ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Three thoughts on my mind as the Bills get ready to start their playoffs against (what’s left of) the Dolphins…

It’s Not Tua Be

Tua Tagovailoa won’t play in this game due to a concussion. It will be the third straight week he has been out. Number two QB Teddy Bridgewater’s finger injury will limit him to only backup duty. That leaves third-stringer Skylar Thompson to make his first playoff start in the anything-but-cozy confines of Highmark Stadium. Thompson actually makes Bills fans more nervous for this weekend because the jaw-dropping, absolutely embarrassing loss is now on the table for Buffalo.

Thompson is a rookie who was drafted in the 7th round. He’s appeared in seven games, played extensively in four of them and started two. The only one where he was a factor in a win was last week’s 11-6 eyesore of a victory against the Jets.

He’s a third-stringer for a reason, but as Shaq Lawson said this week, he’s also in the NFL for a reason. Thompson can move around and has a good amount of escapability. He can make throws on the run and, more important, is willing to pull the trigger on them. Mike McDaniel did not ask Thompson to try much down the field against the tough Jets defense. Which is why his winning stat line was 20 (short, safe) completions on 31 attempts for a teeny, tiny 4.8 yards per attempt.

The Dolphin offense is at its best when Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle can create big plays in space. For that to happen, they need passes thrown on time and in stride. Thompson likely doesn’t have the experience in the NFL or with the Dolphins first team to expect much consistency in that department. However, Bills fans know full well it only takes one for a guy like Hill to make a house call.

Pound The Ground

The best way to help a young quarterback move the ball is by not asking him to move the ball. That means Miami probably needs some success on the ground to stay in this game. It’s how they won their way into this playoff game. Jeff Wilson and Raheem Mostert each topped 70 yards on the ground last week.

The Bills saw how good Miami’s run game can be a few weeks ago when Mostert topped 100 yards before halftime. Mostert won’t play Sunday after breaking a thumb last week, but Wilson is just about the same guy with maybe a touch less speed.

I would think taking away the run should be job one for the Bills in this game, but that’s easier said than done. You can’t just run A.J. Klein on the field for extended snaps because of the speed threat that Hill and Waddle bring. The same problem prevents the Bills from constantly creeping safeties and corners in the box for run support. Despite that, Wilson going for a buck-fifty and a couple touchdowns to lead a Miami win is a reasonable concern. Thompson throwing for 300 and three scores is not.

Practice Playoffs?

This is a playoff game for the Bills, but it very much might feel like a preseason game because the Dolphins offense is hanging together by a thread (more on that in a sec). It might give Sean McDermott a chance to try out the myriad of options he suddenly has at slot receiver.

Cole Beasley was signed to the active roster this week, which very much seems an indication he has a significant role in the Bills postseason plans. While he is oozing with experience and familiarity, it’s hard to know if his body is ready to hang in a playoff environment. Isaiah McKenzie is probably the best athlete of the group, but he is questionable this week with a hamstring injury. His lack of dependability this year is the reason the Bills are throwing so many darts at the wall with this position.

Khalil Shakir has the best upside of the group, but the rookie hasn’t shown anywhere near the dependability needed from a playoff regular. The Bills did open the practice window for Jamison Crowder Wednesday, but he won’t play this week. Crowder is a pro’s pro who knows the job well. However, he missed half of camp and three-quarters of the season. It’s hard to imagine much of a connection with Josh Allen whenever he does get back on the field.

I think any one of these guys have the capacity to make a big play and even have a productive game. Figuring out which one is most likely to make a difference will be the trick for the Bills. One of the goals Sunday afternoon (after the whole winning to keep the season alive thing) might be learning as much as possible about which guy could be best.

Betting Things

Went 1-2 last week to finish the regular season at 24-25. I’m still up 0.6 units for the year.

  • James Cook over 37.5 yards rushing. Cook got nine carries or more in back-to-back games for the first time in his career to end the season and topped this number both times. I think the fan base is rushing to anoint him RB1, but his workload seems a safe bet. And if this game gets out of hand, Cook and the Bills run game should get plenty of opportunity.
  • Allen -1.5 passing TDs vs. Thompson. The Dolphins are 27th in the league for allowing passing touchdowns and Thompson has one career scoring pass. I’ll take a shot at Allen winning 3-1 or 2-0 at +140 odds.
  • Dawson Knox anytime TD. He’s scored in each of his last four games and see above on Dolphins touchdown passes allowed. I’ll try to ride the hot hand at +200 or better.
  • Also like: Dolphins under 14.5 points. Lost on this bet with the Patriots last week. Extended garbage time scares me. Thompson no TD passes. It’s +160 and he only has one TD pass ever.

The Pick

It would be one thing if the Dolphins only injury issue were at quarterback. The Niners are proving that you can live with a third-string, 7th round rookie calling signals when your roster is loaded.

Miami, on the other hand, has a whole lot of other problems. Mostert has already been mentioned. In addition, three starting offensive linemen combined to participate in all of one practice this week. Top guard Liam Eichenberg is doubtful to play. Tackles Brandon Shell and Terron Armstead are both questionable. Armstead is Miami’s prize free agent from this past offseason and the left tackle makes a big difference when he’s on the field.

Dolphins head coach Mike McDaniel will likely try and throw the kitchen sink at Buffalo. Only two teams blitz more often. Miami doesn’t have much to lose going all out attacking Allen and the Bills QB has been fairly turnover prone this season–he finished the regular season third in interceptions (14) and third in fumbles (13).

Outside of a major Bills injury, the next most likely path to a stunning upset for Miami would be winning the turnover battle. By a lot. It’s something that the Dolphins have only done three times all season. Their 14 forced turnovers are second worst in the NFL.

Not only are the Bills more talented in a lot of spots, they have most of the little things also in their favor. They’re the home team. Their coaching staff has a ton more playoff experience. They even have the number one special teams by DVOA (thanks to the Nyheim Hines magic last week). Miami is abysmal on special teams. Their kick return team is second-worst in the NFL. And that’s one of the good squads. The Dolphins are dead least in punt return and kick coverage.

The Dolphins exploited Buffalo’s shaky, banged-up secondary in week 15 with a quarterback comfortable in the scheme and two electric wideouts. A rookie making his third career start will likely be less comfortable than a Dolphins fan asking for ranch with his wings on Sunday. McDermott has only lost three of 11 games against a rookie QB with the Bills and this contest should be no different.

Buffalo would be better off slamming on the gas early, getting Thompson tight and making the Dolphins start looking forward to offseason vacations. Even if this has to be a 60-minute effort, I’d be stunned if Allen and company don’t find a way. This wouldn’t be the worst loss in Bills history, but that’s only because this team has four Super Bowl defeats on its resume. I don’t think Bills Mafia will worry much after 1pm on Sunday. Give me the Bills 33-10.