It’s become a typical December conundrum for me. Every Sunday morning for the last decade I seem to always battle with the question of whether I want the Bills to win or lose. By this point, they’re always out of the playoff and while a win would mean a slight step closer to respectability, it would also mean a worse draft pick. With the additions of Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, and another solid draft, I fully expected not to have to face this dilemma again. Yet, the Bills head into Sunday with a 5-9 record, set to take on the Miami Dolphins for the second time this season. After failing to capitalize against the Rams and then being throttled by the Seahawks, the Bills have seen their season bottom out. As a life-long fan I still root for them to pull out this contest, but the screams of anguish for each inevitable mistake might not be so loud.
Here are the main questions that will need to be answered during the game…
Question One: Can the Bills defense rebound?
Three times this season the Bills defense has given up 50 or more points. It’s an embarrassing stat for a team that spent so much money, and so many draft picks, trying to upgrade their performance. After investing millions of dollars in Mario Williams and Mark Anderson and drafting Stephon Gilmore, Aaron Williams, and Kelvin Sheppard with early picks in recent years, the Bills continue to produce well below average results on defense. Blame it on the players or blame it on Wannstedt, but at some point this defense needs to step up and start making plays.
Question Two: Can Fitzpatrick keep the chains moving?
As December rolls around, Fitzpatrick always falls flat on his face. This year has been no different. However, Gailey continues to let Fitzpatrick air it out every game. That strategy might backfire majorly this week if he lets inconsistent Fitz take shots at the 7th ranked pass defense. It’s the strongest statistical unit on the entire Dolphins roster, offense or defense, and Fitz just doesn’t have the firepower to take them apart.
Question Three: Will Chan Gailey just give in and ride CJ Spiller?
What Gailey needs to do instead is simply give the ball to Spiller and sit back. Spiller averages 6.5 yards per carry, is one of the most explosive playmakers in football, and is going up against the 27th ranked run defense in the league. Instead of trying to mix in Tashard Choice or get the screen game working, Gailey needs to simply put the ball in Spiller’s hands and let him run to victory.
Question Four: Can anybody get to the QB in this game?
The Bills have gotten some decent production out of Mario Williams this year, but despite that they are still only 20th in the NFL in sacks. Miami isn’t much better, ranking 22nd. The Bills hit Tannehill eight times in the first meeting, recording three sacks, and now the Dolphins will be without Jake Long. They’re forced to start back-up guard Nate Garner at right tackle, where he will face Mario Williams. It could be a good way to disrupt the Dolphins offense and take the momentum in the game.
Question Five: Can the Bills special teams give the team a spark?
Leodis McKelvin is out, but Justin Rogers has proven to be a solid special teams player during his brief career with the Bills. He hasn’t matched the effort he put out during his rookie year, but the Dolphins are 28th in the league in special teams. If the game remains close it’s going to come down to field position, and Rogers could give the Bills an advantage with some well-timed returns.
Question Six: Can the Bills convert in the red zone?
The Bills have one of the worst red zone offenses in the NFL and it was on full display the first time these two teams met. Buffalo made four trips to the red zone and weren’t able to score any touchdowns. Part of that is their own futility, but Miami does own the best red zone defense in the NFL. Still, in order for the Bills to have any hope of winning games, they’re going to need to start converting in the red zone. Maybe letting Spiller stay on the field would be a start.
Question Seven: Can the secondary hold down a banged up WR corps?
The Bills secondary has been torched for much of the season. They’ve gotten great production from rookie Stephon Gilmore, but they have been unable to find any consistent production across from him or in the slot. The Dolphins have a dismal wide receiver corps as it is, but with Brian Hartline and Devone Bess banged up and unable to do much at practice this week, the match-up could be even easier for the Bills cornerbacks come Sunday.
Prediction: Bills 16 Dolphins 13
I don’t exactly expect this to be a shoot out. I think the Bills will find a way to move the ball on the Dolphins, but I don’t expect them to convert much in the red zone. However, I think the Bills pass rush will be in Tannehill’s face all day, preventing the Miami offense from getting anything going. This may simply be the Bills running up against an offense and defense that are slightly more average than their own units.