By Sal Maiorana Rochester Democrat & Chronicle
Sal's Three & Out
1. Can Thad Lewis manage a repeat performance of his first start for the Bills? Lewis may have caught the Bengals by surprise last week. He'd played only one other NFL game, and it wasn't with Buffalo, so it was a tough week for Cincinnati to gauge what he might be capable of, and Lewis played pretty well. Now the Dolphins have a fresh game of tape to see how Lewis fits with this Buffalo team, not to mention home-field advantage and an extra week of prep time to get ready for the rest of the Bills. Lewis has some nice built-in motivation - he's returning home to Miami where he grew up and was a high school star -but he may be hard-pressed to play as well as he did a week ago.
2. Will Miami be able to protect Ryan Tannehill and give him a chance to test Buffalo's secondary? Tannehill has been bounced around pretty good this season, sacked an NFL-high 24 times already. Meanwhile, the Bills have 21 sacks and can create problems for Miami's suspect offensive line with their variety of pressure packages. Tannehill is still a young QB prone to mistakes, and if the Bills can bring the heat, not only can they get sacks and hurries, they may get some turnovers. On the other side, if Tannehill gets time, the Buffalo secondary is still suspect and deep threat Mike Wallace, still seeking his breakout game for Miami, could be in for a big day as Stephon Gilmore will probably have to play with a cast on his hand again, and Jairus Byrd is still finding his way.
3. Which defense will win the battle of the big chunk plays? Neither of these teams have been very good at limiting yardage. Buffalo has allowed 24 pass plays of at least 20 yards, Miami has given up 21. On the ground, the Dolphins haven't been as porous as they have only permitted one run of 20 yards while the Bills have given up the second-most in the league, eight. Buffalo ranks 27th in total yards allowed, 28th against the run, 22nd against the pass. Miami is 25th in yards, 15th in rush yards, 27th in passing yards. There will be some opportunities for explosive plays, and they may very well determine the outcome.
More: Thad Lewis comes home to Miami
... and Out
Like many teams in the NFL, the Bills are a much more competitive team at home. However, the Bills just seem to struggle more than most teams on the road. They've dropped six in a row away from the Ralph dating to last year, are 5-21 since the start of 2010, are winless in their last eight road games against AFC East teams, and have lost four of the last five in Miami. This team needs to prove it can start winning on the road if it hopes to ever become a playoff contender, and beating a division rival would be a good start. Winning in Miami should not be as difficult as the Bills have made it look because Sun Life Stadium certainly isn't the most hostile environment in which the Bills play. However, with two weeks to get ready for Thad Lewis, the Dolphins have a clear-cut advantage in this game.
My pick: Dolphins 23, Bills 16.
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