Dissecting Most Crucial Matchups in Buffalo's Week 16 Contest with Miami
The Buffalo Bills are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they still have plenty to play for in their Week 16 matchup with the Miami Dolphins. With a win over Miami, they would stop a team's three-game winning streak in consecutive weeks, sweep the Miami Dolphins in a season for the first time since 2007 and finish with three or more wins in the division since 2007.
The Miami Dolphins have much more to play for, as they are in the middle of an intense playoff race and will be looking to get revenge for a Week 7 loss to Buffalo. This should be a hotly contested game in the last home game for the Buffalo Bills.
These are the four most crucial matchups for Buffalo entering its game against Miami.
Leodis McKelvin vs. Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace struggled earlier this season but finally looks to be on the same page as quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Over the past four games, Wallace has 20 receptions, 333 yards and three touchdowns and has really stepped into that role as a No.1 wide receiver.
The Bills will most likely look to Leodis McKelvin to shut down Mike Wallace, as he has been playing better than Stephon Gilmore as of late. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), over the past four games, McKelvin has received a rating of 6.3, which is more than double Gilmore's rating of 2.8.
If McKelvin is able to stay with Wallace, it should force Tannehill to hold onto the ball longer than he may want, giving the Bills' pass rush more time to get to the quarterback.
Mario Williams and Jerry Hughes vs. Bryant McKinnie and Tyson Clabo
Mario Williams had one of his best games of the season against Miami. He came up with a key sack and fumble that helped Buffalo get the win. Since Week 7, though, Williams has not been able to get to the quarterback as frequently with only two sacks over the last seven games.
The Bills' pass rush, though, hasn't really slowed down, as Jerry Hughes has stepped up in a big way with seven sacks over that time span. The last time these two teams met, Williams and Hughes combined for two sacks, three QB hits and eight QB hurries, according to Pro Football Focus.
The one difference between these two games is that Bryant McKinnie is Miami's starting left tackle, replacing Jonathan Martin. The tackle position has been a point of weakness for this Dolphins team, and this is one matchup Buffalo has to win if they hope to beat Miami.
Eric Wood vs. Randy Starks
In their first matchup, Randy Starks dominated the interior offensive line of the Buffalo Bills. He finished the game with four tackles, one sack, one QB hit and five QB hurries. Pro Football Focus gave him a rating of 7.1, which was the best among all defensive tackles that week.
The Bills will look to Eric Wood to try to slow down the Dolphins' defensive tackle. If Woos is able to win this battle, it should open up the inside running game for Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller. In the first matchup, the two running backs were only able to combine for 47 yards on the ground, and this is a number that needs to improve.
Wood will also need to find a way to keep Starks out of the pocket on passing plays. Thad Lewis will need to have room to step up in the pocket to avoid pass rushers like Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake coming off the edge. This will be a pivotal matchup on Sunday for the Bills offense and one they need to win.
Jairus Byrd vs. Ryan Tannehill
One of the biggest reasons for the Bills' win over the Dolphins in their first meeting was Ryan Tannehill's turnovers. The second-year quarterback threw two interceptions, one which was returned for a touchdown, and had one lost fumble.
Tannehill has been putting up impressive numbers for the Dolphins over the last four games, averaging 288 passing yards and 2.25 touchdowns while completing over 60 percent of his passes. The one area he still struggles in is limiting turnovers.
He currently has 14 interceptions and nine fumbles this season, which plays into one of the strengths of the Bills defense. The team is currently tied for third in the NFL in interceptions and tied for fifth for total turnovers forced.
Jairus Byrd is one of the best safeties in the league at forcing interceptions and has three in the past four games. Ryan Tannehill will have to be aware of Byrd on the field or turnovers could cost Miami the win like it did back in Week 7.