There's no rest for a pair of weary and discouraged AFC East teams this week, as the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins look to bounce back tonight on the NFL Network. Both the Bills (5-4) and Dolphins (5-4) suffered disappointing, largely self-inflicted Week 10 losses and now must head back into action off a short week of practice for a matchup that amounts to a playoff elimination game for the loser. This longstanding divisional rivalry has tilted in Buffalo's direction of late, as the Bills are gunning for their fourth straight win over the Dolphins
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
Kickoff: 8:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: NFL Network
Spread: Miami -5.5
Three Things to Watch
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1. Fight for Survival
Two 5–4 teams in must-win mode collide at Sun Life Stadium. Both the Dolphins and the Bills are two games behind the division-leading Patriots, but more alarming is the fact that nine of the 11 AFC teams with winning records are ahead of these two teams in the playoff race. But before even contemplating the big picture, these teams must apply a laser focus to what amounts to a win-or-stay-home-for-January game. Their respective margins for error grew smaller this past Sunday with a pair of missed opportunities. The Bills blew a 13–3 lead against the Chiefs, while the Miami offense was MIA in a 20–16 loss to Detroit. "We can't change anything. It's time to get ready for Miami," said Bills safety Aaron Williams. "If we want to get back to the playoffs, this is a really important game."
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2. Playing Takeaway
The turnover battle plays a big part in every game, but especially in a division game between evenly matched teams. Both the Bills and Dolphins are plus-5 in the turnover department, seventh in the league, and they're in a three-way tie with the Cardinals for second in the NFL with 19 takeaways apiece. But both teams lost the turnover battle in disappointing Week 10 losses. The Bills had a particularly devastating miscue against the Chiefs when Bryce Brown fumbled out of the back of the end zone on his way in for a touchdown and a 17–3 lead in a game the Bills ultimately lost 17–13. Look for the Bills to be especially careful with the football this week after having the importance of ball security drummed into their heads by coach Doug Marrone. "We had an opportunity to get to 6-3," he said. "Now we're going to have to fight our way back and come back and find a way to win our next game."
3. Protecting Tannehill
Buffalo leads the NFL with 34 sacks, including six in the Bills' most recent game against Kansas City. The Dolphins are playing with a patchwork offensive line, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 18 times in five starts against the Bills. Left tackle Branden Albert is lost for the season to a knee injury, and left guard Darryn Colledge is still nursing a back injury and could miss a third straight start. The ingredients are in place for a long and painful afternoon for Tannehill. It will be up to a couple of young Tennessee products — rookie Ju'Wuan James at left tackle and second-year man Dallas Thomas at right tackle — to keep Tannehill upright and open lanes for whoever's healthy enough to carry the football. "What you saw is probably what you're going to get (Thursday)," coach Joe Philbin said of the line's performance in the Dolphins' season-worst 228-yard outing against Detroit. "Those guys weren't perfect, but overall I thought they held their own.”
Buffalo beat Miami 29–10 in September and are gunning for its fourth straight win in the head-to-head series, while the Dolphins are literally limping into this game off a short week with a taped-together offensive line and a lead running back (Lamar Miller) who's nursing a sore shoulder. The last time Miami played at home, the Dolphins dominated the Chargers 37–0 on Nov. 2, but suddenly, that seems like a long time ago.