The Buffalo Bills will attempt to end the longest playoff drought in the NFL this afternoon when they take on the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
However, the Bills need to win and also get some help to make the postseason for the first time since 1999. The Dolphins saw their playoff hopes come to an end last week when they lost to the Chiefs 29-13 at Arrowhead Stadium.
Buffalo not only needs to beat Miami for the second time this season, the Bills also need the Chargers to lose to the Raiders and the Titans to lose to the Jaguars to grab one of the wild-card berths. The Bills also can get in with a win over the Dolphins and if the Ravens lose to the Bengals.
Buffalo at Miami
Kickoff: Sunday, Dec. 31 at 4:25 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Buffalo -2.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Tyrod Taylor
Since becoming the Bills‘ starting quarterback, Taylor has had some of his best games against the Dolphins.
In five games vs. Miami, Taylor has accumulated 1,232 passing yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions while completing about 65 percent of his attempts. He’s also added 193 yards and two more scores on the ground.
So why has Taylor had so much success against the Dolphins?
“I don’t know if I can pinpoint what exactly causes that,” Taylor said to reporters on Wednesday. “[They’re] definitely a team that I like to play against. They’re a talented group. Of course, they’re in our division; and any time you get a chance to play a team twice, you definitely know those guys. It’s a big rivalry game for us. Everyone gets pumped up for that game, myself included.”
In the first meeting against Miami just two weeks ago, Taylor passed for 224 yards and ran for 42 with two total touchdowns in the Bills’ 24-16 win at home.
2. Kenyan Drake
Drake (above, right), who got an opportunity to become Miami’s No. 1 running back following Jay Ajayi getting traded to Philadelphia, will get a second shot at the NFL’s 30th-ranked rushing defense. Two weeks ago, Drake posted 113 total yards (78 rushing) and a touchdown in the Dolphins’ loss up in Buffalo.
Over the last four games since Drake has become Miami’s workhorse, the second-year pro has averaged 92.3 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per carry.
When speaking to the media this week, Drake said he is looking forward to playing the Bills for the second time in three weeks.
“Yes, we just got behind,” Drake said. “When you’re behind, you can’t really just run the ball. That’s not really stretching the field out. You have to stay balanced, set the run up with play action, or set the pass up with the play action I mean, and just things like that. Once we get ahead of the sticks and get ahead in the game, you can run the ball to set up a play action and create a balanced offense.”
For the season, even with limited touches through the first eight games, Drake still leads the Dolphins in rushing with 569 yards and is third in yards from scrimmage (793).
3. LeSean McCoy
Before their first meeting of the season, Dolphins defensive coordinator Matt Burke said “LeSean McCoy (right) is going to make somebody miss – you can write that one down now."
Burke was 100 percent correct.
McCoy recorded 96 total yards and two touchdowns in Buffalo’s win against Miami. While the Dolphins did a decent job containing McCoy, he still had a significant impact on the game’s outcome.
“I think we’re trying to do what everybody else does, too,” Dolphins head coach Adam Gase said earlier this week. “That’s why they’re good. It’s one of those things you’d love for them to walk out of a game and say, ‘We held them to 20 yards rushing and 20 receiving yards, and he wasn’t effective;’ but the guy has been really good for a long time. You can put as many guys on him as you want and he’ll make a group of guys miss in a phone booth.”
McCoy enters Week 17 fourth in the NFL In both rushing (1,128) and yards from scrimmage (1,554), thanks to his 57 receptions, which leads the Bills.
While the Bills indeed have something to play for on Sunday, the Dolphins do as well. Miami could spoil Buffalo’s plans so expect the Dolphins to come out pretty fired up for their finale in front of the home fans against their division rival.
It is hard to know what to expect from Miami quarterback Jay Cutler. If he can protect the football, something he did not do in the teams’ first meeting two weeks ago when he threw three interceptions, the Dolphins certainly have a chance to win.
Ultimately, this game will likely come down to which team is able to run the ball more effectively. If Miami can slow down LeSean McCoy and Tyrod Taylor on the ground that will definitely help its case. However, if the two do something similar to what they did two weeks ago (combined for 92 rushing yards and two touchdowns), then expect a similar outcome.
Prediction: Bills 28, Dolphins 24
— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.