The Game Matchups Preview series is dedicated to breaking down how the Buffalo Bills match up with their opponent in each game of the 2022 NFL Season. This series will look at five key matchups; Bills Pass Offense vs. Opponent Pass Defense, Bills Rush Offense vs. Opponent Rush Defense, Bills Pass Defense vs. Opponent Pass Offense, Bills Rush Defense vs. Opponent Rush Offense, and Bills Special Teams vs. Opponent Special Teams. This entire analysis will conclude with three sections; “Why Buffalo Will Lose”, “Why Buffalo Will Win”, and a score prediction for the game.
Below I present 2022’s 18th iteration of this analysis for the Bills’ Wildcard Game versus the Miami Dolphins. Included is a scale ranking the advantage in each matchup from 👏 (Minimal Advantage) to 👏👏👏👏👏 (Massive Advantage).
Bills Pass Offense vs. Dolphins Pass Defense
There are many versions of Josh Allen. We have, among others, the deprecated “Sugar-High” Josh Allen, the mythical “Angry” Josh Allen, and the unstoppable “Playoff” Josh Allen. On Sunday at 1:00PM ET, for the first time in 358 days “Playoff” Josh Allen will make his long-awaited return.
This version of Allen is renowned for an NFL All-Time Best 106.6 Passer Rating as well as an Active NFL Best 14:1 Pass TD:INT Ratio (Among QBs with 9+ Postseason TD Passes). In 2021, Allen spearheaded a campaign that saw the Bills outscore their opponents by 24 points by scoring 41.5 Points per Game in their 2 Postseason contests. But therein lies the problem, they played just 2 games. With the 2022 playoffs set to begin just a few days from now, more of the same will be required from Josh Allen with the rest of the team following suit. Do that, and the Bills should see a few more opponents this postseason, and possibly walk away with a trophy in hand.
This postseason begins against an old foe and one of the 3 teams to beat the Bills this season, the Miami Dolphins. In the past few seasons, the Dolphins have sported one of the best Pass Defenses in the NFL, but not so much in 2022. They finished the regular season ranked 25th in Pass Defense DVOA (+12.4%) due in large part to forcing just 8 Interceptions (NFL-29). The disappointment over this was palpable in Miami and made worse by the obvious talent in their secondary. That secondary struggled though and among their five most active Defensive Backs; Jevon Holland (S), Xavien Howard (CB), Kader Kohou (CB), Eric Rowe (S), Keion Crossen (CB), only the undrafted rookie Kohou had a Passer Rating against under 99.0.
Against Buffalo, those five will be tasked with slowing down the likes of Stefon Diggs (WR), Gabe Davis (WR), Isaiah McKenzie (WR), Cole Beasley (WR), and/or John Brown (WR). Matchups will be more important than ever this week and unless the Dolphins, who play the 2nd heaviest Man Coverage, can consistently find advantageous ones, multiple Receivers will be open on each play for Josh Allen.
With the Dolphins unlikely to win the coverage game their focus will shift to producing consistent pressure on Josh Allen. On the season, the Dolphins were about average in that regard, finishing 14th in Sacks (40) and 17th in Pressure Rate (21.7%). As of late though, they have seen significant improvements from their second year Defensive End, Jaelan Phillips, who finished their last 12 games with 6.0 Sacks and 33 Pressures. He pairs well off the edge with Bradley Chubb and/or Melvin Ingram to produce a surprisingly consistent edge rush. Phillips will be a massive test for the inconsistent Spencer Brown (RT) while Dion Dawkins (LT) will have his work cut out for him as well, in two must-win matchups for Miami. The Dolphins have a chance to make life difficult in the pocket for Josh Allen but through the combination of his mobility and the Bills’ advantage at the skill positions in this, you’d be hard-pressed to find a reason Allen can’t have yet another POTW like performance against his division rival.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Offense vs. Dolphins Rush Defense
It took the Bills until Week #18 to rush for under 100 yards in a game, thus snapping a 21-game regular season streak for the franchise. A minor setback for a Bills run game that has otherwise been peaking at the right time. Since drafting Josh Allen, the Bills have attempted to cobble together a competent traditional run game and they seem to have finally accomplished that with the duo of Devin “Motor” Singletary (RB) and James Cook (RB). On the seasonBuffalo’s two RBs have accounted for 1,326 Rushing Yards and 7 Rushing Touchdowns on 266 carries. Context always helps with discussions such as these so providing that the Vikings’ bell cow back, Dalvin Cook, accounted for 1,173 (-153) Rushing Yards and 8 (+1) Rushing Touchdowns on 264 (-2) carries shows just how impressive this twosome have been.
