After scoring 70, the Dolphins go on the road to face a legitimate defense in Buffalo in the NFL Week 4 headliner between two of the top teams in the AFC. Here’s our Dolphins vs Bills prediction along with plenty more on the marquee matchup.
Last Sunday, we witnessed an impressive performance by one franchise just imposing its will on the team across the field.
It was a complete mismatch. And the result was something we haven’t seen in an NFL game for decades.
Yes, the Buffalo Bills utterly dominated the Washington Commanders.
Oh, you thought we were talking about the Miami Dolphins.
Well, in case you missed it – and it’s entirely possible given all the coverage bestowed upon the Dolphins in their beatdown of the Denver Broncos, coupled with Taylor Swift attending the Kansas City Chiefs’ own pounding of the hapless Chicago Bears – but the Bills put on an astonishing showing of their own in a 34-point rout outside the nation’s capital last Sunday.
All the Bills did in the 37-3 blowout was limit the Commanders to 230 total yards of offense, stop them on 8-of-9 third-down attempts, force five turnovers and record nine sacks – the most by any team in the NFL this season. With Terrel Bernard, Micah Hyde, Tre’Davious White and A.J. Epenesa having interceptions – Epenesa’s being a Pick 6 – the Bills became the first team in nearly 40 years to record at least nine sacks and four picks in a game since the Dallas Cowboys turned the trick against the Houston Oilers on Sept. 29, 1985.
Here’s the thing, though, they face a much tougher challenge this week, as they’re no longer going up against Sam Howell and a Commanders wide receiver group that is considered one of the worst in the league.
Nope, now they face a high-octane group led by Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill, Raheem Mostert and whomever else Mike McDaniel asks to step into his wide-open Dolphins offense after De’Von Achane went from unknown to fantasy football darling last Sunday in his second career game.
While the Bills were roughing up the Commanders, the Dolphins were obliterating the Broncos just down the road – well, more like 1,000 miles down I-95.
Miami totaled an absurd 726 total yards in its 70-20 evisceration of Denver. It was an NFL record for points as well as yardage for a single game in the Super Bowl era.
To put that in perspective, 18 teams still have yet to reach the 70-point mark on the season and two teams – the Tennessee Titans (720) and New York Jets (675) – have yet to gain as many yards as the Dolphins did Sunday afternoon. In fact, Miami had more points through three quarters (49) than the Chicago Bears (47), Cincinnati Bengals (46), Las Vegas Raiders (45), Titans (45), New York Giants (43) and Jets (42) have through three games.
The Dolphins scored 10 touchdowns and averaged better than a first down per play (10.2), becoming the first team in league history to amass at least 350 passing yards and 350 rushing yards in the same game with 376 and 350, respectively.
Miami was without two-time 1,000-yard receiver Jaylen Waddle because of a concussion, but it didn’t matter as Tagovailoa threw for 309 yards with his first incompletion coming more than five minutes into the second half. In all, he finished the game with more touchdown passes (four) than incomplete passes (three).
Hill had nine catches for 157 yards – including a 54-yard TD reception on Miami’s third play from scrimmage – Mostert had 142 yards of offense and four touchdowns while Achane racked up 242 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns with three rushing plays going for at least 20 yards.
That’s right, both running backs each had four touchdowns.
It was a performance for the ages.
With that being said, it came against a Denver defense that just seven days earlier surrendered 35 points to the same Washington team that was overwhelmed by Buffalo in Week 3.
So just as the Bills no longer get the luxury of facing Howell and the Commanders, the Dolphins have to go on the road and actually face a legitimate defense at Highmark Stadium in Orchard Park on Sunday afternoon on CBS.
This is our highest-ranked game on the NFL Week 4 slate in terms of exciting matchups, according to SmartRatings, and carries huge playoff implications.
If the Bills win, both teams will have 3-1 records, but Buffalo will take over first place in the AFC East by virtue of a victory in the first head-to-head matchup. If the Dolphins win, though, they’ll move to 4-0 for the first time since 1995 and be in the driver’s seat in the AFC East with a two-game lead atop the division.
Buffalo is the three-time defending AFC East champion and has won nine of the last 10 matchups, but the series hasn’t been as lopsided as that record indicates.
Last year, these teams split two regular-season meetings with each winning at home and both games were decided by a total of five points. They then met in the wild-card round of the playoffs, with the Bills prevailing in another nailbiter – 34-31 in upstate New York.
Miami, however, was not a full strength in that one.
Then-rookie third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson was under center for the Dolphins with Tagovailoa in the league’s concussion protocol.
This meeting will have a much different feel with a healthy Tagovailoa playing at an MVP level and leading the league’s most prolific offense in a showdown with Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and a Buffalo offense that’s put up 37 and 38 points in the last two games after an opening dud.
Yes, Miami is leading the NFL in a slew of offensive stats, but it’s truly incredible when you look at how much of a lead the Dolphins have over the next-closest team, and it’s flat-out comical when you compare where they stand against the league average.
We get it, we get it – Miami’s offense is good.
So how in the world can Buffalo slow it down?
Buffalo’s Pass Rush vs. Miami’s Pass Protection
Bringing the same kind of pressure they brought last week on Howell would be a good place to start.
While the Dolphins lead the league in most offensive categories, Buffalo’s defense is off to a terrific start. It has allowed just two touchdowns from scrimmage and ranks second in average points allowed (11.7) as well as in average yards allowed (253.0).
