1:00 PM EST, CBS – Line: Bills -2.5, Over/Under: 53.5
With three weeks in the books, some teams have already cemented themselves as contenders, which brings us to the first major showdown of the campaign as the undefeated Miami Dolphins take their prolific offense north to Orchard Park for a clash with the surging Buffalo Bills. At this point of the campaign, has there been a more impressive team than the Dolphins (3-0, 1st in AFC East)? While many expected Miami to improve in this, their second season under the leadership of (Head Coach) Mike McDaniel, even the most faithful of Fins fans couldn’t have projected their team to be performing at such a high level thus far. So, what has changed on South Beach, you ask? Well, in an effort to bolster the defense, McDaniel hired (venerable Defensive Coordinator) Vic Fangio to run a unit that ranked twenty-fourth in points allowed (23.5) and eighteenth in total defense (337.8) last season, while adding (former Pro-Bowl Cornerback) Jalen Ramsey via trade. However, through three games, Ramsey has yet to play due to a knee injury that will reportedly keep him out until early December, while Fangio is still very much tinkering with a unit that doesn’t appear to be any better than their predecessors, shipping 23.7 points (21st Overall) on 361.3 total yards (23rd Overall). No, folks, the difference between this year’s team and last is an offense that looks like the reincarnation of the Greatest Show on Turf. There is an old adage in football stating very simply that “speed kills”, with McDaniel clearly being an advocate of that dogma, for the amount of speed that the Dolphins possess at the skill positions has proven to be elite, even overwhelming their opponents at times, which was the case in last weekend’s unbelievable 70-20 thrashing of the Broncos (more on that in a bit). Through three weeks, Miami has averaged a staggering 43.3 points (1st Overall) on 552.0 total yards (1st Overall), including a whopping 363.7 through the air (1st Overall) on 10.4 net yards per attempt (1st Overall), along with 188.3 on the ground (1st Overall) on a healthy 6.1 yards per carry (1st Overall), while converting 46.4% of their third downs (7th Overall) and 78.6% of their trips into the red zone (1st Overall). (Wideouts) Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle are the premier tandem of vertical threats in the NFL, with the performance thus far from Hill (25 catches, 412 yards, 4 touchdowns) bringing credence to his stated goal of becoming the first Receiver in NFL history to clear 2,000 yards. However, the biggest revelation has been the success of the ground game, which is proving to be just as lethal as the passing attack. With defenses deploying deeper shell coverages in an effort to prevent Hill and Waddle from beating them downfield, McDaniel has opted to take advantage of all the space underneath, where the tandem of (Tailbacks) Raheem Mostert and now (84th Overall Pick in the 2023 NFL Draft) De’Von Achane are blazing fast, capable of breaking through the line of scrimmage and eating up all that yardage wholesale. This was the case in last weekend’s demolition of Denver, which saw Mostert and Achane (pictured together below) each amassed 140+ yards and FOUR touchdowns, accounting for an insane 375 of their team’s franchise-record 726 total yards. Essentially, McDaniel has four of the fastest players in the NFL at his disposal, with the luxury of terrifying opponents by putting them all on the field at the same time, which is something that we really haven’t seen since the days of those aforementioned Rams. With all that being said, if there was one primary concern about these Dolphins heading into this campaign, it is undeniably the durability of their Quarterback, Tua Tagovailoa. Make no mistake about it, the 25-year-old made great strides within McDaniel’s system last fall, but nonetheless missed at least four games for the third consecutive season due to a variety of injuries; first, he suffered a nasty concussion in an early midweek clash with the Bengals that kept him out of action for two games, before suffering another blow to the head in a Christmas Day affair with the Packers that unfortunately shelved him for the remainder of the campaign, including their narrow 31-34 loss at Buffalo on Wild Card Weekend. To his credit, he is off to an amazing start in posting career-highs in completion percentage (71.3%), touchdown percentage (7.9%), yards per attempt (10.1), yards per completion (14.2), net yards per attempt (9.99), and QBR (82.9), but the threat of another headshot keeping him away from the gridiron for a prolonged period of time continues to loom like a storm cloud above South Beach. For Miami’s part, they’ve kept him largely clean thus far, permitting just one sack of Tagovailoa and a scant EIGHT pressures, which breaks down to a miniscule percentage of 7.8%, by far and away the lowest such figure in the league. Can they keep it up though? There is an awful lot of football left to be played this season, folks, and his history of taking MAJOR hits against the Bills, does not bode well for him this afternoon in what figures to be their first true test of the season.
