Three things on my mind as the Bills finally put the regular season to bed…
Senior Skip Day
The biggest question on the Bills side is simply how much will anyone play. Last year with absolutely nothing on the line in the season finale against the Jets, all the top starters were on the field for less than a quarter of snaps. Josh Allen was under center for just seven plays.
This year is different because the Bills do have some incentive–needing a win to make sure they stay at the second seed and keep the homefield advantage for round two. However, a Steelers loss would also give Buffalo the 2-seed and Mike Tomlin declared early this week Ben Roethlisberger and a few other starters are not playing. (Pittsburgh, essentially, lost their bye due to Covid issues and might need rest more than any other team in the league)
Sean McDermott’s public thoughts on the decision have gone a variety of ways. He wants the highest seed he can get, but acknowledges the numbers say teams don’t really win much more at home this year than they do on the road. He has said all factors have been considered (that comment was answering a question about playing for a 2-seed that could bring extra revenue to the organization with fans allowed in the stadium for the playoffs). McDermott said all week he has a plan, but as usual, would not reveal it.
I think the Cole Beasley injury is and should be enough to remind McDermott how much there is to lose putting his top players on the field for any length of time this week. However, this is really a decision only a head coach would be qualified to make. He’s on the inside. He knows best who needs rest and who needs work and how much that extra home game is worth to his team.
What Will Brown Do
The John Brown situation complicates the above paragraphs. Brown is finally cleared to play after stints on the injured reserve and the Covid reserve have kept him out since week 10 against Arizona.
I think the Bills would want Brown on the field for some time against Miami to check how healthy he really is and help get him back up to game speed, but that decision chain reacts through the whole offense. For Brown to get real work, he needs to be on the field with Allen and, probably, Stefon Diggs. If Allen is on the field, you can guarantee the starting offensive line will be on the field in front of him. Every snap that McDermott wants to see Brown in the game means another snap that he’s risking the rest of his top offensive pieces to an injury.
If it were Diggs (a player who just arrived in Buffalo this year), I might expect the Bills to push the playing time a touch. Since Brown has been around this offense for two full seasons, I think his snaps will be more commensurate to what the plan is for the rest of the offense. It is, however, a bit of a tricky dance for McDermott.
Dolphins Without A Net
If Tua Tagovailoa can lead the Dolphins to a win, Miami makes the playoffs. The Dolphins also began the week believing there were plenty of Plan B’s should Plan Tua not work out.
If they lose to Buffalo, Miami can still make the playoffs with a Browns loss or a Ravens loss or a Colts loss. No one expects the Ravens (at Cincinnati) or Indy (vs. Jacksonville) to lose, but the Browns are playing the division champion Steelers. That seemed a good bet for a Dolphins bail out until Tomlin decided to make this week the Pittsburgh bye (To be fair, the Browns are having serious Covid issues and will miss a handful of players Sunday. However, none equate to what Pittsburgh misses with Big Ben out).
In addition, Miami’s in-game Plan B is unavailable after Ryan Fitzpatrick tested positive for Covid and was declared out for the trip to Buffalo.
The Dolphins have to play Sunday as if it’s going to take a mega-effort from every player active to earn this playoff spot. Expect the kitchen sink scheme-wise from the coaches and an all out, 110%, leave it all on the field, (insert your own football cliche here) game from the players.
The winner of this game will likely be determined by how much Buffalo cares about winning it. I just can’t imagine it’s all that much or anywhere close to how much the Bills care about escaping the game healthy.
If Buffalo does play to win, preventing turnovers is the A-1 priority. Miami’s defense isn’t super play to play, but they are the number one team in forcing turnovers and very good, situationally (1st by a lot in third down defense and 5th in red zone defense).
Bills fans seemed to be most concerned about Baltimore among Buffalo’s possible first round opponents and rightly so. If the Bills win and lock up a two-seed, there is no way they can catch the Ravens in round one. A Bills loss and a Steelers win would almost guarantee a meeting with Baltimore next weekend.
For the most part, this game will be about Bills fans reveling in what’s been accomplished this regular season and, perhaps, getting a longer glimpse at some of the younger players they haven’t seen much. The final score won’t probably matter much, but since the format of this story demands a prediction, I’ll go Miami 20-9.