With the news earlier this week that the Bills will be hosting a prime-time game in two weeks against the undefeated New England Patriots, Bills fans everywhere (even, I'll grudgingly admit, yours truly) immediately considered the potential gain an upset over the Pats would bring to this young Bills team. Then Perspective Pete - that chunk of brain that constantly attempts to bring me back to reality - whispered in my ear.
"But Brian... we're playing the Dolphins this week."
My response: "Oh, yeah... oh, crap."
The mistake was brief, but that mistake really set in the reality for me - if there is such a thing as a "trap game" for a 4-4 football team, this is it. Anyone chalking a win up for the Bills already is doing what the Bills absolutely must not: overlooking a winless Dolphins team that, truth be told, should not be winless. Believe me when I make the following two claims: this is a game the Bills should win, but this is also a game the Dolphins could use to jump-start the second half of their season. Don't overlook Miami; here's why.
Miami Plays Teams Close
Many people look at Miami's 0-8 record and think "league bottom feeder" - and while their record makes that true, it doesn't mean they've been an easy out for the eight teams that have beaten them. In fact, that's not close to true - Miami has lost four of those eight games by three points each. In addition, other than the Colts, Miami may have been the one team to really (at least offensively) give the Patriots a run for their money, throwing up 28 points in a 49-28 loss on October 21. That Pats loss, coupled with a 17-point loss to the Cowboys and an 18-point loss to Oakland, are the only instances the Dolphins have been blown away.
Simply put, this Dolphins club is scrappy. As the starting quarterback, Cleo Lemon hasn't been lights out, but he's certainly good enough to keep his team in games. The team has found a capable replacement for injured RB Ronnie Brown in Jesse Chatman, who was a lone bright spot for the Dolphins in their 13-10 loss to the Giants overseas. The defense has struggled stopping the run and has given up a lot of points, but the big names (Zach Thomas, Jason Taylor) remain, and they've had success against Buffalo in the past. Make no mistake: these Dolphins can, and probably will, keep this game uncomfortably close. The scariest part: at 0-8, the Fish have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
The Importance of Division Games
It's something that sort of speaks for itself, but with the Sunday Night Showdown two weeks away, it bears stressing right now: the Bills are not going to make the playoffs unless they can win their division games. As it stands now, the Bills are 2-1 in the AFC East, with a loss to New England and two wins over the Jets. The Bills absolutely have to be above .500 - and at 3-1 in the division - if they hope to make any waves, regardless of the outcome of the Pats game.
The point here is this: Buffalo's contest against Miami this weekend is actually more important than the Pats game in two weeks, because it's a game they should win. Case closed. And for the record, yes - that means I'm far more anxious about this Dolphins game than the Pats game.
Bills/Dolphins By The Numbers
Miami Offense: #18 overall with 322.1 yards per game (18 pass, 12 rush)
#14 at 20.8 points per game
Buffalo Offense: #31 overall with 275.1 yards per game (29 pass, 18 rush)
#27 at 16.2 points per game
Miami Defense: #23 overall, surrendering 349.2 yards per game (6 pass, 31 rush)
#31 surrendering 30.5 points per game
Buffalo Defense: #29 overall, surrendering 371 yards per game (29 pass, 19 rush)
#12 surrendering 19.5 points per game