No team in the NFL has as much at stake in Week 18 as the Buffalo Bills.

With a win Sunday night against the Miami Dolphins, the Bills (10-6) would clinch the AFC East for the fourth consecutive season and secure the No. 2 seed in the AFC’s playoff bracket.

With a Bills loss, however, Miami (11-5) would win the East and Buffalo could be bounced from a playoff spot entirely, depending on the results of other games.

The good news for Sean McDermott’s club? The Bills have won four straight games, including statement victories over the playoff-bound Kansas City Chiefs and Dallas Cowboys.

The bad news is that Buffalo’s offense – once considered an elite, high-flying unit – has been grounded in recent weeks. Since Week 14, the Bills are averaging 183.3 passing yards per game, ranking 31st in the league over that span.

Buffalo has won nine of its last 10 against the Dolphins and the “Bills Mafia” will hope that trend continues when its team visits Miami Gardens on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.

Miami has already secured a playoff spot but will be eager to purge the memories from last week’s 56-19 loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

The Dolphins entered last week with a chance at earning a No. 1 seed and a first-round bye, which would have gone a long way toward improving their Super Bowl chances. But those dreams have since been dashed, and Miami is now focused on winning its first AFC East title since 2008.

After last week’s loss to the Baltimore Ravens, the Dolphins will be glad to return to Hard Rock Stadium, where they are 7-1 this season.

Our supercomputer, however, leans toward the Bills in this one, giving them a 57.3% chance of entering the playoffs on a five-game winning streak.

Projected Winner: Bills

Win Probability: 57.3%

Sportsbooks also have the Bills as the best bets, with most listing them as 2.5-point favorites in Florida. Oddsmakers have set the projected point total at 48.5, the highest of any game this weekend and a nod to two of the more productive offenses in the NFL. 

Total Yards Per Game

  • 1. Miami Dolphins (409.2)
  • 2. San Francisco 49ers (404.6)
  • 3. Detroit Lions (395.7)
  • 4. Baltimore Ravens (379.5)
  • 5. Buffalo Bills (368.3)

MIA Key: Establish the Run

So much of the attention surrounding the underdog Dolphins has focused on the team’s quick-strike passing game, and fittingly so. Tua Tagovailoa’s fast release and confident decision-making make him a perfect match for Mike McDaniel’s offense.

Tagovailoa will almost certainly clinch the passing yardage title for the 2023 regular season, entering NFL Week 18 with 4,451 yards through the air and a 171-yard lead on San Francisco’s Brock Purdy.

Maybe more importantly, Tagovailoa has played in every game this season after missing time due to injuries in each of his first three NFL campaigns. After Tua suffered multiple concussions last season, there were some who wondered if he could return to top form and be a reliable franchise quarterback.

“It’s a blessing that I get to play the entire season,” he told reporters this week. “I think anyone would say the same around the league that it’s a blessing to make it this far as healthy as anyone can be right now leading up to this week. So, very blessed. Very fortunate. And I don’t take this for granted.”

As much as Tagovailoa has thrived this season – especially when throwing to marquee receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle – Miami’s offense is full of unsung heroes.

Tackle Terron Armstead has emerged as a franchise cornerstone on the offensive line, and the Dolphins’ group up front has been one of the best in the league, despite Connor Williams and Isaiah Wynn ending up on injured reserve.

Tagovailoa owes at least some of his success to his protectors, who allowed pressure on an NFL-low 28.3% of passing plays.

Quarterback Sacks Allowed

  • 1. Buffalo Bills (21)
  • 2. Kansas City Chiefs (27)
  • 3. Green Bay Packers (29)
  • T-4. Detroit Lions (30)
  • T-4. Miami Dolphins (30)

Miami’s offensive line has also opened up huge lanes in the running game, with the Dolphins ranking first in yards per designed rush at 5.3. Miami rushers have gained 3.1 yards before contact, the second-highest average in the league, and the ground game may be the key for the offense this week.

During Buffalo’s current four-game winning streak, the defense has allowed a passer rating of 66.7 and had three interceptions in last week’s win over the New England Patriots.

The run defense, however, has shown some weakness. Buffalo has allowed 4.4 yards per designed rush this season – above the league average of 4.1. When the Dolphins have run the ball this season, they have often gained chunks of yardage, with 13.8% of their rushes going for at least 10 yards (fourth in the NFL).

Raheem Mostert, who missed last week’s loss to the Ravens with knee and ankle injuries, returned to practice Friday and will have a chance to play this week.

Even if Mostert returns, the Dolphins would be wise to keep a prominent place in the game plan for rookie De’Von Achane, who is averaging 8.0 yards per carry and had 107 yards last week.

At 5-foot-9 and 188 pounds, Achane probably can’t handle a full workload himself, but he has bedeviled defenders all season, forcing 0.218 missed and broken tackles per offensive touch – ranking fifth among qualifying running backs.

Mostert and Achane have combined for 31 total touchdowns and they’ll likely need to add to that total as the Dolphins seek a division-clinching win.

BUF Key: Support Josh Allen

Josh Allen has been heavily criticized for his 16 interceptions, which are the second most in the league. But he’s also tied for seventh with 27 passing touchdowns and has added 15 touchdowns on the ground.

Plus, there may be reason to believe that Allen’s turnover numbers are partially due to some bad luck.

Allen has thrown 17 pickable passes resulting in 16 interceptions, which is an unusually high ratio. In contrast, the Green Bay Packers’ Jordan Love has thrown 24 pickable passes but has only 11 interceptions to show for it. In short, other quarterbacks have benefited from dropped interceptions while Allen hasn’t.

This season, 3.3% of Allen’s attempts have been classified as pickable, which is lower than the average among quarterbacks with at least 200 passes. Allen should feel comfortable with this week’s matchup after he shredded the Dolphins for 320 yards and four touchdowns when these teams met earlier this season.

Allen has shouldered a heavy load in recent seasons. And while his numbers aren’t quite as eye-popping this year, he now benefits from having a go-to running back. James Cook is Buffalo’s first 1,000-yard rusher since LeSean McCoy in 2017, and his 1,086 yards rank third in the league.

Cook has also been a weapon in the passing game, adding 429 yards and four touchdowns on four catches. And it’s more than just screen passes, as Cook is averaging 9.70 burn yards per target – fifth in the league among qualified running backs.

When the Bills play patiently and get themselves into manageable third downs, they’re the best offense in the league at moving the chains. But the Dolphins defense has excelled in short-yardage situations, setting up a fascinating strength-on-strength matchup.

Third-and-Short Conversions (Less Than 4 Yards to Go)

  •  1. Buffalo Bills (71.6)
  •  2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (71.4)
  •  3. San Francisco 49ers (71.2)
  •  4. Philadelphia Eagles (70.5)
  •  T-5. Cincinnati Bengals (67.7)
  •  T-5. Green Bay Packers (67.7)

Opponent Third-and-Short Conversions

  •  1. New Orleans Saints (40.0)
  •  2. Miami Dolphins (49.2)
  •  3. Tennessee Titans (49.3)
  •  4. Denver Broncos (50.9)
  •  5. Detroit Lions (51.9)

The Bills have been winning over the last month despite limited contributions from Stefon Diggs, who has been held under 50 receiving yards in each of the last four games.

With defenses keying on Diggs so aggressively, Buffalo has focused even more on the ground game. Since Week 10, the Bills have had a 45.3% success rate on run plays – second only to the San Francisco 49ers.

Whether it’s on the ground or as a receiver, Cook has become Allen’s most productive offensive weapon and could make the difference against Miami.

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