From a betting perspective, the Dolphins have been perfect both straight-up and against the spread thus far, covering each of their first three games of the schedule. After surviving a late rally as a 2-point favorite at New England two weeks ago, Miami entered last weekend’s home opener as a 6-point favorite opposite the winless Broncos, and as we covered earlier, beat that spread by a country mile. Dating back to last season, McDaniel’s troops have covered the number in seven consecutive games overall, including each of their last five trips away from Hard Rock Stadium, which also includes their journey to Orchard Park last January. Furthermore, being an underdog has served them well, as the Fins are 7-3 versus the spread in their last ten games when receiving points from the oddsmakers. Looking at this particular matchup, the Dolphins have won only ONE of their last ten meetings with the Bills straight-up but have fared better against the spread with a 5-5 mark, including three covers in three encounters last season. In their first clash, a 21-19 victory in Miami, the hosts were dominated from a statistical point of view, including wide gulfs in total yardage (212-497), first downs (15-31), rushing yards (41-115), passing yards (186-400), and time of possession (19:20), though routinely kept Buffalo from breaking through to the end zone. The visitors fumbled away their second possession, while settling for a field goal despite putting together a 20-play drive in the second half, before missing another field goal attempt and watching a 12-play drive end on downs. As for the other two matchups, which were contested much later at frigid Orchard Park, the visiting Fins gave the hosts everything they could handle yet still lost each tilt by three points apiece. In his two appearances against them, Tagovailoa completed 30-of-48 passes for 420 yards and three touchdowns with zero turnovers, while Hill reeled in eleven receptions on seventeen targets for 102 yards and a score in three games. On the injury front, Miami did not return from that beatdown of Denver unscathed, with the availability of a number of players to keep an eye on for today’s affair. (Veteran Cornerback) Eli Apple and (young Edge-Rusher) Jaelan Phillips are both listed as questionable with the former dealing with a concussion and the latter suffering from an oblique strain, while (veteran Guard) Connor Williams is managing a tender groin and the aforementioned Waddle a concussion of his own that sidelined him for last Sunday’s outing. Looking ahead, the Dolphins will return to Miami Gardens for their next two games, which they should be heavy favorites in opposite of the Giants and Panthers before hitting the road for a potential Super Bowl LVIII preview against the (reigning NFC Champion) Eagles.
Meanwhile, after disappointing mightily in their season opener, the Bills (2-1, 2nd in AFC East) once again look like one of the legitimate contenders to represent the AFC in Super Bowl LVIII come February. Of course, the pressure to break through has never been greater for Buffalo, who despite dominating their division over the last three seasons have repeatedly been met with defeat in the playoffs. In 2020, they were bested by the Chiefs in a 24-38 affair in the AFC Championship Game, before once again tasting bitter defeat at Arrowhead in a classic 36-42 overtime shootout a year later. Then, in last winter’s matchup with the Bengals at snowy Orchard Park, they were thoroughly outplayed in a 10-27 loss. Perhaps no franchise in the league has a more intimate relationship with postseason despair than Buffalo, who must now contend with new obstacles along the way, particularly Miami, who have in turn positioned themselves as their chief opposition within the division. Seriously, folks, this afternoon’s tilt has an early 90’s vibe to it, harkening back to the days of Jim Kelly’s Bills battling Dan Marino’s Dolphins twice a year for AFC supremacy. However, the question that must be answered at this point remains: has this team improved themselves enough to finally reach the Super Bowl for the first time in thirty years? (Head Coach) Sean McDermott and (General Manager) Brandon Beane have spent the last few years stockpiling the roster with talent, with last year’s focus being the pass-rush, before shifting back over to the offensive side of the football this past offseason. We all understand that (perennial Pro-Bowler) Josh Allen has long established himself as one of the true elite Quarterbacks in the league, but McDermott and Beane are doing everything in their collective power to diversify the attack in an attempt to no longer be so predictably reliant upon his talents. It’s akin to walking a proverbial tight rope, folks, for while Allen (pictured below) is very prolific, there has been a growing train of thought that the Bills rely too heavily on him. Over the last three seasons, the 27-year-old has accounted for 78.3%, 79.6%, and 79.3% of his team’s total yardage, which is obviously boosted by his mobility in rushing for 1,525 yards and thirteen touchdowns on 246 carries between 2021 and 2022. At a burly 6-5, 237 pounds, Allen has repeatedly subjected himself to contact