MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The year was 2002. The NFL was realigning to eight, four-team divisions with the addition of the Houston Texans.
There was a proposal, that had a good deal of momentum, to shift Buffalo to the AFC North. Geographically, it made sense.
It didn’t to then-Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson. A founding owner and member of the foolish club, he was a stickler for tradition.
He wanted to keep the Bills-Dolphins rivalry alive. The Bills remained in the AFC East. Fast forward 20 years and the once-great rivalry is starting to rekindle.
Both teams enter the game 2-0. Buffalo, Miami, and Kansas City are the only unbeaten teams that remain after two games in an AFC race that stands to be among the most competitive in memory. The winner of Sunday’s 1 p.m. matchup at Hard Rock Stadium will have the early lead in the division.
The original Bills-Dolphins rivalry was borne largely out of Miami’s dominance.
Don Shula’s teams owned Buffalo, with a 20-game win streak in the 70s. The balance started to shift in the 80s, with things reaching their peak in the quarterback battles between Jim Kelly and Dan Marino and the Buffalo teams that went to four straight Super Bowls in the early 90s. That included the Bills' win over Miami in the 1992 AFC championship game.
It’s the Bills that have had the upper hand of late. They’ve won seven straight over the Dolphins heading into this game Sunday, as part of the Bills' run to back-to-back division titles.
Much like in the Kelly-Marino era, the latest chapter of this rivalry is built around quarterbacks.
Josh Allen has emerged as the best quarterback taken in the 2018 draft. Miami drafted Tua Tagovailoa with the fifth overall pick in 2020. His early progression hasn’t been as steady as Allen’s, but his 469-yard, six-touchdown effort in a 42-39 win over Baltimore last week suggests he’s reached a new level of competitiveness.
The addition of receiver Tyreek Hill, who tormented Buffalo in both of the playoff losses to the Chiefs in each of the past two seasons, stands to put a great amount of strain on Buffalo’s injury-riddled secondary.
Saturday’s news that starting safety Micah Hyde is headed for injured reserve as a result of the neck injury he suffered in Monday night’s win over Tennessee further accentuates that.
Cornerback Dane Jackson is out with a neck injury from Monday night, leaving rookie cornerbacks Kaiir Elam and Christian Benford further exposed.
The Bills upgraded pass rush has been successful over the first two weeks, and will need to be again despite defensive tackles Jordan Phillips (hamstring) and Ed Oliver (ankle) being out for this game.
Josh Allen has thrown for 614 yards and seven touchdowns over the first two games. The Bills outscored the Rams and Titans 72-17 to start the season.
They may need that production again given the state of affairs on defense.
Regardless, you more than get the sense, a new chapter in this epic rivalry is opening. Something the late Ralph Wilson no doubt envisioned and held his ground for.