There’s no wrong answer. That’s the first thing you need to know when asking the Miami Dolphins whether Sunday’s game against Buffalo is a big game. It’s all about personal perspective.
It’s interesting to note, however, Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel embraces the challenge of his head-turning Dolphins (2-0) hosting the mighty Bills (2-0) at Hard Rock Stadium. McDaniel said he’d even tell his team not to hide from using this game as a measuring stick.
“I think you embrace the fact that they’re a good football team and that there’s one way to be put in the category of good football teams — you beat good football teams,” he said.
Some of McDaniel’s players have opted for the businesslike it’s-just-one-game-among-17 games approach.
“They’re just another team on our schedule,” veteran linebacker Melvin Ingram said.
The level-headed approach has backing among players.
“They’re all big,” defensive tackle Christian Wilkins said. “You’ve got to approach it the same way each week because once you start playing that inconsistency game in the NFL, you get showed up for sure.”
McDaniel has a different method. He chooses to speak publicly about the temporary enormity of this early season matchup, and he’s got lots of company. He acknowledges Sunday is just 1/17th of the season schedule, and one sixth of the division schedule.
“But it’s also an opportunity for us to see where we’re at and go against the best, which as competitors, our team is very competitive, you bask in that opportunity,” he said.
So count McDaniel among the number of people making a big deal about the Dolphins, who are riding a seven-game home winning streak, facing the Bills, who are riding a seven-game winning streak over Miami.
The high-scoring Bills, the two-time defending AFC champs who have won at least 10 games each of the past three seasons, are among the NFL’s Super Bowl favorites. The Dolphins, who have a dynamic new offense and renewed energy under McDaniel, turned heads with last week’s shocking 42-38 comeback victory at Baltimore that included an explosive 28-point fourth quarter.
Fans are hyped. Headlines are juiced. A whole bunch of NFL eyes will be fixated on South Florida for this peak at an expected Super Bowl contender visiting one of the NFL’s most intriguing teams.
The winner of this early-season battle for AFC East supremacy paves itself a strong path to the playoffs. Teams that start 3-0 can expect to make the playoffs 76% of the time in a 17-game schedule, according to the NFL’s analytics. Teams that start 2-1, on the other hand, can expect to make the playoffs 55% of the time.
But that’s getting ahead of things.
That’s not an excuse, and no one will feel sorry for them because they have injuries. The personnel losses, however, are serious.
All-Pro safety Micah Hyde (neck) and defensive tackles Jordan Phillips (hamstring) and Ed Oliver (ankle) will miss the game along with cornerback Dane Jackson (neck). That’s three starters (Hyde, Oliver and Jackson) and a top reserve.
The personnel losses should work heavily in the Dolphins’ favor in the passing game where quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (seven touchdowns, two interceptions, 116.5 passer rating, fourth in the NFL) gains an advantage in his efforts to connect with electrifying wide receivers Tyreek Hill (284 receiving yards, best in NFL, two touchdown) and Jaylen Waddle (240 receiving yards, third-best in NFL, three touchdowns).
Of course, the Dolphins are dealing with a concerning injury because left tackle Terron Armstead (toe) is questionable.
But Buffalo’s injury concerns are more serious.
The Bills, already without cornerback Tre’Davious White (knee), will likely start the rookie duo of cornerbacks Christian Benford and Kaiir Elam, which makes the Bills highly vulnerable on the back end. They’re not a blitz-heavy team so it’ll be interesting to see whether they use that tactic to generate more pass rush and accommodate for missing personnel. It could be a highly risky strategy considering a short pass to Hill or Waddle combined with a single missed tackle could spell a long touchdown for the Dolphins.
Most likely the Bills will rely on their fear-inducing combination of quarterback Josh Allen (seven touchdowns, two interceptions, 123.7 passer rating, second in NFL) and wide receiver Stefon Diggs (270 receiving yards, second-best in NFL, league-leading four touchdowns) instead of changing their defensive philosophy.
Whatever happens, the winner Sunday will sit atop the AFC East and have an inside track on winning the division. That, if nothing else, makes this a big game.
“It’s exciting,” McDaniel said, “so we’re going to do our best to prepare and see where we’re at the end of the [game], 4:30 maybe, on Sunday.”
Source: Berkshire mont