Motor and Cook will look to translate that regular-season success into postseason production beginning this week against the Dolphins. This is a Dolphins Rush Defense that ranks Top-6 in both Rushing Y/A (4.1) and Rushing Yards per Game (103.0) primarily due to a strong interior Defensive Line.
That interior features two dynamic players in Christian Wilkins (DT) and Zach Sieler (DT). Wilkins is the star of the two and though at times he may use questionable tactics, his on-field play is among the league’s best. His elite size, athleticism, and instincts have seen him now mentioned alongside the Heywards, Simmons, and Donalds of the NFL. Next to him, the 6’6″ 297lb Sieler has dominated in his own right. Possessing a similar wingspan to Greg Rousseau while maintaining a stable base has allowed him to handle double teams and corral any runner within arm’s length. This has led to incredible statistical production where among traditional Defensive Tackles, Sieler (70) and Wilkins (98) rank 4th and 1st in Tackles respectively. Needless to say, running the ball inside this week will be a tall task for the Buffalo Bills.
With the added benefit of a mobile Quarterback, the Bills won’t rely only on their Running Backs to move the ball on the ground. With Allen coming off a Regular Season where he rushed the ball more than ever and averaged 8.5 Carries and 61.8 Rushing Yards per Game in the Postseason, there’s no reason to believe he won’t see his fair share of carries against Miami. It’s this exact dynamic playstyle that will put the Dolphins at their biggest disadvantage on Sunday. Option #1; stay in man coverage and when your DBs turn their backs to Allen keep a spy, i.e. Jerome Baker, on him tasked with bringing him down 1-on-1 in the open field. Option #2; shift to your lesser utilized zone scheme removing the necessity for a spy, but playing at a further disadvantage through the air. Either option has its negatives and the result should be a Bills offense that is capable of not only dominating through the air, but also on the ground.
EDGE: Dolphins 👏
Bills Pass Defense vs. Dolphins Pass Offense
Much of the Bills’ 2022 season has been filled with backups playing significant snaps in the Bills secondary. Whether that be Damar Hamlin (S), Jaquan Johnson (S), Cam Lewis (CB/S), or even Ja’Marcus Ingram (CB) the Bills have dealt with adversity due to injuries in this position group all season. Through it all, the Bills still produced the 9th-ranked Pass Defense DVOA (-4.9%) and the 4th best Passer Rating Against (82.1). While those Regular Season stats are impressive, almost more important is the renewed optimism heading into the Postseason that secondary health may be at its highest since the start of the season.
Tre White (CB) rounding back into All-Pro form coming off a torn ACL? Christian Benford (CB) returning from injury after a promising start to his rookie season? Micah Hyde possibly returning from what was believed to be a season-ending injury? The Bills were already better than most against the pass, there is a recipe for them to be better.
This week, that Bills secondary will take on a Dolphins team that is reeling at Quarterback. With Tua Tagovialoa (QB) still in concussion protocol and Teddy Bridgewater (QB) dealing with a recently dislocated pinky on his throwing hand, Miami will turn to rookie Skylar Thompson. In just his 3rd career start, the 2022 247th overall pick will take on a Bills’ defense notorious for confusing young and inexperienced Quarterbacks via its complex Palms Defense.
This is the same Skylar Thompson who posted a QuBeR of just 15.46 this season, which had it qualified for leaderboards would have ranked 926 out of 929 Quarterbacks measured since 1994. The Bills will look to goad Thompson into throwing to his first read which will often be one of Tyreek Hill (WR), Jaylen Waddle (WR), and/or Mike Gesicki (TE). While Buffalo looks to capitalize on this, this is also an area of optimism for Miami as Hill and Waddle each finished Top-10 in YAC this season as dynamic players with the ball in their hands. The Dolphins likely need to score 20+ points to stay in this game and the only way they will be able to accomplish that is if Thompson can successfully and consistently get the ball in his playmaker’s hands.
