This Thursday night game has the potential to be a very good one. The Bills and Dolphins are divisional rivals with physical defenses fighting for a wildcard spot. While so many primetime games have been blowouts with plenty of offense, this one could end up being a defensive slugfest.
The Bills offense has been much more consistent since Kyle Orton has taken the helm, but they still have their lapses. Last week was one of them as they only scored 13 points after going 0 for 4 in the redzone. Orton has had some nice performances, but in recent weeks hasn’t had the support of the running game. With C.J. Spiller likely out for the year and Fred Jackson still hobbled, the team has relied on Anthony Dixon. At 6’1″ 233 pounds, Dixon is a physical back but he has some big play ability as well. Last week he was able to reel off a 27 yard run in a game where he averaged almost seven yards a carry. With Jackson unlikely to go, Bryce Brown should also see some work. I’ve written in the past how I’m very high on Brown’s abilities, but his 14 carries for the year is a small sample size of work.
The Bills passing game is built around rookie Sammy Watkins. While the inconsistency of a young player is there, Watkins has lived up to the hype coming out of Clemson. He has made plenty of big plays both in the vertical passing game and after the catch. Watkins figures to see plenty of Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes tonight. Second year receiver Robert Woods starts opposite Watkins. Woods serves as more of a possession receiver and he should see his customary six or seven targets in this one.
After a few fantastic weeks, the Dolphins lost a tough game against the Lions and some significant players as well. Left tackle Branden Albert is gone for the year which means rookie J’Wuan James is moving from right tackle to left. James has been solid so far this year, but faces a very tough task going against Mario Williams. Once you add in Jerry Hughes off the edge, Kyle Williams, and Marcell Dareus (who might be the best defensive lineman in the league not named J.J. Watt), the Dolphins could have a long night.
Ryan Tannehill has improved significantly this season, but chances are he will face pressure all night. Look for Tannehill to rely on plenty of short passes that utilize Mike Wallace and the impressive rookie Jarvis Landry in space. Listed as probable, Lamar Miller figures to play and start at running back tonight. How many carries he sees is unknown. Miller played through the same injury Sunday and had four carries for 10 yards. Now he has another very physical defense on a short week. If Miller isn’t involved, the Dolphins will use a platoon of Daniel Thomas and undrafted rookie Damien Williams. Williams is the more complete back of those two, but the coaching staff may have more trust in the plodding Thomas.
Overall, this game was a very tough one to predict. Both teams have impressed me this season and on paper it doesn’t swing heavily in one direction. In the end, I’m going with the Bills to win this one. Their fantastic defensive line going up against a banged up Dolphins offensive line is what swings it here. My prediction is Bills 17 Dolphins (-4.5) 14.