Usually when the Dolphins play the Bills in a meaningful game, it occurs in September. However, with both teams still above .500 and very much alive in the playoff hunt, tonight's Thursday Night matchup between the AFC East rivals carries a tremendous amount of weight. The winner will move to 6-4 and sit just a game behind the Patriots in the battle for 1st place in the division, while the loser will drop to 5-5, sit two and a half games out of first, and find themselves right in the thick of a large number of AFC teams fighting for two Wild Card slots. In a lot of ways, tonight's contest is a playoff game.
When these two teams met in Buffalo in Week 2, the Bills spanked the Dolphins to to the tune of 29-10. However, that was a long time ago, and these are two very different teams. Both Miami and Buffalo are coming off of losses that very easily could have been wins, and neither team's schedule gets any easier after tonight. Miami goes on to Play at Denver, at New York, comes home for a game against the inconsistent yet dangerous Ravens, and then it's off to New England. Buffalo has home games against the Jets and Browns before traveling to Denver before hosting Green Bay. With only the Jets - who just somehow beat the hottest team in the NFL last week - as the easy game over the next month (and even then, you never know with the AFC East), getting a win tonight is imperative.
As Patriots fans, we have much bigger things to worry about than who is going to win this one; the Colts are far from an easy out, and as Rich Hill just pointed out, the Patriots haven't had the greatest success against winning teams on the road as of late. However, we'll all be watching with vested interest tonight, and we're going to have to root for someone, right? I mean sure, a tie would be nice, but that's not likely to happen.
So, who should be root for? What result is the most helpful from a Patriots perspective?
The easy answer is to root for Buffalo. New England has already beaten them on the road this year and holds the head-to-head against them. With the Week 1 loss at Miami, the best the Patriots can hope for is to split the series with them this year and win any potential tiebreakers, should the situation arise, by having a better divisional winning percentage (Miami is currently 1-1 in AFC East games, New England is 2-1). Plus, with Miami finishing out the year with home games against the Vikings and Jets, they'll likely need to get any additional losses they are going to accrue over the next month. Thus, if New England wants Miami out of the playoffs altogether, it's in their best interest for Buffalo to sweep them on the year.
Plus, in spite of myself I actually like the Bills. Long gone are the days of Buffalo slapping the Patriots up and down the field twice a year, the defense is a blast to watch, and Sammy Watkins has the makings of something special. And while I don't hate Miami either, to be honest, they do irritate me in a way that Buffalo doesn't. So from a petty fan's standpoint, it's easy to pull for the Bills here.
That said, in my opinion, Buffalo is the more dangerous team right now. Granted, both are coming off losses, but Buffalo's defense is one of the best in the league, Kyle Orton is playing relatively mistake-free football right now, and they are finding ways to win games. Plus, with Brandon Albert lost for the year, Ryan Tannehill may find himself with significantly less time to throw the ball going forward. The injury is coming at the worst possible time, as this front four of Buffalo has been eating offensive lines alive almost all year. So if you were to ask me which team scares me most if the playoffs started tomorrow, I'd say Buffalo. Getting another loss under their belt would help to ensure that the last time the Patriots see the Bills this year is on December 28th. There are those who would make the case that both the Fins and the Bills at Foxboro is a great playoff matchup, but when it comes to the AFC East, you never know what's going to happen - just ask the 2011 Patriots. So if it's alright with the football gods, I'm perfectly content with just one team coming out of our division, and that's my team, thankyouverymuch.
What about you? Who will you be rooting for tonight?