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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group

How the Dolphins can keep up with the Bills in their wild-card battle

The Miami Dolphins head into Orchard Park as one of the biggest underdogs in playoff history. Not only will they be without their starting quarterback, starting running back and a plethora of other critical contributors, but they will face a Buffalo Bills team that seems to be destined for a deep playoff run.

Thankfully, safety Damar Hamlin was released from the hospital and is progressing remarkably well following the horrific collapse following a tackle during Monday Night Football back in Week 17.

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Ironically, Miami owes a bit of gratitude to the Bills, as their victory last week against the New England Patriots clinched Miami’s berth into the postseason.

In what was a cinematic start to the game, return man Nyheim Hines took the opening kick-off to the house. Later in the game, he answered a Patriots field goal with another trip for six on the ensuing kickoff.

The Bills and their crowd expect to not only beat the Dolphins, but as the climate on social media indicates, it should be a blowout indicative of the 14-point spread.

While major upsets have happened in this league, certainly a Miami victory with a seventh-round rookie quarterback in Skylar Thompson would be one for the books.

In addition to the obvious lack of experience, Thompson has shown struggles of a rookie in his appearances in the regular season, yet he did just enough to help put Miami in a position to beat the Jets in Week 18. Placekicker Jason Sanders did his job to a tee, and Thompson didn’t necessarily do anything to lose the game.

This one in Buffalo will be different.

With the news on Friday that Dolphins running back Raheem Mostert will be out on Sunday with a thumb injury, the backfield will belong to Jeff Wilson Jr. and Salvon Ahmed.

Acquired from the San Fransisco 49ers prior to the trade deadline, Wilson has shown sparks of excellence in both aqua and orange as well as red and gold. Wilson has averaged 4.7 yards per carry as a Dolphin this season. In addition, when he carries the ball 16 times or more in a game, the team he played for is/was 5-0. Three occurrences came when on the 49ers and two while a Dolphin. In those games, he averaged 5.4 yards per carry, 93.8 yards per game and scored three touchdowns.

The Dolphins must lean on Wilson, as well as Ahmed, who averages 5.3 yards per carry this season in limited work, to have success against the Bills.

This mainly needs to be done to support Thompson as a rookie on the road against a Super Bowl contender in a hostile environment. Secondly, a strong running game could and should present opportunities for timely throws and potential play-action passes, which Thompson does pretty well, fundamentally.

Then, of course, enter Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Establishing the run, and putting Thompson in position for quick and easy throws to these two top-five NFL receivers, could be Miami’s best bet.

A strong ground presence will also keep Josh Allen, Stefon Diggs and the potent Bills attack off the field, while the Dolphins’ defense gets a chance to save their energy for the latter portions of the game. Meaning, if the game is close in the fourth, Josh Boyer’s unit must get the Bills’ offense off the field on third downs, and hopefully, more time resting, rather than chasing Allen around.

Boyer, Miami’s defensive coordinator, has to essentially call the game of his life to help keep the Dolphins in this contest. The strength of this Miami defense is the defensive line, with the play of Christian Wilkins and Zach Sieler, particularly against the run.

While the Dolphins have not given up 100 yards or more to a running back this season, they had allowed Allen to rush for 77 yards a few weeks back during their last-second victory over Miami in Week 15. They must come up with timely stops, especially on third-and-medium or longer. A first down picked up by the legs of any quarterback would be terrible to allow, let alone giving extended scoring chances for an offense like Buffalo’s.

The Dolphins also have 33 players who have never seen an NFL snap in the playoffs. It is this, an underdog mindset and a Kansas State Wildcat quarterback that could mesh well with head coach Mike McDaniel when trying to cook up an upset. After all, McDaniel is an Ivy League graduate and an advertised offensive genius who needs to empty the playbook on Sunday.

The road to an away playoff victory in Buffalo will be far from an easy task, but there is a glimmer of hope, and that is the underdog mindset that basically has Miami playing with house money. All the pressure will be on Buffalo to not lose the game; nearly every person in the world expects them to win.

If the ball bounces a certain way once or twice for Miami, and plans are executed properly, competitive fourth-quarter playoff football is what Dolphins fans could see on Sunday.

The question is…will they?

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