As the Miami Dolphins prepare to host the Buffalo Bills on Sunday, the home team is, to quote Zoolander’s Mugatu, “So hot right now.” The Dolphins erased a 35-14 deficit last week in defeating the Baltimore Ravens on the road, winning 42-38 in a wild game. Buffalo, on the other hand, has eviscerated both of their opponents, beating the Los Angeles Rams 31-10 and the Tennessee Titans 41-7.
In heat and humidity of South Florida, anything goes in a September showdown. Both teams are playing very well right now, and both are dealing with injuries in plenty of key places. And given that both teams are 2-0 right now, you can bet that this divisional contest will be a dogfight from start to finish.
Which players are we watching this week? I’m glad you asked. Here’s our (offense-heavy) list of five players to watch in Sunday’s game.
QB Tua Tagovailoa
Raise your hand if you had Tagovailoa leading the entire NFL in passing yards through the first two games of the year. Keep that hand up if you thought he’d lead the league in touchdown passes, too. Okay, now please put your hand down and stop lying. Even if you’re among the people who expected Tagovailoa to take a leap this year with new and improved weapons (more on that below), his performance thus far has been fantastic. It’s a fun pastime of Bills’ Twitter to mock the Dolphins’ quarterback, but this blurb isn’t going to do that. He has weapons, he’s in an offense tailored to his strengths, and he’ll be facing a banged-up Buffalo defense. This is exactly the scenario the Bills went out and signed a pass rusher like Von Miller for, as the ability to hit the quarterback with just four rushers is going to dictate the team’s success on Sunday. If the Bills can do that, then Tagovailoa will have to deal with seven defenders in coverage and a variety of exotic looks regardless of who’s playing. If Miami’s line gives Tua time, then he has proven that he can make teams pay. Buffalo has only blitzed three times on the entire season, and I don’t expect that to change much on Sunday; however, I could see them sending pressure on a few early downs to try and break Tagovailoa’s rhythm early. If it’s in his head that he’s going to have players coming at him, that will be to Buffalo’s advantage. Expect some odd looks pre-snap to try to confuse the guy who’s looking like he’ll be the Dan Marino to Josh Allen’s Jim Kelly in a rivalry for quite some time.
WR Tyreek Hill
We’ve seen him twice a year for the last couple of seasons anyway, as Buffalo and the Kansas City Chiefs played in the regular season in both 2020 and 2021, but having him land with a division rival is still tough to swallow. Hill has been as advertised for the Dolphins, posting a 19/284/2 receiving line through two games. Just like Stefon Diggs with Josh Allen, Hill’s presence has elevated his quarterback’s play. He has the speed to burn anyone deep, and he also has the route-running ability to create space in short areas before turning on the afterburners and running to the end zone. This is why Buffalo prioritized drafting a highly athletic corner like Kaiir Elam in the first round, as they felt they needed someone across from Tre’Davious White who could stick with someone like Hill. Two problems: One, White, is still out while rehabbing his ACL tear from last year, and two, Elam hasn’t been able to beat out sixth-round pick Christian Benford for playing time. And a third problem? Dane Jackson is unlikely to play this week after suffering a brutal blow to the head that required a trip to Erie County Medical Center last week. Buffalo’s rookie corners are going to be tested this week, and how they contain Hill is going to be a huge factor in the game.
WR Jaylon Waddle
I could literally write the same thing I wrote above in this space, so I’ll save you all the trouble. Waddle is a speed burner who also runs great routes to create space underneath. Five of his 15 catches have gone for at least 20 yards; two of those grabs have gone for at least 40. If Buffalo hits the quarterback, it will limit the effectiveness of those big plays, as the Dolphins won’t have time for them to develop. I expect some wide receiver screens early to slow the Bills’ front four a tick. If those are effective and the pass rush can’t hit its target? Well, this could develop into a shootout.
TE Mike Gesicki
He’s a bit of a forgotten man so far this year, but the athletic tight end is still a huge threat, and he’s had some of his best games against Buffalo. Gesicki has only been targeted five times this year, but he’s caught all five targets for a total of 42 yards and one touchdown. In September of 2020, Gesicki had ten grabs for 130 yards and a touchdown against the Bills. Last year, he caught six passes for 87 yards in the games combined. If the Bills commit too much help to the outside, then Gesicki has the ability to stretch the seam and make them pay over the middle. They’ll have to be near-perfect in their assignments in order to cover Miami’s various weapons. Linebacker Tremaine Edmunds played quite well last week, and he’ll be under some pressure to do it again this week.
CB Jevon Holland
With Xavien Howard and Eric Rowe limited in practice this week, Holland is the Dolphins’ healthiest corner among those in their top group. He’s a big (6’1”, 196 lbs), athletic corner who will either be matched up with Stefon Diggs or Gabe Davis all day. Davis is dealing with an ankle injury of his own, but Diggs has been on another level this year. He’s been close to unguardable in two games, catching 20 passes on 23 targets for 270 yards and four touchdowns. If Holland draws the matchup, he’ll have to be great in order to slow down an offensive juggernaut across from him.