On game days this Miami Dolphins season, I’ve typically given ways for them to win their game. This is the toughest Sunday day to do that. They’re 13 1/2-point underdogs in Buffalo.
Winning this game, given its playoff consequences, would be the biggest upset in Dolphins history. No Tua Tagovailoa. Not even Teddy Bridgewater.
So is there a chance?
There’s always a chance and here’s what has to happen for the Dolphins to win:
1. Don’t let Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen play a clean game. Allen, Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow are the cream of NFL quarterbacks. Allen doesn’t win with just his arm but also his legs as he’s been the Bills leading rusher in both games against the Dolphins this year. Allen’s sole issue is he throws interceptions. Only Dak Prescott and Davis Mills threw more than Allen’s 14 this season. This doesn’t play into a Dolphins strength as only three teams have fewer than their eight interceptions this season. In the first game, the Dolphins’ Melvin Ingram strip-sacked Allen at the Bills’ 6-yard line to set up an easy touchdown. They’ll need something like that — a game-changing play — to pull an upset.
2. Let Skylar Thompson take shots downfield. This isn’t the Jets game where the Dolphins faced a sad-sack offense and won, 11-6. They’ll need to score some points Sunday to win. Yes, everyone is saying to run the ball — and the Dolphins have to do that. But the strength of this team at receiver plays into a Bills defense having been hit by injuries in a couple of key spots: Edge rusher Von Miller and free safety. All-Pro safety Micah Hyde went out in the second game of the season. His replacement, Damar Hamlin, suffered the near-tragic incident a couple of weeks ago. So Dean Marlowe, traded for in November, is the third-stringer at free safety. Meanwhile, nickel back Tavon Johnson (27th) is their highest-rated cornerback by Pro Football Focus. Zane Jackson (No. 122) and Tre’Davious White (No. 99) are the cornerbacks. Here’s the point: The Bills will give you some places to throw the ball. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle will have their moments of being open. Can Thompson attack Buffalo there? He’ll have to if you’re thinking upset.
3. Minimize the blitz. The Dolphins have died by the blitz more than won by it this season and it’s time to surprise Allen in some form by not blitzing him. He can run out of trouble, as his 77 yards rushing a month ago against the Dolphins showed. But he also has feasted on the Dolphins blitz. As I wrote in my Sunday column, he had a 92.1 grade when blitzed in their December meeting compared to a 70.9 grade when not blitzed, according to ProFootballFocus.com. It was the same story in their September game: 76.4 when blitzed and 38.4 when not blitzed.
4. Try to set tempo of game by running the ball. The Bills play a nickel defense as their base defense, so they can give up rushing yards by design. The Dolphins took advantage of that in rushing for 188 yards last month. Raheem Mostert was the primary force there with 138 yards — and he’s out Sunday with a hand injury. That means Jeff Wilson Jr. will be the primary back. He had 72 yards last week against he Jets when the Dolphins ran for 162 yards. The Dolphins can run the ball when they stick with it. Thompson should help them in this department. He can run the ball a little — or he could at Kansas State. His 4.9 speed isn’t going to scare anyone. But if the Dolphins throw in a few runs for him, it has the chance to keep this defense off-balance or maybe surprise it.
5. Pull a few surprises. Going for it on fourth downs (OK, coach Mike McDaniel does that anyhow). A fake punt (if you trust special teams). Reverses. Something. The Dolphins probably can’t play a conventional game Sunday. Jimmy Johnson went to 11-0 Washington his second year in Dallas and prepared his players that he was going to pull a lot of tricks to try and beat them. “You know the best way to beat up an 800-pound gorilla?” he asked his Cowboys who went 9-7 that year. “Sneak up on them, hit them with a board and run away.” Surprise them. Ambush them. This is part of McDaniel’s thinking so it could fit into this day.
That said …
Prediction: Bills, 30, Dolphins 16.