Playing in a division that’s been dominated by Tom Brady and Bill Belichick for over a decade, the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills are both in contention to reach the playoffs in the rarest of seasons. “Thursday Night Football” in Week 11 might turn out to be the biggest game of either team’s year, as they face off in Miami.
After failing to win in Week 10, a second straight loss for either team would do significant damage to their playoff chances. Miami and Buffalo are two games out of first place, in a conference that has 11 winning teams.
A loss for the Dolphins would be more devastating, considering they’ve already been beaten by the Bills. In Week 2, Buffalo got a 29-10 home victory over their AFC East rivals.
Only Buffalo has since replaced their quarterback, but both teams look much different at the position. While Kyle Orton took over for a struggling EJ Manuel in Week 5, Ryan Tannehill has become one of the Dolphins’ best players after there were reports that he might be benched.
Since suffering their first two losses, the Dolphins have sported one of the best offenses in the NFL. From Week 4 to Week 9, Miami never scored fewer than than 24 points, averaging 30.6 points per contest. The Dolphins scored 16 points in a Week 10 loss to the Detroit Lions, who have the No. 1 defense in the league.
Miami has proven to be virtually unbeatable when Tannehill is at the top of his game. The Dolphins are 4-0 in 2014 when the quarterback throws for at least two scores and no more than one interception. Since Tannehill became the starter in 2012, Miami is 11-1 in such games.
Kyle Orton has been about as good as could’ve been expected since taking over for Manuel. In four starts, the veteran has thrown 10 touchdowns passes and three interceptions. He has never failed to throw for more than 238 yards or post a passer rating of less than 81.9 in any game.
Orton will likely need to play well in order for the Bills to pull off the upset. When Miami shuts down the opposing team’s quarterback, they win. When the other signal caller has success, they lose.
In Miami’s five wins, no quarterback has registered a passer rating of more than 76.4, which would rank 30th among all starters this season. Those losing quarterbacks have combined to throw five touchdowns and nine interceptions. During Miami’s four losses, opposing quarterback have never posted a passer rating of less than 89.6, totaling nine touchdowns and just one interception.
The Dolphins have the NFL’s seventh-ranked running offense, but it might not be much of a factor on Thursday. Starter Lamar Miller was limited with an injury on Sunday, and the team ran for just 50 yards on 19 carries. They ran for 80 yards in their first matchup with the Bills, who hold the league’s No. 8 run defense.
Buffalo is a five-point underdog on the road, but they’ve played well away from Ralph Wilson Stadium. Buffalo is 3-1 on the road, having already guaranteed their best road record since 2009. The over/under is 42 points.
None of Miami’s victories has been close, as they beat every team by at least 13 points. Three of Buffalo’s victories have been decided by three or fewer points.
PREDICTION: Miami over Buffalo, 27-17