Much of the success starts up front with tackle Ed Oliver and edge rushers Greg Rousseau and Leonard Floyd.
Buffalo’s 23 QB hits are fourth most in the league and its pressure rate of 47.8% is second only to the Cowboys at 50.0. One of the most fascinating aspects of the Bills’ ability to put pressure on the QB is they’re not sending extra rushers on a blitz.
The Bills have the fourth-lowest blitz rate at 18.5, yet the highest sack rate at 13.0.
Highest Sack Percentage, 2023
- Buffalo Bills (13.0)
- Dallas Cowboys (11.5)
- Pittsburgh Steelers (9.6)
- Indianapolis Colts (9.3)
- Carolina Panthers (9.2)
Floyd sacked Howell twice to give him a team-best 3.5 sacks and his adjusted sack rate of 15.0% trails only the Cardinals’ Dennis Gardeck at 18.2% among the 56 edge rushers with at least 20 pass rushes.
Rousseau, who registered his first sack of the NFL season Sunday, owns a pressure rate of 27.3% that ranks fifth among qualifying edge rushers, while his hit rate of 22.7% ranks third.
Oliver was credited with four pressures of Howell and ranks second in pressure rate (30.4) and fourth in adjusted sack rate (8.7) among the 38 defensive tackles with at least 20 pass rushes.
In the Bills’ two games against Tagovailoa last season, Sean McDermott’s defense was able to get a little pressure on the Miami signal-caller.
The defense sacked Tagovailoa three times, notched 21 QB pressures and hit him four times – the most famous of those hits applied by All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano in Week 3 when Tagovailoa appeared disoriented after his head hit the turf hard. But he only missed three plays, prompting a joint review by the NFL and NFL Players Association over how it was handled.
The pressure seemed to get to Tagovailoa, as his numbers were worse in the two games against the Bills compared to all other games he played.
While the Bills were able to harass Tagovailoa a bit last season, opposing defenses have barely sniffed the Miami backfield this year.
Tagovailoa has been pressured a grand total of two times, hit just once and sacked once on 101 passes thrown. Miami has the NFL’s lowest pressure-allowed rate at 22.9%, while its sack-allowed rate of 0.9% is a tick behind Kansas City at 0.8 for the lowest in the NFL.
The interior of the line is strong with left guard Isaiah Wynn registering a pressure-allowed rate of 1.9%, center Connor Williams a 2.0 and right guard Robert Hunt a 3.7. The average pressure-allowed rate among all guards is 7.7 and centers is 5.1.
The Dolphins are also shoring up the left tackle position with Terron Armstead making his season debut last Sunday after missing the first two games with various injuries. The four-time Pro Bowler played in 56 of 73 offensive snaps against the Commanders and won all 14 of his matchups in pass protection.
Tagovailoa’s blind side, however, appears to be a bit susceptible, as right tackle Austin Jackson has a pressure-allowed rate of 17.9% – the worst mark of 33 right tackles with at least 30 plays in pass protection.
One reason Tagovailoa is getting hit less this year compared to last is that he’s getting rid of the ball fast.
His average release time of 2.33 seconds is fourth fastest in the NFL among the 30 QBs with at least 75 pass attempts. But despite the quick release, he’s still able to get the ball downfield, averaging 9.42 air yards – the fourth most in the NFL.
That’s a dangerous combination to be able to get the ball that far downfield that quickly. By comparison, the three QBs with faster releases aren’t airing it out nearly as much – Mac Jones, 2.32 release and 8.18 average air yards; Trevor Lawrence, 2.31 release and 7.08 average air yards; and Dak Prescott, 2.25 release and 5.70 average air yards.
So while Jones, Lawrence and Prescott get rid of the ball faster than Tagovailoa, the passes aren’t traveling as far, meaning a smaller chance for a big play.
The Dolphins have an NFL-best 20 plays going for at least 20 yards, with Hill registering a big-play rate of 49.7% – the second highest among the 40 receivers with at least 20 targets.
Hill, who also ranks second among qualifiers in burn yards per target at 16.05, is one of the NFL’s fastest players and his speed and ability to get open allow Tagovailoa to quickly get rid of the ball and get it downfield.
Tagovailoa should have another weapon at his disposal this week, with Waddle no longer in the league’s concussion protocol. He is averaging an eye-popping 22.37 burn yards per target and a burn rate of 90.9 on his 11 targets.
Again, this is the multi-level challenge the Bills are up against – breaching an offensive line that has proved to be nearly impenetrable to generate pressure on a QB who is able to unload the ball downfield quickly to his speedy and often open receivers.
But if the Bills can get Tagovailoa and the Dolphins out of their rhythm – which they’ve proven they can do – Buffalo has its own playmakers on offense and can put up points in a hurry.
Our model gives the Bills a 54.5% chance of knocking off the NFL’s hottest team. The sportsbooks concur, making Buffalo the best bet to win and the Dolphins 2.5-point underdogs.
It’s one of the most highly anticipated showdowns of the early season, and the Bills will look to bring the Dolphins back down to earth and show they are the team to beat in the AFC.
Check out the rest of our NFL picks, along with every team’s chances at making the playoffs in our season predictions. We also have weekly fantasy projections and rankings and use our sit/start comparison tool to help you with lineup decisions. And don’t forget to follow us on X and Instagram.