Plenty of playoff implications as Dolphins visit Bills

LEFT: Stefon Diggs #14 of the Buffalo Bills reacts as he scores a touchdown during the second half of a game against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on December 28, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images)

Removed from the imposing shadow of the New England Patriots, the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins are striving to reach the next level in NFL contention.

Buffalo has a chance to secure the No. 2 seed in the AFC while Miami looks for just its third playoff appearance since 2000 during Sunday’s regular season finale (1 p.m., CBS) at Bills Stadium in Orchard Park, N.Y. are looking to reach the next level.

Even with a Bills win, the Dolphins will still have a shot to make the playoffs with a loss by either Indianapolis or Cleveland. But after reaching the playoffs just once in the last 11 seasons, they don’t want to use any backdoors.

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The sports betting information

On Sportsbook, the Dolphins are ½-point road favorites with a money line of -110. (A $110 bet would pay out $100.) The Bills are also -110 (a $110 bet pays $100) with the over-under of 44.5.  A large portion of this could be uncertainty of how long Bills coach Sean McDermott will play his starters – namely quarterback Josh Allen and wide receiver Stefon Diggs- on Sunday, given that Buffalo will play the following week whether they are in second or third place in the AFC.

Against the number this year, the Dolphins are a league best 11-4 but one spot behind them are the Bills who are 10-5. The Bills won their first meeting 31-28 in September when the Bills were a 5.5 favorite.

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The history

The two teams have met 113 times dating back to their years in the AFL. While the Dolphins hold an all-time record of 61-51-1 against their AFC East opponents, the recent encounters have heavily favored the Bills. The Bills have won 7-of-8 overall and seven of the last eight games played in Buffalo.

In five games against the Dolphins, Josh Allen is 4-1 with 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions. In the first meeting this year- a 31-28 win back in Week 2-, Allen threw for 415 yards and four touchdowns.

The storylines to watch

The biggest question will be how the Bills approach the game. The age-old debate for teams already in the playoffs when the final week of the season arrives is how much rest do you give your first string compared to where your playoff spot will be. McDermott has been mum through Tuesday of this week on how much starters like Allen will play after a breakout season. It is a tact similar to the one that Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin is using for the Steelers- who could pass the Bills for the second seed with a win over Cleveland and a Buffalo loss on Sunday. Complicating things could be a possible wild-card game rematch against Miami if things break a certain way, meaning that Buffalo may want to run as vanilla an attack as possible for game-plan purposes.

That said, the Bills will need to figure out a Dolphins defense that has steadily improved all season long and now ranks first in points allowed (18.8), despite being 19th against the pass (243.1) and 17th against the run (118.9).

The Dolphins will again start Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback. Tagovailoa struggled against Las Vegas last week, failing to stretch the field. That game represented the second time since he was elevated to the starting role that the Dolphins brought in Ryan Fitzpatrick to relieve the rookie.

Fitzpatrick found more magic as he led the Dolphins to a fourth quarter come from behind 26-25 win over the Raiders and kept the Dolphins playoff hopes alive. Fitzpatrick threw for 182 yards in the fourth quarter and a touchdown. Tagovailoa had thrown for only 94 in the first three quarters against the leaky Raiders defense. Dolphins head coach Brian Flores may use Fitzpatrick in a similar manner that a baseball manager would use a relief pitcher- someone who can calm the waters and provide stability late in a game.

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