ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Here are my five thoughts on the Buffalo Bills’ wild-card playoff game against the Miami Dolphins Sunday at Highmark Stadium:
1. The Bills can’t assume being an overwhelming favorite means anything to them.
Of course, they deserve to be heavily favored. They’re the better team. They have a distinct advantage in the most important position. Their quarterback, Josh Allen, is one of the best players in the NFL and has extensive playoff experience. The Dolphins’ quarterback, Skylar Thompson, is a rookie who has made two regular-season starts and who is making his postseason debut. The stoked Highmark Stadium crowd should provide its usual emotional lift for the home team and an environment unlike any Thompson has experienced.
Still, the Bills can’t forget they not only split their season series against the Dolphins, but they also struggled against them on the way to a three-point victory last month. Divisional opponents know each other better than any other teams they play and their games have a way of being closer regardless of the won-loss records.
However, what the Bills don’t know as well as they’d prefer is Thompson’s tendencies, which could provide a slight advantage to the rookie and the rest of Miami’s offense.
2. Josh Allen and the rest of the offense must find the groove they displayed in the latter stages of their season-finale against New England.
As dynamic a kick returner as the Bills have in Nyheim Hines, they can't count on him to provide another touchdown return, let alone the two he had against the Pats. Their offense has to do its part from the beginning of the game.
Allen broke out of a nearly three-quarter slump with long touchdown throws to John Brown and Stefon Diggs. That's the version of the Bills’ quarterback who must show up for this game, as well as the rest of the postseason.
At times, Allen and the rest of Buffalo’s offense have looked out of sorts, struggling to find the traction that seemed to come so easily earlier in the season and in 2021. They’ve strained to make big plays, because receivers haven’t gained separation or have struggled to hang onto the ball, or because Allen hasn’t always made good decisions or throws.
3. The Bills’ pass rush must set the tone for the game early.
The front seven has to make Skylar Thompson uncomfortable from the Dolphins’ very first pass attempt. That seems likely given Thompson’s inexperience, and the fact the Dolphins will be without injured running back Raheem Mostert to help mitigate the pass rush and the injury issues that have hit Miami’s offensive line.
Mistakes have a way of being magnified in the postseason, and the Bills have a good chance of forcing Miami into multiple blunders.
4. The Bills must use their running game to help temper the aggressiveness of the Dolphins’ defense.
It won’t be easy. The Bills’ ground attack is inconsistent and the Dolphins have the NFL’s fourth-ranked run defense.
But it will be important for the Bills to be persistent and patient with their running game. That could go a long way toward helping to slow down Miami’s pass rush. That should also help create openings in the Dolphins’ pass coverage for the Bills to exploit.
5. The possibility of Micah Hyde being available to play if the Bills reach the AFC title game is encouraging.
Sure, it’s a discussion about a game that’s two weeks away. But the fact Hyde has been practicing this week has, in itself, given the Bills a huge lift. The serious neck injury he suffered in Week 2 had presumably ended his season.
The chance of Hyde playing with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line would figure to make a major difference for the Bills, particularly against the Kansas City Chiefs and their game-breaking passing game. He not only is one of the more talented players in a position where depth has been severely depleted, but he’s also one of the NFL’s best at serving as the quarterback of the secondary. The Bills have sorely missed that in Hyde’s absence.