and punishment as a large part of their rushing attack. Simply put, management wants to alleviate him of that burden, understandably not wanting to risk his health. That is why McDermott and Beane went about bolstering the run game this past offseason, drafting (Utah Tight End) Dalton Kincaid twentieth overall in an effort to utilize more dual-TE sets, which helps facilitate more success running the football, particularly in the red zone, which has proven to be an issue for these Bills in the past. They also drafted (Florida Guard) O’Cyrus Torrence to beef up the interior of the Offensive Line. So, with all that in mind, how has Buffalo fared thus far, you ask? Well, they’ve ranked right behind Miami in points per game (30.3) on 392.0 total yards, with the ground attack playing a sizeable role in their success; (Offensive Coordinator) Ken Dorsey’s troops rank ninth in rushing attempts (30.0), seventh in yards (149.3), and fourth in both touchdowns (4) and yards per carry (5.0), along with eleventh in red zone percentage (61.5%). For those wondering, Allen currently sits at fourth in carries (12) for eighty-nine yards and a single score, as (Sophomore Tailback) James Cook has grown into the starting role with 267 yards on a healthy 6.1 yards per attempt. When we last saw the Bills, they blew away the Commanders in a 37-3 drubbing in the nation’s capital that saw the visitors carrying a shutout until the 0:46 mark of the fourth quarter. Granted, the offense still settled for far more field goals than they would prefer, with just two touchdowns in four red zone trips, but it needs to be remembered that they were facing a stout Washington defense that was one of the league’s best a year ago. Speaking of defense, that was the story of the afternoon, as McDermott’s unit was utterly dominant in forcing FIVE turnovers and relegating the hosts to just 230 total yards. The visitors sacked Sam Howell NINE times and hit the Quarterback on FIFTEEN occasions, with four different players logging an interception, including (veteran Defensive Lineman) A.J. Epenesa, who returned his for a touchdown, while (Sophomore Linebacker) Terrel Bernard also got a pick of his own along with a recovered fumble to boot. It will be interesting to see how they get after the Dolphins after their outburst in Miami over the weekend, setting up an Unstoppable Force meets the Immovable Object battle this afternoon.
From a betting perspective, the Bills laid an egg all-around in their opener, but have since made up for it with back-to-back convincing victories. Buffalo was a 7.5-point favorite in their home opener against the Raiders and hammered them in a 38-10 blowout, before traveling to the nation’s capital for that aforementioned drubbing of the Commanders, whom they were favored against by five points. Dating back to last season, McDermott’s troops have covered half of their last ten games overall, while posting a mediocre 3-6-1 record against the spread in their last ten outings contested at Highmark Stadium. As a favorite, which is the case this afternoon, they are 5-5 versus the spread when laying points to their opponent, while laying a goose egg in that regard in their three meetings with Miami last fall. As we touched upon earlier, they have owned this series of late with nine outright victories in their last ten matchups, but covering the spread in these affairs has been another matter altogether, with five covers over that period of time. Beware wagering on them after an offensive explosion, folks, for this is a team that has failed to cover four of their last five games after posting 350+ total yards of offense, which is the case today. Looking at this particular matchup, we covered their struggles within the red zone in last year’s trip to Hard Rock Stadium, though that wasn’t the case in the two contests that took place in Orchard Park later that season. In a 32-29 win in a windy, snowy Highmark Stadium, the hosts overcame a 21-29 deficit after conceding sixteen unanswered points to begin the second half, as Allen found (veteran Tight End) Dawson Knox for a short touchdown followed by an iconic leap over the pile for a successful two-point conversion, before driving his side eight-six yards downfield to set up the game-winner from (veteran Kicker) Tyler Bass as time expired. Later, in their 34-31 Wild Card victory, the Bills overcame three turnovers to beat out a team starting a third-string Quarterback. Over the course of his career, Allen is 8-2 against the Dolphins, completing 63.7% of his passes for an average of 268.4 yards on 7.29 net yards per attempt, with twenty-seven touchdowns opposed to just five interceptions, along with another 554 yards and four scores on sixty-six carries. On the injury front, the Bills are largely healthy at this stage of the campaign, with the only notable absence being an entirely expected one, as (veteran Edge-Rusher) Von Miller continues to work his way back from a torn ACL suffered last Thanksgiving. Looking ahead to the schedule, today’s meeting with Miami marks the beginning of a three-game homestand, with dates with Jaguars and Giants up next before they embark on their first trip to Foxborough on October 22nd.