It is going to be electric in Buffalo on Sunday. The team is welcoming Jim Kelly to the game and I would not be surprised if he doesn't address the crowd or perhaps even the team before the game. The team is also introducing Terry Pegula, the Buffalo Sabres owner who has reached agreement to buy the Bills. Pegula has promised to keep the Bills in Buffalo.
So there are intangibles working for Buffalo on Sunday.
I'm picking the Dolphins 24-21. Basically, I don't believe in Buffalo QB E.J. Manuel.
Here are the keys to the game:
When the Bills pass the football: The Bills are not a proven passing team. Despite the fact they invested heavily to draft wide receiver Sammy Watkins this year and invested heavily to draft quarterback E.J. Manuel last year, this team is a question mark throwing the football. Last week the Bills threw for a modest (modest is a nice word for paltry) 169 yards. That’s not scaring anyone. Until Watkins proves he is the same beast in the NFL he was at Clemson and until Manuel proves he’s an accurate, polished NFL passer, the Bills will likely see teams stack the tackle box to stop a very good running game while daring them to throw. The Dolphins are definitely going to throw multiple fronts at the Bills, including a four-man line, a three-man line and even a five-man line. They will zone blitz and count on ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon to win their matchup against Buffalo’s offensive tackles. Vernon should be no stranger to Buffalo tackle Seantrel Henderson. They both played and practiced against one another at the University of Miami. ADVANTAGE: Miami.
When the Bills run the football: The Bills make their living running the football. It’s been that way in the past and they have picked up were they’ve previously left off, having averaged 5.8 yards per carry while gashing the Chicago Bears for 193 yards last week. C.J. Spiller, the smallish, fast back, is the primary ballcarrier. He does a lot of work inside but has the speed to go 70 yards on a given play. Fred Jackson is the bigger, slower but also more instinctive ballcarrier. The Dolphins should be wary of quarterback E.J. Manuel running the ball, particularly in the red zone. Although Manuel isn’t a scrambler and actually was injured last year against Cleveland while running, he can pick his spots. He did so last week, keeping on a spread option play and scoring on a six-yard run. The Dolphins know to win this game they must stop Buffalo’s run game. So even with all three of their starting linebackers out of the game, the Dolphins will commit to this up front even if it exposes them some to play-action. If the Dolphins stop the run, the Bills cannot win. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.
When the Dolphins pass the football: Ryan Tannehill has picked up where he left off last season but in some instances that’s not a good thing. Last week Tannehill failed to connect on three potential TD passes to Mike Wallace when he delivered poor throws to a wide-open receiver. (OK, one that Wallace caught out of bounds in the end zone might have been a TD with a better effort). The point is Tannehill left a lot of points on the field instead of on the scoreboard. The Dolphins also want to welcome Charles Clay into the season. He not only was bracketed in coverage by the Patriots in coverage last week, making him hard to find, but also had a drop that might have resulted in a touchdown. He can be a dynamic player. The Dolphins want him to start being that now. ADVANTAGE: Even.
When the Dolphins run the football: Knowshon Moreno is the NFL’s leading rusher after one week. And although common thinking suggests that will not be the case after this game because the Bills are supposedly very good up front and good against the run, consider this: The Dolphins have seen holes in the Buffalo front in that it sometimes suffers from its linebackers over-pursuing. When linebackers over-pursue, that opens up cutback lanes. And the Dolphins’ zone blocking scheme is perfectly suited for providing cutback lanes. So what happens when a run game built to create cut back lanes meets a defense that sometimes over-pursues and allows cut back lanes? Big holes. The Bills can obviously dash Miami’s hopes of running by winning at the line of scrimmage and keeping discipline among its linebackers. Pretty simple, really. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Special teams: Dan Carpenter is better than Caleb Sturgis. Let’s agree on that. But the Dolphins’ second-year kicker nonetheless connected on all four of his kicks last week, giving him a very good start to the season. The Miami special teams are capable of big plays as proven when they set the tone immediately and gave the offense a short field with a blocked punt against New England. Jarvis Landry was very good on kick returns and that’s why his 28-yard per return average ranks fourth in the NFL. Landry was solid (not great) on punt returns. Colton Schmidt has taken over the punting duties for the Bills from Brian Moorman, who was the punter the past dozen years and did it so well he was on the team’s 50th anniversary team. Moorman was cut in August an all but announced his retirement. ADVANTAGE: Even.
Coaching: Joe Philbin has put a different looking team on the field, if the season-opener against New England can be believed. That, in part, is due to him doing a better job and having better assistants that are upgrades over last year. Last year, coach Mike Sherman was thrilled when Mike Wallace caught three passes for 59 yards in a game. This week, offensive coordinator Bill Lazor criticized his offense that put up 33 points and implored them to be better. Doug Marrone is coaching for his job. New ownership in Buffalo is on the way so this year is the year for Bills coaches. Meaning? They are obviously motivated to succeed. The fact they’ve had success against the Dolphins in the past gives them a slight edge. Philbin has not won in Buffalo as the Dolphins coach. ADVANTAGE: Buffalo.