Jay Ajayi and the Dolphins look to maintain their hold on a wild card spot by sweeping the Bills
New England may have already wrapped up the AFC East, but there’s still important business in the division to attend to when Buffalo hosts Miami on Christmas Eve. The Dolphins (9-5) are a game clear of the pack for the second wild card spot, while the Bills (7-7) must win to keep their slim playoff hopes alive.
Even though Buffalo is coming off of a 33-13 win over Cleveland, these last two games (Bills finish at the Jets) could determine whether head coach Rex Ryan keeps his job or not. At least on paper, there’s a big difference between finishing 9-7 or even 8-8 compared to 7-9. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor also could be auditioning for his job, as the structure of the contract extension (six years, $90 million, but option for 2017) he signed in August gives the Bills some flexibility should they decide to go in another direction.
For Miami, it’s pretty simple – win out and the Dolphins are in the playoffs for the first time since the 2008 season. In fact, if Miami wins and Baltimore, Tennessee and Denver all lose, the Dolphins can sew up the wild card and not have to worry about the regular season finale at home against the Patriots.
Miami beat Buffalo 28-25 back in Week 7 behind 214 rushing yards from Jay Ajai. The Dolphins have lost their last four games at New Era Field (formerly Ralph Wilson Stadium).
Miami at Buffalo
Kickoff: Saturday, Dec. 24 at 1 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS
Spread: Buffalo -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Moore Good Things to Come from Matt?
Prior to this past Saturday’s game in New York, Miami had won seven of its last eight and was really starting to click. Ryan Tannehill had found his own groove, throwing 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions during that span while completing nearly 70 percent of his passes. But in Week 14 Tannehill was sacked late in the win over Arizona. Although he escaped serious injury, Tannehill sprained the ACL and MCL in his left knee and more than likely played his final game of this season.
Veteran Matt Moore replaced Tannehill and even though he made his first start in five seasons last week against the Jets, he showed little rust in throwing a career-high four touchdowns and just one pick in the 34-13 road rout. Moore completed 12 of his 18 passes, including two long scoring strikes (52 yards to Kenny Stills, 66 to Jarvis Landry), as the Dolphins poured it on in the third quarter. Can Moore do the same at home against Buffalo? The Bills have been one of the best against the pass this season and held Tannehill to just 204 passing yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. But part of that was due to the damage Jay Ajayi did on the ground, and it’s been a while since Buffalo has faced Moore and vice versa. In this matchup of unfamiliar foes which side has the advantage?
2. Jump-starting Jay?
In the first game against Buffalo, Miami running back Jay Ajayi torched the Bills for 214 rushing yards on 29 carries. He scored just one touchdown, but he averaged 7.4 yards per carry and had eight runs of 10 or more yards. Ajayi was a big reason why the Dolphins won 28-25, but he hasn’t been the same productive ball carrier since that Week 7 game. He ran for 111 yards in a 27-23 victory in Week 9 over the Jets, but has just 361 yards on the ground and a single touchdown over the past six games. He’s averaging just 3.5 yards per carry during this span and while Miami is 5-1 in those games, now is as good a time as any for Ajayi to get going again. Buffalo has had trouble stopping the run all season (124.4 ypg) and gave up 236 yards and three scores (on 38 carries) to Le’Veon Bell two weeks ago. The Dolphins need a balanced offensive approach to give them the best chance for success, both now and looking ahead to the playoffs, and more production from Ajayi also will take pressure off of Moore and the passing game.
3. Buffalo’s Healthier Herd
Even though the Bills lost by just three points in Week 7, the Dolphins outgained Buffalo 454 to 267 and had 26 first downs compared to 16. Penalties (13 for 116 yards) helped keep the Bills in the game, as Miami also dominated time of possession (37:02 to 22:58). But another factor in the first meeting was that running back LeSean McCoy managed just 11 yards on eight carries before leaving after aggravating a hamstring injury and Sammy Watkins did not play because he was on injured reserve. Both will be in the starting lineup on Saturday, which immediately makes Buffalo’s offense that much more dangerous.
McCoy has struggled with some injuries this season, but he’s rushed for 100 or more yards in three of his last four games, including a season-high 153 on just 19 carries (8.1 ypc) last week against Cleveland. Statistically speaking, the Dolphins have been even worse against the run (132.5 ypg) than the Bills, so McCoy and Mike Gillislee could play a huge role in this game, especially since it’s in Buffalo and it’s the middle of December. Meanwhile, Watkins hasn’t done a lot since returning from IR (11 rec., 182 yds., TD in four games), but his mere presence makes the Bills’ passing game that much harder to defend. Watkins also is averaging 17.8 yards per reception in four career games against Miami.
Miami is leading the chase for the second wild card spot, but that doesn’t mean this game isn’t important for Buffalo. That’s especially the case if you believe the scuttlebutt regarding Rex Ryan’s tenuous job security. The Dolphins beat the Bills by just three points in their first meeting, but the score doesn’t indicate how dominant Miami was at home. Much has changed since then, as Buffalo is back to full strength on offense and the Dolphins have backup Matt Moore at quarterback.
The keys to this game will be which team can run the ball better and protect it, especially if the weather takes a turn for the worse. Jay Ajayi lit up the Bills for 214 rushing yards back in Week 7 and even though he hasn’t done a lot since, I think he breaks out of his funk. Ajayi and LeSean McCoy lead a ground assault for their respective teams, but Miami gets one step closer to the playoffs with a sweep of its longtime AFC East rivals.