Just because the Buffalo Bills are only looking at their next opponent, that doesn't mean we can't jump the gun and see what's coming. Each week, we'll be looking at the next few opponents on the schedule to see what might be in store when they face off against the Bills. We call it our Pro Personnel Department series.
Week 9: Bills vs. Dolphins
Week 7: Dolphins (2-3) vs. Texans (2-4), Sunday, 10/25, 1:00 p.m. ET
Week 6 review: It was far from perfect, but the Dolphins put together their best performance of the season, by a significant margin, in Dan Campbell's debut as head coach in a 38-10 win at Tennessee. The offense finally managed to put together a strong running game, going for 180 on the ground (including 113 from Lamar Miller) to help the Dolphins maintain ball control. Ryan Tannehill threw two touchdowns, although the game was well in hand by that point, and looked pretty sharp on all of his throws and as a runner (14 yards on two carries, as well as a 17-yard run that was called back). Defensively, the vaunted pass rush finally showed up and made Marcus Mariota look like a deer in the headlights, although he did suffer an ankle injury early on that he played through. Cameron Wake showed up big after the bye week, recording four sacks and generally wreaking havoc in the backfield. The Dolphins intercepted Mariota twice, both of which were strong defensive plays: Reshad Jones jumped a route for a pick-six, and Brent Grimes made a diving pick inside the five-yard line which led to a 98-yard touchdown drive.
As I said, however, the game was not perfect. Miami's secondary made some big plays, but they also gave up several long passes to Tennessee's oversized receivers. The offensive line put together their best game in years, but near the end they showed some cracks and left Tannehill to fend for himself. Tannehill threw two first-half interceptions, both of which were intended for Jordan Cameron (one was tipped, and the other was an apparent miscommunication). Campbell wasn't really tested in the strategy department, but he did call an odd timeout at the end of the first quarter to try and draw the Titans offside on a 4th-and-4 (it didn't work). He did win a challenge on a Mariota fumble later in the half.
What to watch for: How will the defense play against Brian Hoyer? It's one thing to cause misery for a rookie quarterback like Mariota, but Hoyer has played quite well in the last two weeks. He carved up Jacksonville for 293 yards and three touchdowns a week after becoming the first quarterback in five years to throw for 300 yards in a relief performance. While Tennessee features a stable of good-but-not-great receivers who rely on their size, Houston is going to force-feed DeAndre Hopkins. Given the trouble they had covering the Titans' receivers on deep balls, they'll be in for a headache come Sunday.
Player to watch: the offensive line. Tennessee's defensive line is fairly talented, but Miami's beleaguered group pushed them around for most of the game. Miller had room to run, and Tannehill could actually set up in the pocket. They'll need another strong week, because while J.J. Watt isn't building up an MVP case like he was last season, he's still one of the best defenders in the league, and someone offenses need to game-plan around. Tennessee only managed two late sacks on Tannehill; the Texans could easily double that if Miami's linemen let their guard up.
Week 10: Bills at Jets
Week 7: Jets (4-1) at Patriots (5-0), Sunday, 10/25, 1:00 p.m. ET
Season in review: At the start of the season, there were very few outside of the Jets' fan base who would have pegged them for second place in the AFC East, and even they probably would have had a hard time believing they would be taking a 4-1 record into New England for a chance to tie the Patriots. At this point in the season, however, they really have been one of the better teams in the league, led by a defense that's allowing a league-low 15 points per game. They boats the second-best run defense and the second-best pass defense, and they're third in the league in takeaways despite having been through their bye already. Todd Bowles is showing that he was a good choice to take over the top spot from Rex Ryan.
Of course, the defense was expected to improve. What wasn't expected was the emergence of the offense as a top-ten unit. Our old friend, Ryan Fitzpatrick, has been decent to start the season, but not much has been asked of him. He's thrown more than 30 passes twice, including 58 attempts in the Jets' only loss of the season to Philadelphia. He's thrown at least one interception in each game so far. The real story for this offense has been the emergence of Chris Ivory as a bona-fide star in Chan Gailey's offense, topping 90 yards three times in four games and going over 145 in each of the last two. He currently sits at third in the NFL in rushing with 460 yards, despite being two games behind most of the rest of the league.
What to watch for: The always-intriguing matchup between the league's top offense and the league's top defense. Bowles hasn't faced off against Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in a long while, but is very familiar with them from his days on Tony Sparano's coaching staff in Miami. He last coached against the Patriots as Miami's interim head coach after Sparano was fired in December of 2011, a 27-24 loss. This time around, however, he'll have a much stronger group, led by a player who has a pretty intimate knowledge of the "Patriot Way" in Darrelle Revis. Of course, Revis is only one man, and the Patriots have several weapons on offense they can use besides whoever ends up on Revis Island. Bowles is a great defensive mind, and the Patriots' diversity on offense will be his biggest challenge yet as a head coach.
Player to Watch: Fitzpatrick. We all know it's coming: the inevitable implosion where everybody stops talking about his beard and Harvard degree and starts talking about his inopportune interceptions. He's always been good enough to stick in the league, but never good enough to stick with one team. Here's a quick look at his career against New England, all of which came with the Bills. Those are fairly decent raw numbers, but you may notice the 19 turnovers (17 interceptions and two lost fumbles) in only seven games. Fitzpatrick has been good with ball security this season, but Belichick might find a way to bring back the guy we came to know from the back half of the 2011 season until his departure to Tennessee.