The Buffalo Bills will take on the Miami Dolphins in a massive primetime showdown on Sunday Night Football. This game will serve as the NFL’s final regular-season game of the year, and the stakes couldn't be much higher for the Bills. Here’s what to keep an eye on in Week 18.
What's a stake
As we all know, if Buffalo wins they’re in the playoffs and become the two seed in the AFC, not to mention they would win their fourth consecutive AFC East Championship. This is Buffalo’s easiest and most optimal path to the playoffs. Being the two seed would guarantee the Bills would have two home playoff games if they kept winning, and if the Baltimore Ravens were to find themselves upset in the divisional round, the Bills would have the chance to host the AFC Championship game.
If Buffalo were to stumble against Miami, the only scenario left where they can still clinch a playoff spot is if the Jacksonville Jaguars lose to the Tennessee Titans. That game will take place at 1 p.m. EST on Sunday before the Bills play. Adding to the drama, Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence is questionable to play this weekend. Here’s a breakdown of what seeds Buffalo could get:
- Bills WIN & Jaguars WIN = Bills (2) host Houston Texans (7)
- Bills WIN & Jaguars LOSE = Bills (2) host Pittsburgh Steelers (7)
- Bills LOSE & Jaguars LOSE = Bills (7) at Dolphins (2)
- Bills LOSE & Jaguars WIN = Bills out of the playoffs
Laundry list of injuries for the Dolphins
This week the Dolphins had a total of 19 players show up on their injury report. Two players have been declared out: star defensive end Bradley Chubb and starting cornerback Xavien Howard. Three players, all of whom are starters, are listed as questionable: linebacker Jerome Baker (knee), running back Raheem Mostert (knee/ankle), and wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (ankle). Mostert and Waddle are big pieces of Miami’s offense and it sounds like both will be a game-time decision on Sunday.
Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel said Jaylen Waddle and Raheem Mostert will get work at Friday practice to make a determination.— David Furones (@DavidFurones_) January 5, 2024
"I wouldn't close the door because they haven't."
Other notable players who showed up on the injury report but are going to play are running back De’Von Achane (toe/ribs), wide receiver Tyreek Hill (ankle), free safety Jevon Holland (knees), and quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (quad/left shoulder). The most notable of these is Tua Tagovailoa. Even though he was a full participant all week, an injury to his throwing shoulder is something to note.
Opportunity for Buffalo’s passing game to get back on track
The Dolphins' top two pass rushers, Bradley Chubb and Jaelan Phillips, will be out for this game. This likely means Bills quarterback Josh Allen should be comfortable in the pocket and able to work through his progressions in the passing game. The Dolphins will also be without Xavien Howard. However, star cornerback Jalen Ramsey returns to the lineup after missing their first meeting earlier this season. After cornerback Kader Kohou got worked by wide receiver Stefon Diggs in Week 4, I would expect to see him stay in his more natural slot position and the Dolphins to use cornerback Eli Apple as their defensive back opposite Ramsey on the outside.
Josh Allen and Buffalo’s passing game hasn’t looked their best in recent weeks. Allen hasn’t thrown for over 250 yards since before their bye week in Week 13. However, the Dolphins are fresh off a performance where they allowed Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to go 18-of-21 for 321 passing yards and five passing touchdowns. Nearly identical to Josh Allen’s performance versus the Dolphins in Week 4 this season when he went 21-of-25 for 320 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, and one rushing touchdown. A lot has changed since Week 4, but Buffalo is primed for a solid passing performance in the most important game of the season so far.
What can we learn from the first matchup of the season?
The Bills beat the Dolphins 48-20 earlier this season in Week 4. Let’s review some of the successes Buffalo had in that game:
Getting Tua off of his first read
To read a full breakdown of how Buffalo’s defense slowed down Miami’s offense you can review my analysis article from Week 4 here. The Dolphins’ passing offense is timing based, meaning Tagovailoa throws the ball to where he expects the receivers to be in the route progression, even if they aren’t “open” yet. This typically has led Tagovailoa to throw to his first read, have a quick release time, and a plethora of air yards. The moral of the story? Tagovailoa gets the ball out of his hand quickly and throws it down the field. Buffalo did a fantastic job of defending this in their first matchup.
According to @FantasyPts outstanding Data Suite, Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa threw to his 1st read 80.2% of the time in Weeks 1-3.— Joe Marino (@TheJoeMarino) October 2, 2023
In Week 4 against the Bills, Tua went to his 1st read on 57.1% of throws.
Great job by McDermott's D forcing Tua to work deeper into progressions.
The Bills were able to cover Miami’s wide receivers long enough to get Tagovailoa off of his first read and then Buffalo’s defensive was able to get pressure on him, causing bad throws or getting a sack. The Bills will look to do this again in Week 18, but this time they’ll have to do it without key starters in linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Tre’Davious White.
To review my analysis article from Week 4 on Buffalo’s success using the play-action pass, check it out here. In Week 4 versus the Dolphins Josh Allen was 9-of-10 for 221 yards and three touchdowns. Allen is currently fourth in the NFL in passing yards using play action, according to Fantasy Life.
Potentially more reason for #Bills to crank up the play-action use in Wk 18 in Miami— Chris Trapasso (@ChrisTrapasso) January 2, 2024
Dolphins defense has allowed a QB rating of 104.6 (8th-highest) vs play-action this season
Lamar Jackson used it on 44% of his drop backs vs Miami in Wk 17. Went 9-of-10 for 159 yds w/ 3 TDs
I’d expect the Buffalo Bills to use their fair share of play-action passes in Week 18. This could be an opportunity for them to get Stefon Diggs the ball and get him rolling. However, I’m sure the Miami Dolphins will pay extra attention to him after his performance earlier this season. Even if the Dolphins do take away Diggs, it should leave opportunities for Buffalo’s other weapons down the field when running play-action passes.