Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins: Complete Week 11 Preview for Miami

Thomas Galicia@thomasgaliciaFeatured Columnist IVNovember 12, 2014

Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins: Complete Week 11 Preview for Miami

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    Joe Robbins/Getty Images

    One of the few good things about playing football on a Thursday night is you don't have much time to dwell on heartbreaking losses the previous week. 

    That's a situation that both the Miami Dolphins (5-4) and Buffalo Bills (5-4) are facing going into their Week 11 Thursday night battle (8:25 p.m. ET, NFLN). 

    The Dolphins are coming off a 20-16 last-second loss to the Detroit Lions in Detroit, a game where Miami started off slow, and then, thanks in part to a great defense, a more precise passing offense took the lead late in the game before a few miscues on the field failed the team down the stretch. 

    For the Bills, their heartbreaking loss came at home to the Kansas City Chiefs in a game that Buffalo dominated for most of the game before turnovers and other late-game gaffes allowed the Chiefs to score 10 unanswered points in the final quarter. PageQSports.com shared McKelvin's comments regarding playing the Dolphins on Thursday night:

    For the Bills, their loss to the Chiefs don't have them short on confidence going into Thursday's game against the Dolphins, with cornerback Leodis McKelvin feeling very good about Buffalo's chances. PageQSports.com shared McKelvin's comments regarding the matchup: 

    Bills DB Leodis McKelvin on the Fins: “Gonna beat that ass asdgdsgksjdldas point blank period” ttp://t.co/Dh35BBQOt7 https://t.co/6yb3C99NPP

    — Page Q (@PageQSports) November 11, 2014

    The Dolphins meanwhile brushed off McKelvin's trash talk, trash talk that I must add is justifiable since the Bills have won their last three and four out of their last five against the Dolphins, by saying that it was "cheap," per James Walker of ESPN.com. 

    Cameron Wake isn't bothered by it and reminds us of where the game is played. 

    "I couldn't care less. When football starts becoming a debate, then I'd care about words. Until that day, football pads win and lose games, and that's what I care about."

    What it all boils down to is you have a game between two bitter division rivals with the same record who are fighting to end playoff droughts of 14 and five years, respectively. What happens on the field will likely determine the fates of each of these team's respective seasons. 

    Here now is the preview.

Miami Dolphins Week 10 Recap

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    I've watched this game once through NFL Game Rewind's condensed view (which I'll admit you won't learn too much from), once straight through and once through the All-22 view. 

    My mind has not changed regarding my opinion on this game, a game that was so close that it was decided primarily by three plays. I'm not going to go into those three plays all over again (that's what the postgame report card is for), but even after seeing these plays three more times in the last 48 hours, I'm convinced that I was right in my assessment—coaching didn't lose this game. 

    The Dolphins lost the game because Detroit beat them. It's a foreign concept to think about in this day and age where you always want the scapegoat. You have fans blaming Ryan Tannehill as if they have a personal vendetta against the guy.

    They do know that if Charles Clay doesn't drop that pass in the end zone (yes, it was "knocked out," but he could've secured it prior to the pass getting "knocked out"), what can be said about Tannehill? 

    If Mike Wallace actually runs through on that deep ball to his fastest speed and not speed up when he sees the pass is thrown, we're celebrating a second-quarter momentum-shifting touchdown, not just "they can't hit the deep ball." I love the way Wallace has played this season, but he's not the best route-runner, and that does matter on deep balls. 

    If Cortland Finnegan doesn't get hurt, Golden Tate isn't so open in the fourth quarter. He was the receiver who killed the Dolphins on Sunday, not Calvin Johnson. 

    If Damien Williams goes forward instead of going backward on 2nd-and-5 on Miami's second-to-last drive, you have 3rd-and-3 or even 3rd-and-2 instead of 3rd-and-6. There's a big difference in what your offense could do with those extra 36 inches. 

    So many factors went into a four-point loss on the road to the second-best team in the NFC with the best defense in the NFL. The coaching was there and was good; the execution, for the most part, was there. 

    Sometimes you just lose, and all you can do is tip your cap to the winning team, not try to blame everyone and get coaches fired and quarterbacks benched. Miami wasn't embarrassed, if anything, they came away from Sunday's game with a lot to be proud of. 

