Bills looking to clinch AFC East, playoff berth in matchup with Dolphins
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. (AP) — The only thing that stands in the way of a fourth straight AFC East title for the Buffalo Bills is a Miami Dolphins team they've beaten nine times in their past 10 meetings.
And the Bills will know before kickoff Sunday night whether they need to beat the Dolphins just to make the playoffs. If some other games don't go Buffalo's way, the Bills could face an unusual situation: Win, and they're the AFC's No. 2 seed; lose, and they miss the playoffs altogether.
Nothing has been easy for Buffalo this season.
The Dolphins took control of the division by jumping out to 6-3 record. The Bills fell to 5-5 on Nov. 13 with a late meltdown in a 24-22 loss to visiting Denver, and and coach Sean McDermott fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey a day later. Josh Allen also had 12 interceptions and three fumbles his first 10 games.
Nonetheless, the Bills have won their past four games — while treating every matchup like a must-win.
“We’ve just kind of taken the mindset that we’ve been in the playoffs,” Allen said. “It’s been survive and advance, win or go home.”
There's much more at stake this week than when the Bills beat Miami 48-20 in Week 4 behind four touchdown passes from Allen.
Although the Dolphins have secured a playoff spot, they have plenty to play for. Win, and they are division champions and the No. 2 seed, with the potential to play two or even three playoff games at home. Lose, and they fall to the No. 6 spot and start the playoffs on the road.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel feels his team is completely different from the one that played at Buffalo on Oct 1.
“It felt like at that point in the season, maybe the players were running the system that we have in each phase,” McDaniel said. “Now it feels like they’re owning the system, and there’s an incredible power to that. When we’re at our best, that’s what you’re seeing.”
The Dolphins are also aware that the Bills have had their number in recent years. Miami has two wins against Buffalo since McDermott took over in 2017.
Tua Tagovailoa has five touchdown passes, five interceptions and a 70.6% completion rate in six games against Buffalo. Allen has 34 passing touchdowns, five rushing touchdowns and a 109.2 QB rating in 12 starts against Miami.
“I’ve played well against them in the past, but it doesn’t mean I’m gonna play well against them this week,” Allen said, “unless I prepare well and work hard in practice and get on the same page as receivers. And the five guys up front do their job and the receivers catch the ball.”
Buffalo’s starting safety tandem of Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer is closing its seventh and potentially final season together. The 33-year-old Hyde is in the final year of his contract and continues to be bothered by a neck injury sustained in 2022. The 32-year-old Poyer has one year left on his contract, which could be easily voided by the Bills.
Buffalo signed the free agents hours apart in 2017, and they’ve been fixtures since.
“I feel so indebted to those guys,” McDermott said. “If I knew that they would go on to do what they’ve done over those seven years, we hit the lottery a little bit right there.”
CHASING THE CHEETAH
The Bills were very familiar with receiver Tyreek Hill before he landed in Miami in 2022. Buffalo faced Hill five times when he was with Kansas City, including two playoff meetings — both won by the Chiefs.
“He’s unique,” McDermott said. “In my 20-some years in the NFL, there’s no one else like him that I’ve seen in terms of what he can do on the field, what he’s been able to do this year.”
Buffalo has kept “Cheetah” contained for the most part. He has 31 catches for 284 yards and a TD in six regular-season meetings. He’s been better in the playoffs, with 27 catches for 391 yards and a TD in three games.
Tagovailoa is on the verge of a personal milestone. When Miami's fourth-year quarterback starts Sunday's game, it'll mark the first time in his career that he has started every game of a regular season. Injuries had caused Tagovailoa to miss at least one game in every season since the Dolphins drafted him in 2020.
Tagovailoa missed five games in 2023, including a playoff game, because of two diagnosed concussions that caused him to briefly consider retirement. He added weight in the offseason and started training in jiujitsu to better protect himself on the field. Tagovailoa had a sore shoulder after last week's loss at Baltimore but has practiced fully this week.
“It’s a blessing that I get to play the entire season,” Tagovailoa said. “I think anyone would say the same around the league that it’s a blessing to make it this far as healthy as anyone can be right now leading up to this week. So, very blessed. Very fortunate. And I don’t take this for granted.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Orchard Park, New York, contributed to this report.
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