A further area of concern for Miami will be on the edge against the Bills’ Pass Rush. Both of their starting Tackles, Terron Armstead (LT) and Brandon Shell (RT), are well below 100% healthy and questionable to play Sunday. The result very well may be Greg Little (LT) and/or Robert Hunt (RT) protecting each side of the line for the Dolphins. For Buffalo, this would mean unleashing their highly underrated edge rotation of Greg Rousseau (DE), Shaq Lawson (DE), A.J. Epenesa (DE), and Boogie Basham (DE). That foursome has combined for 20 Sacks and 55 Pressures on the season as a group that more than picked up the slack post losing Von Miller to injury. On Sunday, Buffalo’s rotation can be expected to be in full force as they rotate their players in and out to keep them fresh on either unhealthy or lesser Tackles than Miami is used to. Do this and Thompson, who experiences a Pressure Rate of 41.4%, may be in for a very long day in Orchard Park.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏👏
Bills Rush Defense vs. Dolphins Rush Offense
The Bills finished the season ranked 3rd in Rush Defense DVOA (-19.7%). Like the Dolphins, much of the Bills’ success against the run is owed to the interior Defensive Line playing better and with more talent than in years past. Ed Oliver (DT), DaQuan Jones (DT), Jordan Phillips (DT), and Tim Settle (DT) all played significant roles in this regard as Buffalo held opposing runners to just 4.3 Y/A. Throughout the season, there were clear games in which the Bills game-planned specifically to stop the run; Titans, Steelers, Browns, Patriots, Bears, and in each case they dominated against it. This was a missing part of the formula for Buffalo in 2021 and 2020 and now in the postseason where the Bills could plausibly see J.K. Dobbins, Joe Mixon, Austin Ekeler, Travis Etienne, or Jerrick McKinnon, the ability to slow teams down on the ground will be paramount.
Against the Dolphins the likely gameplan will prioritize slowing Miami down on the ground. In their last meeting, with concern about Tua moving the ball effectively through the air, Raheem Mostert (RB) was able to grind out 136 Rushing Yards on just 17 Carries. Like most of the Dolphins roster though, Mostert is dealing with an injury that is likely to keep him sidelined – meaning that the primary runner likely shifts to Jeff Wilson (RB).
Acquired at the trade dealing from the 49ers, Wilson has been a solid contributor for Miami since with 486 total yards and a Y/A of 4.7 in 8 games played. Wilson must excel on Sunday for Miami to stay in this game and he will likely need to do so in adverse conditions. Alec Ingold (FB) and Liam Eichenberg (LG) are each questionable to suit up and with injuries at the Tackle position, personnel may even force backup Robert Jones to play at RG. With less talent in front of him and a Buffalo team keyed on stopping him, it’s likely to be tough sledding for Wilson in Orchard Park this weekend.
To win this matchup, Miami will need to open up the playbook a bit. On the season, the Dolphins have handed the ball off to WRs just 11 times, a surprisingly low number for Mike McDaniel (HC) who comes from a 49ers team that handed the ball to Deebo Samuel 59 times in 2021. With Skylar Thompson limited as a Quarterback, the Dolphins will have to find new and unique ways to get the ball into Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle’s hands which very well could spell a significant number of jets sweeps against the Bills.
Further gadget-eering may be called for by utilizing the legs of their Quarterback, as opposed to his arm. Early on in his college career, Thompson ran the ball consistently accounting for 219 rushing attempts in 2018 and 2019. A likely run-first game plan very well could include Thompson with the goal of putting Tremaine Edmunds (LB) and Matt Milano (LB) on skates. With Buffalo projecting to have the advantage in their front seven, Miami is going to have to find a way to flip the script in this matchup for any shot of advancing in the 2022 playoffs.