    Let's just hope that injuries to Branden Albert and Cortland Finnegan don't hurt as much as they seem like they will.

News and Notes

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    Jeff Haynes/Associated Press

    Branden Albert Out For Season

    This is the loss on Sunday to be depressed about, as the Dolphins have lost left tackle Branden Albert for the season. 

    Andrew Abramson of The Palm Beach Post reports that a torn ligament in Albert's right knee will sideline him for the rest of the season, and because of the injury right tackle Ja'Wuan James will be moved over to left tackle. 

    One just has to look at the comparison from last year's offensive line to this year's to see how big of a loss this is; however, wide receiver Mike Wallace's quotes, per Abramson, from Sunday paint the whole picture of how much this injury will hurt Miami: 

    Up to this point I’d say he’s probably been the MVP of our team the way he’s come in and kind of stabilized our line. 

    It’s a huge loss for us, but we have to make up for it. Ja’Wuan, I think he’ll do a decent job at left tackle. Someone has to step up in Ja’Wuan’s spot.

    Dallas Thomas will get the start at right tackle. For much of the season he was Miami's right guard. Thus far the Dolphins have not held any visits with any available free-agent offensive linemen to help fortify depth at the position, but don't be too surprised if they take advantage of the long week they will have after the Buffalo game to do just that. 

    It was going to be tough enough to face Buffalo's tough defensive line with Albert in the lineup, without him the challenge becomes that much greater. James played alright at left tackle against the Lions, with his play improving as he switched from right tackle to left tackle. 

    Dolphins Trying to Find Role for LaMichael James

    One of the most intriguing names on Miami's practice squad for most of the season has been former San Francisco 49ers running back LaMichael James. 

    James is getting his opportunity with the Dolphins this week as he has been activated from the practice squad, and as Omar Kelly of The Sun-Sentinel reports, the Dolphins will be looking for ways to use the explosive running back. 

    Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor seems excited at the possibilities that await him with James, praising him by calling him a tailback "who can really operate in space," saying: 

    "I love the way he runs routes. I love the way that he can be decisive and hit the hole fast. Without having a chance to see a guy run in preseason for you, a little bit of it is projection from what you see in practice."

    James could be used as a kickoff and punt returner either as a replacement for or a supplement to Jarvis Landry. He's also the type of running back meant for Bill Lazor's offense, which is similar to the one James was a part of under Chip Kelly at Oregon. 

    James has good hands out of the backfield, thus giving Miami options for a third-down back as well as a running back who can run alongside either Lamar Miller, Daniel Thomas or Damien Williams. 

    In his one game against the Dolphins with the 49ers back in 2012, James ran for 30 yards on eight attempts while catching one pass for 15 yards. He had three kick returns for 79 yards (including a 34-yard return) as well as a punt return for 12 yards. 

    Dolphins To Wear Aqua-on-Aqua on Thursday Night

    The only times you will see the Dolphins depart from their usual white-on-white home uniforms is during nationally televised prime-time home games, which Thursday Night's game against Buffalo qualifies as. 

    While I still pine for the return of those handsome orange jerseys, I know that the aqua jerseys will do. 

    Thursday night, per Alain Poupart of Dolphins.com, the Dolphins announced they won't just wear their aqua jerseys, they will be wearing their aqua pants as well, going aqua-on-aqua for the first time since December 26, 2004, when they recorded a 10-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns

    Miami is 2-1 all time when going aqua-on-aqua. 

    Now that that's out of the way, can we please bring back the orange jerseys for 2015?

Injury Report

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    Rick Osentoski/Associated Press
    PlayerPositionInjuryStatus
    Cortland FinneganCornerbackAnkleOut
    Daryn ColledgeGuardBackDoubtful
    Ryan TannehillQuarterbackAnkle/Right ShoulderProbable
    Charles ClayTight EndKneeQuestionable
    John DenneyLong SnapperKneeQuestionable
    Dion JordanDefensive End/LinebackerHamstringProbable
    Lamar MillerRunning BackShoulderProbable
    Koa MisiLinebackerAnkleProbable
    Kelvin SheppardLinebackerHip/GroinQuestionable
    Dion SimsTight EndToeQuestionable
    Jimmy WilsonSafetyHamstringProbable
    Mike PounceyGuard/CenterHipProbable

    Injury report courtesy of MiamiDolphins.com as of 11/12/2014 and will be updated periodically up until game day.  

