The Buffalo Bills host the Miami Dolphins this Sunday for NFL Super Wild Card Weekend. This is the fifth time these AFC East rivals have met in the postseason. Buffalo is 3-1 in the previous four meetings, all of which came in the 1990s. Of those four games, two occurred in Buffalo, and the Bills won them both: a Wild Card game in 1990 and another Wild Card game in 1995.
Buffalo narrowly missed earning the AFC’s top seed, and its only bye in the playoffs, but they face a severely depleted Miami squad this week. We aren’t going to start counting chickens or listen to any opera in this column, though. We’re just here to talk about which players we’re watching out for as vital cogs in the Bills’ playoff machine. Earning a win on Sunday is just another step towards achieving the ultimate goal that this team set out to claim all the way back in July.
Here are our five players to watch this week for the Bills in their first playoff matchup of the 2022 NFL season.
QB Josh Allen
Obviously, if Buffalo’s quarterback has the kind of day he’s become known for in the playoffs, then it’s going to be very difficult for a Dolphins team without starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to compete. Allen hasn’t been stymied by Miami’s defense this season, but they have made him work for everything he’s earned against them. Allen has fumbled five times against the Dolphins this season, losing two of them. He’s taken six sacks in the two games, as well. He’s also thrown for 704 yards and six touchdowns without an interception, adding 18 rushes for 124 yards to boot. If the Dolphins can force more fumbles and recover them, then they’ll give themselves a puncher’s chance in this fight. If Allen can limit those fumbles while continuing to shred the Miami defense through the air, then he might be able to take some time off in the fourth quarter of this one.
RB James Cook
I’m going to throw this out there, and I may end up wrong, but call it a hunch: I think that Cook is going to be the biggest X-Factor for the Bills’ offense here in the postseason. He gives the team a speed element that they didn’t have last year. As the year has progressed, he’s developed into a deadly rusher by becoming more comfortable with the speed of the pro game. In his first nine career games, Cook averaged four carries and 18 yards per game. He averaged one reception for 11 yards per contest, as well. Since that time, his averages have increased to eight carries for 48 yards per game, as well as two catches for 12 yards per game. I still think he’s merely scratching the surface of his talent, especially as a receiver. If teams look to make Buffalo dink-and-dunk their way down the field, look for Allen to take the “easy money” and feed Cook with some short throws. Last week, he outsnapped fellow running back Devin Singletary for the first time this year. Whether that trend continues or not, look for Cook to break a big play or three on Sunday.
C Mitch Morse
Buffalo’s pass protection didn’t look good last week against the New England Patriots, and much of the pressure came directly up the middle. Perhaps that’s because the Bills were committing resources to help the tackles in preventing Josh Uche and Matt Judon from winning their pass rush, but the interior line for Buffalo hasn’t been great all season. Morse has been a bright spot up the middle, but after missing a game with a concussion, he struggled in his first full game back. With defensive tackle Christian Wilkins lined up across from him this week, Morse needs to be better than he was against the likes of Deatrich Wise Jr. last week.
DT DaQuan Jones
With Miami expected to start rookie quarterback Skylar Thompson, the Dolphins will probably lean heavily on the run game. Raheem Mostert has a broken thumb, so it will be a lot of Jeff Wilson Jr. for Miami. Jones will need to dominate in the middle to shut that running game down, forcing the Dolphins into situations where they’ll need to throw it in order to be successful. If Jones can eat blockers for linebackers Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano to work, then it will make that goal a bit easier. Winning in the trenches will make Miami’s offense, which only managed nine points last week (they scored two points on a safety by the New York Jets on the game’s final play), that much weaker.
CB Christian Benford
I’m as interested to see Benford possibly return to action as I am interested to see which who at cornerback the coaching staff will make inactive this week. With Benford back on the roster, Buffalo has seven corners and four safeties. Newcomer Jared Mayden will be inactive, and last week it was Benford, who had just been activated off Injured Reserve, who served as the other healthy scratch. It’s a given that Tre’Davious White, Taron Johnson, and Siren Neal will be active, and I feel pretty confident that both Kaiir Elam and Dane Jackson should be active, too. That leaves Cam Lewis as the odd man out. Given that Lewis is the team’s fourth safety, they could, in theory, deactivate someone else. But would they really scratch Elam or Jackson? And how will the defensive coaches divvy the snaps with such a crowded secondary? With two excellent wideouts in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, this is a good time to give everyone some run to find the best matchup in the secondary. Benford needs to play so that, if Buffalo does what we expect them to do and advances to play next week, he’s ready for any challenge in these playoffs.