Fins must now travel to another tough place to play, as the Buffalo Bills are next in line in Week 16. With showers and windy conditions in the forecast, New Era Field in Orchard Park, New York, will be the site for this Christmas Eve showdown.
This week’s game marks the 106th time that the Bills and Dolphins have squared off. Miami comes in leading the overall series over Buffalo, 59-45-1, including a 28-25 win on Oct. 23, 2016 at Hard Rock Stadium. Nevertheless, it’s worth noting that the Dolphins haven’t won a game in Orchard Park in more than five years.
The last time Miami defeated the Bills in Buffalo dates all the way back to Dec. 18 of the 2011 NFL season. Since then, Buffalo has been perfect on their home soil.
Buffalo Bills record: 7-7-0
After starting the 2016 NFL campaign, 0-2, the Bills bounced back to win four consecutive games and now are a .500 team. Buffalo is 4-3 at home, 3-4 on the road, and only 1-3 against AFC East divisional foes. This team is also 4-6 against the AFC, 3-1 versus the NFC, and have won three of their last five games played.
Bills on offense
Offensively, the Bills are a one-dimensional team. Under the tutelage of offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, Buffalo’s offense comes into Week 16 ranked first in the NFL in rushing yards per game (163.6), ninth in points scored (25.6), 18th in total yards (346.2) and ranked 31st in passing yards per contest (182.6).
As far as what Miami’s defense can expect, there’s no secret as to what the Bills want to do on offense. With three players with the ability to run with the football, the Fins will likely see a heavy doze of running backs LeSean McCoy (205 carries, 1129 yards, 12 TDs) and Mike Gillislee (75 carries, 446 yards, 7 TDs) as well as quarterback Tyrod Taylor (83 carries, 520 yards, 6 TDs).
Bills on defense
Even though Dennis Thurman is the Bills defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan’s twin brother Rob (Assistant Head Coach/Defense) has a lot of say in the decision-making process. The Bills’ defense is ranked eighth in passing yards yielded (224.8), 14th in points per game (22.4), 16th in total yards (349.2) and their weakest area is stopping the run, an area where they are 27th in the league in yards allowed (124.4).
Strategically, there’s very little suspense as far as what the Bills like to do defensively. Much like any other Ryan team, these guys love applying pressure to try and rattle opposing quarterbacks and force mistakes. Expect a number of blitz-packages to be thrown Miami’s way, and keep a close eye on how Matt Moore responds to that pressure and coverage disguises.
Bills players to watch: LeSean McCoy, Lorenzo Alexander
Throughout his career, Ryan has been an advocate of the ground-and-pound type of offensive attack. Thus, the player to watch on the offensive side of the rock is none other than running back LeSean McCoy. The former Eagle is not only the team leader in rushing yards (1,129), but his efforts are also good enough for fifth best in the NFL behind David Johnson (1,138), Le’Veon Bell (1,146), DeMarco Murray (1,224) and Ezekiel Elliott (1,551). In last week’s win over Cleveland, McCoy helped the Bills set a new franchise record for rushing touchdowns in a season, 27, a mark that was held by the 1975 Bills and Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson.
On the opposite side of the rock, Miami must prepare to deal with outside linebacker Lorenzo Alexander. The former Raider comes in leading the team in the sacks department (11.5) and is third in the NFL behind the likes of Von Miller (13.5 sacks) and Vic Beasley (14.5 sacks). In his 10th season out of Cal, Alexander also has 67 tackles, three forced fumbles and an interception.
Last week, the Dolphins took care of business on the road and beat the Jets despite playing in freezing conditions. This week, they face another tough match-up on the road. If Miami wishes to hold onto the final playoff spot in the AFC, it will need to pull out all of the stops and come up with another tough road win in adverse conditions.