    The two injuries worth concern are Finnegan and Colledge, with Finnegan out for the game and Colledge listed as "doubtful". Colledge not being able to play would mean that Miami would have a completely different left side of the offensive line as Shelley Smith would likely take his place. 

    As for Finnegan, I really do believe that had he been healthy and finished the game against Detroit, the Dolphins win as the Lions aren't able to pick on Jamar Taylor as easily as they were.

X-Factor and Matchups to Watch

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    Brent Grimes vs. Sammy Watkins

    Yes, Calvin Johnson had video-game numbers against Brent Grimes. 

    Yet how come many people thought Grimes won that battle? 

    For good reason: The majority of those yards came on one pass play in the first quarter (also Megatron's only touchdown of the game), and Johnson couldn't get any yards after his reception. 

    Grimes earned himself an article from me singing his praises that I will be publishing Thursday morning, but this week he earns the challenge of taking on rookie Sammy Watkins. 

    In their first meeting, Grimes didn't cover Watkins a lot, and the Bills primarily used him in the intermediate passing game, picking on the linebackers and safeties. 

    That didn't go too well, as Johnson caught eight passes for 117 yards and a touchdown, with his longest play going for 30 yards. 

    Most of those 30 yards were yards after the catch. 

    This time around, the Bills have a quarterback in place meant to take better advantage of Watkins' ability in Kyle Orton, which means they will likely attempt to go deep more often. 

    As for that picture, Watkins dropped that pass. 

    Jarvis Landry vs. Leodis McKelvin

    The player who could best make McKelvin eat his words would be Landry, whom the Dolphins should heavily employ against Buffalo on Thursday. 

    I explained this yesterday, and if you haven't read it yet, right click this link to open in a new tab and read it. 

    You back? Good. 

    To beat McKelvin it doesn't take speed, it takes precision. Landry's routes are the most precise on the team, and his yards after reception shows that once he has the ball in his hands, he can make things happen. 

    This is the matchup to exploit, and the best way to do it would be to not just line up Landry in the slot. You can line him up in the boundaries as well. 

    Dallas Thomas vs. Mario Williams

    This matchup has me scared, and it probably has Dolphins fans scared as well. 

    This will be Dallas Thomas' first start at right tackle in the NFL, and what a baptism by fire he will get facing off with Mario Williams. 

    If he can get Williams in a draw, consider that a Dolphins victory. 

    X-Factor: Ryan Tannehill

    Ryan Tannehill is always the X-factor against the Bills. 

    Simply put, if he performs well, Miami wins. He's only performed well once against the Bills, and for that you'd have to go back to his rookie year in December, when the Dolphins still had faint playoff hopes while the Bills had checked out for the season with a lame-duck coaching staff. 

    Even then, it's not like Tannehill had numbers to write home about, going 13-of-25 for 130 yards and two touchdowns. 

    Can he finally get over the Buffalo hump? He's going to have to. Miami's defense can stop Buffalo's offense (especially without C.J. Spiller), but Miami's offense has to get points on the board. 

    That's on the quarterback, one who has been anywhere from good to great throughout Miami's recent five-game stretch. 

    Either good or great will do on Thursday; he just can't play the way he's played against the Bills in the past.

Prediction

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    Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

    For Thursday night games, the edge goes to the home team. 

    This season, the home team is 5-4 in Thursday night games, with those four home-team losses coming to teams who are a lot better than the home team. 

    This isn't the case here, as Miami and Buffalo, despite their different styles of play, are fairly even everywhere except quarterback (despite the fact that those games haven't quite gone that way). 

    On top of that, both teams are effectively playing for their season. A loss is more damaging to Miami than to Buffalo as it would give the Bills a tiebreaker over the Dolphins. Either way, the playoff hopes of the losing team will be dented up a bit following the game. 

    Two equal division rivals fighting for the same prize in Miami. 

    This is why Odds Shark has Miami favored to win by five

    Do I have the Dolphins favored to win by five? Not at all, I don't think the winning margin of this game is going to be higher than three. 

    What I do expect is a low-scoring thriller where the team who scores the defensive touchdown will win the game. 

    I expect Miami to score said touchdown. 

    Prediction: Dolphins 19, Bills 16.

    Statistics courtesy of Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL.com unless otherwise noted.