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Bills vs Dolphins: Preview, 5 keys, more for Wild Card Weekend

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Devin Singletary and Dawson Knox celebrate a Bills touchdown
Buffalo Bills tight end Dawson Knox (88) celebrates after catching a touchdown pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

The Buffalo Bills begin their quest for a 2023 Super Bowl title by hosting the Miami Dolphins for the third time this season. 

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Miami Dolphins (9-8) @ Buffalo Bills (13-3)

Game Details:

  • Location: Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park, NY
  • Time: Sunday, January 15th at 1:00 p.m. ET
  • Channel: CBS

Betting Stats:

  • SPREAD: BUF -13
  • OVER/UNDER: 43.5
  • MONEYLINE: BUF (-800), MIA (+550)

 

Top Matchups/Storylines:

How will the absence of Tua Tagovailoa impact Miami?

As we mentioned earlier in the week, Miami has ruled out starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa as he battles his third concussion of the season. It’s obviously a huge loss for the Dolphins, who could be forced to turn to rookie Skylar Thompson if backup Teddy Bridgewater also can’t recover from a hand injury.  

Thompson was the Dolphins’ 7th-round pick this season after playing four years at Kansas State where he threw for 7,124 passing yards and 42 passing touchdowns while adding 26 rushing touchdowns. With the Dolphins this year, Thompson has started two games while appearing in seven. He has completed 60-of-105 attempts (57.1%) for 534 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

Coming out of college, the report on Thompson was that “As a passer, he’s shown a lot of accuracy and effectiveness in the short and intermediate passing game” and that “he is one who has the ability to move around and make some things happen outside of the pocket, as well as work with some designed quarterback runs.” 

The short and intermediate passing game is where Miami thrives since their scheme is designed to get the ball into the hands of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle as quickly as possible and let them make plays with the ball in their hands. 

However, if a defense is able to come up and tackle in the open field then it will really limit Thompson’s effectiveness. We saw the Jets do this last week. Thompson was able to complete 20-of-31 passes and didn’t throw an interception, but he only recorded 152 yards passing and no touchdowns because the Jets kept the plays in front of them.

Which leads to our next point…

 

Can Buffalo clean up the missed tackles?

The Bills have had a problem tackling for much of the season. Although they rank 10th in the NFL with 77 missed tackles, they’ve also only played 16 games, so their 4.8 missed tackles per game would actually be the 6th-worst mark in the NFL. 

While some of those tackles have come from the defensive line, the vast majority of the missed tackles are in the secondary, with Damar Hamlin, Taron Johnson, and Dane Jackson leading the team in missed tackles. On the other end of the spectrum, Tremaine Edmunds has just one missed tackle despite leading the team with 102 tackles. 

Buffalo is going to need the secondary to take better angles and wrap up on Sunday because both Hill and Waddle are capable of breaking huge plays and game-swinging touchdowns if they’re given an opening. 

 

Can the Dolphins continue to run on the Bills?

When these teams last played in December, Miami ran for 188 yards on 7.5 yards per carry. Raheem Mostert was a major reason for that success, rushing for 136 yards on 17 carries, and there’s a strong argument to be made that Miami could have won that game if they had relied on him more down the stretch instead of going away from the run. 

Mostert frequently knifed through the middle of the Buffalo defense, and there were more than a few occasions where that poor tackling from the Bills led to some huge chunk plays. 

However, Mostert also broke his thumb against the Jets and had surgery earlier this week. As a result, his status for Sunday is up in the air. If he misses the game, it would leave the Dolphins with Jeff Wilson Jr. and Salvon Ahmed at running back, but Ahmed did have 43 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo in December, so poor tackling and gap discipline will still lead to big runs if Buffalo can’t clean it up. 

Things could get even hard for Buffalo since defensive tackle Tim Settle Jr. left Thursday’s practice with trainers and fellow defensive tackle Jordan Phillips didn’t practice on Wednesday or Thursday. The Bills will want to see them back on the field on Friday to have confidence that they can suit up for the weekend. 

 

Can Josh Allen continue his playoff dominance?

Everybody remembers Josh Allen’s playoff performance against the Chiefs last year in which he completed 27-of-37 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns, while also rushing for another 68 yards. However, it was just one game in what has been a pretty impressive playoff career. 

Allen has played six postseason games as the quarterback of the Bills and has completed 65.4% of his passes for 1,718 yards with 14 touchdowns and just one interception. He has also added 371 yards on the ground and a touchdown. If you break that down into per-game stats, that’s 286.3 yards and 2.3 touchdowns per game with 0.17 interceptions and an additional 61.8 yards rushing. 

In fact, Josh Allen even caught a touchdown in the team’s 2019 playoff loss to the Texans, which means Allen has as many playoff touchdown receptions as he does interceptions. 

If this version of playoff Josh continues to show up, the Bills are going to be really hard to beat. 

 

 

Which Gabe Davis Will Show Up?

The other player everybody remembers from that playoff loss to Kansas City last year is Gabe Davis. The Buffalo wide receiver put on a show with eight catches for 201 yards and four touchdowns. It was a performance that led people to believe the third-year wide receiver was set to break out in 2022, but that just didn’t happen. 

Davis may have set a career-high in receiving yards and tied his career-high in touchdowns but he also leads the team with nine drops and has a career-worst 51.6% catch rate. In eight of the team’s 16 games this year, Davis failed to total 40 yards receiving, and that inconsistency has become a real problem as defenses key on Stefon Diggs and dare Buffalo to beat them with other weapons. 

Dawson Knox has stepped up of late, but the Bills will need Davis to make plays on the big stage again. Even if he doesn’t match last year’s breakout, simply repeating the 76.9% catch rate he put up in the 2021-22 postseason will be enough for Buffalo to consistently move the ball down the field and compete with any team in the field. 

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Josh Allen Buffalo Bills
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) passes during the first half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, in Orchard Park. (AP Photo/Adrian Kraus)