It’s fairly safe to assume that not many people would have projected that both the Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills would be playoff contenders at the start of the season. But that is exactly what they are heading into in their Thursday Night Football matchup in Week 11. Both teams have a 5-4 record and lost hard-fought games in Week 10 by a combined total of eight points. The winner of this AFC East divisional game will jump right into the thick of the AFC wild-card race with six weeks to go in the regular season. Here’s a look at three things to watch for when the Buffalo Bills travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins on Thursday Night Football.
All statistics are courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.
1. Can the Bills correct their red zone woes?
The Bills currently rank dead last in the NFL in red zone scoring efficiency, scoring only 41.2% of the time inside of their opponents’ 20-yard line. Red zone scoring issues cost the Bills a win in Week 10 against the Chiefs, and in a game pitting two of the league’s top defenses against each other on Thursday, every point is going to matter.
2. Can the Dolphins slow down the Bills’ league-leading pass rush without starting left tackle Branden Albert?
The Bills have racked up 34 sacks — the most in the NFL — in 2014, which comes out to nearly six per game. The Dolphins spent big money on left tackle Branden Albert in free agency, and he had been rewarding them with All-Pro-caliber play until suffering a season-ending knee injury in Week 10. Rookie Ja’Wuan James is making the move from right tackle to left tackle, left guard Dallas Thomas is moving to right tackle, and reserve Shelly Smith is moving to left guard. This patchwork offensive line for the Dolphins will definitely have its hands full, and its performance — whether it’s good or bad — could make the difference in the Dolphins winning or losing on Thursday night.
3. Will the Dolphins end their three-game losing streak to the Bills?
The Bills beat the Dolphins at home, 29-10, in Week 2 behind five field goals from former Dolphins kicker Dan Carpenter. E.J. Manuel was still playing quarterback for the Bills the last time these two teams met but has since given way to Kyle Orton. Orton has never faced the Dolphins as a starting quarterback in the NFL and has been fairly effective in 2014. The Dolphins have made it clear that they want to end their losing streak to the Bills, and the magnitude of this game should bring out the best in both teams, with the winner jumping right into the thick of the AFC playoff race.