Surging Bills face weakened Dolphins on the road
The AFC East race comes down to Week 18 of the regular season as the Buffalo Bills take on the Miami Dolphins. Just a few short weeks ago, the Bills were on the outside looking in at the AFC playoff picture after losing four of six games and sitting at 6-6. Since then, the Bills have rattled off four straight wins, including impressive performances against the Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys. However, their playoff passage isn’t fully guaranteed. If the Bills lose to the Dolphins and the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers win, the Bills are out.
At 11-5, the Dolphins have already clinched their playoff spot. A 56-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens in Week 16 was compounded with key injuries to Tua Tagovailoa, Xavien Howard, and Bradley Chubb, with the latter out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL. If the Dolphins lose, the Bills claim the AFC East crown and a chance to be the No. 2 seed in the AFC.
The Bills might need to limit explosive plays to win
The Miami offense tends to score points in bunches. The Dolphins lead the NFL in total yards per game (409.2) and points per game (30.1) and have scored 30 or more points in eight games this season. They’re a team that can beat you on the ground and through the air, but their ability to rip off explosive plays can kill defenses. Per PFF, the Dolphins have created 187 explosive plays this season (runs of 15-plus yards, passes of 20-plus yards), more than any other offense in the NFL.
The Bills’ defense, meanwhile, has allowed the 10th-most explosive plays in the NFL, but a formula may still exist for stopping the Dolphins. Sean McDermott may need to play more cover two and quarters, as well as ask his linebackers to get more depth in coverage to restrict the deep and intermediate parts of the middle of the field. Stopping this offense is no easy task, though.
The Dolphins’ path to victory likely includes protecting Tua Tagovailoa
As good as the Dolphins’ offense is, its weakness mostly lies in getting after Tagovailoa. The Ravens pressured the Miami quarterback 12 times in Week 17, forced him into two interceptions, and sacked him three times. On top of that, Tagovailoa tends to be a different player when he must hold onto the ball longer and extend plays. He’s also thrown seven interceptions when pressured this season, per PFF.
The silver lining is that the Dolphins have protected Tagovailoa well for most of the season. A lot of that stems from his ability to get the ball out quickly, but the pass protection has been good overall. However, the Dolphins’ offensive line is banged up. Connor Williams is out for the rest of the season, and Terron Armstead and Robert Hunt have missed multiple games each. The team will take on a Bills pass rush that has pressured quarterbacks at the eighth-highest rate this season, per PFF.
Bills vs. Dolphins player props
Sunday Night Football odds & betting lines: Bills vs. Dolphins
Bills vs. Dolphins head to head
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Bills vs. Dolphins injury report: Who’s out, who’s starting?
The Bills don’t have many new injuries to contend with. Quarterback Josh Allen acknowledged that he picked up a stinger on his left arm in the team’s 27-21 win against the New England Patriots in Week 17. That’s unlikely to keep him out, though.
Miami’s injury concerns are a little deeper. Chubb reportedly tore his ACL in the loss to the Ravens and is out for the season, and Howard left the game with a foot injury. The Dolphins will hope to have Jaylen Waddle, Raheem Mostert, and Robert Hunt back, but all are questionable after missing the Week 17 loss.
Buffalo Bills Week 18 injury update: Josh Allen questionable
Miami Dolphins Week 18 injury update: Tua Tagovailoa likely to play