|Ryan Fitzpatrick will have to be mistake-free.|
In the realm of importance, it doesn't get much bigger than this for these two teams. The Bills are 3-6, having lost three straight games. With zero wins in their division, a victory here would secure at minimum a split with Miami, and allow them to keep their dimming playoff hopes alive. The Dolphins have dropped two in a row, with turnovers playing a key role. They also witnessed their fifth ranked rush defense get demoralized by of all teams the Titans.
Offensively, the game isn't much of a match. The Bills have had a strong rushing attack all year long. However, if there's ever been a statement on the Bills' coaching, perhaps it's where you have a runner averaging 7.3 yards per carry, but yet you only get him an average of 12 carries per game. That runner is C. J. Spiller, who will take the majority of the load with Fred Jackson out with a concussion. Ironically, it was Week 11 last year where we were introduced to Spiller as a starting RB and he didn't disappoint. In Week 15 against the Dolphins, Spiller ran for 91 yards and a touchdown. He also added a touchdown reception. Spiller isn't a bruiser but he can make people miss, particularly in space. He also has soft hands, and will be utilized by Curtis Modkins in that regards as respects the offense. However, the Dolphins rush defense is healthy, and though Chris Johnson knifed through them on Sunday for 126 yards, he was the first back to gain over 100 yards in 22 contests. Consider that performance an anomaly for Miami, and expect a little less from Spiller on the ground. The Dolphins pass defense is incredibly vulnerable, and Ryan Fitzpatrick and company have shown an ability to score plenty of points, yet they only seem to do it when they're chasing the lead. The Dolphins have given up just four rushing touchdowns against 12 passing TDs. I expect Spiller to be used a lot, but when he's held to just 65 yards rushing, he'll find another five passes out of the backfield and end up with one TD. Only five teams have given up more yardage to TEs than Miami, so I'm looking at Scott Chandler to be active with 5-6 catches for 50 yards and a score. Their tandem of wide receivers, Steve Johnson and Donald Brown make solid plays, assuming Spiller struggles.
Coaching has also been an issue for the Dolphins. Apparently, Joe Philbin got so shell-shocked by Reggie Bush's fumble in the early going that he never gave Bush the ball again, even though Bush had four carries for 21 yards. So he gave the ball to Daniel Thomas, who had five carries for 21 yards. Then he gave the ball to rookie RB Lamar Miller and he carried three times for 12 yards. Three separate runners each carried the ball for four yards per carry or better, and he gave them a combined total of 12 carries. Twelve carries against a Tennessee defense that had allowed over 1,100 yards to opposing rushers in nine games. The Bills rank dead last against the run, yielding 5.5 yards per carry and 164 yards per game on the ground alone. Thus, you have to stick with Bush and Thomas. I wouldn't count on Miller for more than a few touches unless injury befalls someone. The Bills couldn't stop TE Ron Gronkowski, but Anthony Fasano isn't close to that level. The Bills have let the top receivers exert their will on them the last three weeks. Brian Hartline should be able to get a shot at the end zone and for 7-9 catches for 80 or so yards.
It would seem this one would be a battle of the running backs, but on the offensive side, the two 'Ryans' will have more say in the outcome. Whichever of Ryan Tannehill and Ryan Fitzpatrick protects the football and makes good decisions will emerge victorious. The injuries to the Bills defense and the health of Miami will matter, and Fitzpatrick, who went 0-2 last year with two touchdown passes against five interceptions, will again make one mistake too many. Both teams are nearly equal in red zone offense, but it's the Dolphins defense that ranks seventh in lowest TD percentage in the red zone.
DOLPHINS 24, BILLS 20