by Aengus Moorehead
The Bills will look to steer clear of a seventh straight loss against a Miami crew being led for the first time by interim head coach Todd Bowles. Bowles was given the interim position on Monday when Miami fired Tony Sparano, just a day after an embarrassing 26-10 loss to the underachieving Philadelphia Eagles. Bowles was an assistant and secondary coach.
A once-promising season has disappeared for the Bills (4-1 start, 1-7 since), as they were officially eliminated from the playoffs on Sunday after a 37-10 loss to the San Diego Chargers. It is the 12th straight season Buffalo has failed to make the postseason.
Sparano's days had been long rumored to be numbered when the Dolphins lost their first seven outings of a 2011 campaign in which he needed to win to retain his post, and the final straw came after the team assured itself a third consecutive losing season with this past Sunday's 26-10 home setback to Philadelphia.
Miami had experienced a turnaround of sorts prior to facing the Eagles, recording four victories in a five-game span that including a 35-8 thrashing of the Bills on Nov. 20. All of those wins came by 11 points or more, with the lone blemish during that stretch a last-second 20-19 defeat to NFC East co- leader Dallas on Thanksgiving.
Bowles, who played eight seasons in the NFL as a safety from 1986-1993 and had been on the Dolphins' staff since Sparano's arrival in 2008, isn't considered to be a top candidate for the permanent assignment, with owner Stephen Ross believed to be targeting a big-name coach for box-office appeal, and insists he won't be using the remaining three tests to audition himself for the future.
Buffalo is going through a period of turmoil of its own, having dropped six consecutive matchups after an encouraging 5-2 record out of the chute brought about visions of a possible playoff run. The Bills have been considerably outplayed for most of the slide, being outscored by a troubling 194-77 margin during that time frame.
Ryan Fitzpatrick has had a hand in Buffalo's demise, having thrown nine interceptions and completing under 56 percent of his attempts over the six losses. He was picked off twice while hitting on a poor 13-of-34 passes in the Bills' 37-10 dressing-down by San Diego last week.
The well-traveled signal-caller also had a pair of interceptions in Buffalo's Week 11 waxing by the Dolphins, a game in which Miami counterpart Matt Moore tossed three scoring passes and the defense limited the Bills to 245 total yards and no offensive touchdowns.
Moore exited last week's tilt in the third quarter with a mild concussion and neck spasms, but was cleared to resume practicing on Thursday and is expected to start on Sunday.
Miami leads its all-time regular-season series with Buffalo by a 54-36-1 count and has won five of the last seven meetings between the longtime AFC East cohorts following its above-mentioned triumph at Sun Life Stadium last month.
The Dolphins also posted a 15-10 decision over the Bills in Buffalo in the 2010 season opener, which halted a string of five consecutive losses for the team at Ralph Wilson Stadium, and bested its fellow division member by a 16-3 count in a game held in Toronto in 2008. Miami last swept a home-and-home set from the Bills during that 2008 season, coming away with a 25-16 decision in South Florida earlier that year.
The Bills do own a 3-1 edge in postseason games played between the clubs, having topped Miami in a 1990 AFC Divisional Playoff and a 1995 First-Round bout, both of which were held in Buffalo, and handing the Dolphins a 29-10 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium in the 1992 AFC Championship. Miami produced a 24-17 home win over the Bills in a 1998 AFC First-Round Playoff.
Time & Venue:
- 1:00 PM ET, Sunday, December 18, 2011. Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, New York
NFL Football Odds: Bills-1.5, O/U 40.5
Miami will play out its season against AFC East rivals. After Buffalo, the Dolphins play in New England before closing out the season at home against the New York Jets. Injuries could make for a difficult end to the season. In Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Eagles, Pro Bowl tackle Jake Long fell to a back injury in the first quarter. Later, quarterback Matt Moore left the game with a possible concussion. If Moore is out Sunday, Miami will look to former Bills QB J.P. Losman. In relief last week, Losman was 6 of 10 for 60 yards. More alarming, he was sacked five times, showing the importance of Long’s presence on Miami’s offensive line.
In order to snap their losing streak, the Bills will need a little redemption over the Dolphins, who pummeled them 35-8 in Week 11. Buffalo was held without a touchdown. Avoiding turnovers will be essential. Last week against the Chargers, Fitzpatrick threw two interceptions. He has 16 on the season, including two in the first meeting with Miami.
Buffalo's sloppiness played a big part in Miami's lopsided win when these teams last met, with the Dolphins converting three Bills miscues into touchdowns to take a commanding 28-6 halftime lead. Buffalo's defense has also stopped creating mistakes after excelling in department during the early portion of the season. The Bills racked up an impressive 16 takeaways in prevailing in four of their first five tilts of 2011, but have just seven in going 1-7 since.
The Bills have usually been a tough foe when their quarterback is on point, but that's hardly been the case lately. The 29-year-old has finished with a passer rating below 55 in four of the last six games, all of which have been Buffalo losses, and with the team likely to find tough sledding in running the football against Miami's stern defense, he's going to have to regain his early-season form for the Bills to end their extensive winless drought.
The red-zone defense was another area in which the Dolphins dominated in their Week 11 ousting of the Bills, with the offense scoring touchdowns on all four possessions inside the Buffalo 20-yard line and the defense not yielding a single one in three red-zone trips by its opponent. Miami has allowed touchdowns on only 40 percent of such drives this season, tied for fourth-best in the NFL, while the Bills are 31st in the league in that category (68.1 percent).
Miami's Jason Taylor recorded two sacks against the Eagles, moving his career total to 138.5, good for sixth all-time.
RB Reggie Bush had third 100-yard game of the season against Philadelphia. Before joining Miami this season, Bush had just one career 100-yard game.
Fitzpatrick set a career high against the Chargers, reaching 3,013 passing yards. Besides Buffalo legend Jim Kelly, he is the only Bills QB with consecutive 3,000-yard seasons.
The total has gone UNDER in 4 of Buffalo's last 6 games when playing at home against Miami
Buffalo is 5-2 SU in its last 7 games when playing at home against Miami
Buffalo is 2-5 ATS in its last 7 games when playing Miami
Miami is 2-5 ATS in its last 7 games when playing on the road against Buffalo
The total has gone UNDER in 8 of Miami's last 11 games when playing Buffalo
The total has gone UNDER in 5 of Miami's last 5 games on the road
A change in leadership shouldn't have much of an effect on the Dolphins' on-field play off the bat, as Miami has most certainly been the superior of these two belligerents over the past six weeks and easily handled a Buffalo team that's in complete disarray a month ago.
The Bills' offensive funk stands a good chance of continuing against a Dolphins defense that's gotten its act together following a bad start, while Miami shouldn't have too much trouble establishing an effective running game against a porous Buffalo group that also can't pressure the passer. Bowles may have the perfect foe to make a good first impression on both his present and possibly future employers, as the Dolphins appear to possess clear advantages in a number of important areas.
NFL Football Pick: Take Dolphins.
afc east - buffalo bills - chan gailey - dallas cowboys - denver broncos - j.p. losman - jake long - jason taylor - matt moore - miami dolphins