EDGE: Bills 👏
Bills Special Teams vs. Dolphins Special Teams
There is no better time to hit your stride than right before the postseason. On Sunday Nyheim Hines did just that with not one, but two Kick Return Touchdowns – becoming just the 11th player in NFL history with 2 Kick Return Touchdowns in a game. Hines will be viewed as a massive threat this entire postseason which in turn will force teams to specifically gameplan to prevent him from getting the ball. As for Kicker, outside of Justin Tucker (BAL) the Bills may have the best one in the playoffs in Tyler Bass. There is some concern though, as Bass has missed 3 of his 17 postseason XP, which will be something to watch in the coming weeks. Lastly, the often unused Sam Martin finished the year with a 47.7 Y/P and a 42.1 NY/P. While those may not be Tommy Townsend (KC) numbers Martin will be reliable when, or if, he is called upon by the Bills.
Return will be a wildcard for Miami this week as they often rely on Raheem Mostert (RB) to handle Kicks and Cedrick Wilson (WR) to handle punts. Don’t be surprised this week though if you see Tyreek Hill back on both with the Dolphins trying to generate points any way they can. Hill is an All-World return man so if this decision is made by Miami extreme caution should be made when sending the ball his way. At Kicker, the Dolphins also have a good one in Jason Sanders however, 2022 has seen him be more inconsistent than at any point in his career. His 93.2% XP% is a career-worst while his 81.3% FG% is below his career average as he has struggled at points to get the ball through the uprights. At Punter, the Dolphins roll with 14-year veteran, Thomas Morestead. Though used much more often than Martin, Morestead has been a comparable option with a solid 46.4 Y/P and 40.5 NY/P. Towards the tail end of his career, Morestead has lost a bit of boom on his punts but his accuracy remains near an elite level.
EDGE: Bills 👏👏👏
Why Buffalo Will Lose
The emotional stress that the Buffalo Bills have been dealing with for two weeks now is extreme. While it has the ability to propel them forward it’s also capable of being extremely exhaustive. If that exhaustion hits this team this week Miami’s offense has the potential to put up points and steal this game from Buffalo. Sure, Skylar Thompson has struggled thus far in his career but the ultimate equalizer is Hill and Waddle who just need the ball in their hands to make plays. Add to that an underrated Jeff Wilson who can grind yards out with the best of them and Miami’s offense may just shock the world on Sunday.
On defense the formula is even simpler, force turnovers. The Dolphins likely need to win the Turnover battle by at least 2 or 3 and while they have struggled to force turnovers this season they have the players to accomplish that. Xavien Howard, Jevon Holland, Christian Wilkins, and Jaelan Phillips all have the ability to be Game Wreckers and steal the ball directly from Josh Allen on Sunday. That’s the same Josh Allen whose 2.62% Turnover Rate was better than only his Rookie Season as ball security became an issue in 2022. Turnovers are the ultimate equalizer in football and the Dolphins will be fishing for a few against the Bills.
Why Buffalo Wil Win
The Bills are a different animal in the playoffs and while I have no proof of this, I honestly believe the Bills have some tricks up their sleeves they have been saving. Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs, and Gabe Davis all shine in these moments, and on Sunday, against a team that they typically dominate, the Bills will look to make a statement. Miami will be uber-aggressive on defense in this game and the Bills will look to exploit that. Look for more RPOs and/or Play Action as the Bills attempt to misalign the Dolphins and gain big chunk plays down the field early.
On the other side of the ball, and as crazy as this sounds, the Bills may have their biggest mismatch of the season. Skylar Thompson has been atrocious thus far in his career and the Bills will look to capitalize on his poor play. If this game were in Miami things may be easier on the Rookie but in Buffalo, in the cold, in front of those fans, against that defense I find it hard to imagine a few major mistakes aren’t made by Thompson. Those mistakes will be expected even with the Bills loading the box to stop the run in a game the Bills should leave feeling like they did after their game against the Patriots last postseason.
Prediction: Bills 42 – Dolphins 14
When Vegas says you are 13-point favorites, they say it for a reason. Buffalo has a better Offense than the Dolphins have Defense and due to injuries they have a better Defense than the Dolphins have Offense. This is a game where Dolphins fans will be happy if they cover and Bills fans will be happy if they win. Expect Josh Allen to have himself a day, as he always does against this team, and the defense to account for 1, maybe 2, Touchdowns in a statement game for the Bills to the rest of the NFL.