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By Tony Moss, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - In a way, the Buffalo Bills have to be happy to hear the phrase "trap game" applied to their contest at the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
For too many years, perhaps since the organization faded into mediocrity following its most recent playoff appearance in 1999, the Bills were seen as the team that would provide the trap, rather than potentially falling subject to it.
That's not a good place to be, considering that the trapper is the club that the opponent is supposed to take lightly based on their play and/or their standing in the NFL hierarchy.
But no one is taking the Bills lightly in 2008. Buffalo enters Week 8 currently residing atop the AFC East at 5-1, and is fresh off a statement- making 23-14 win over the San Diego Chargers last Sunday. Dick Jauron's club enters Week 8 with a one-game edge over the still-breathing New England Patriots (4-2) in the AFC East, and their mark is tied for the second-best in the NFL, behind only that of the unbeaten Tennessee Titans.
Buffalo's surprisingly consistent play over their first six games of the season, its eye-opening victories over 2007 playoff entries like the Seahawks (34-10), Jaguars (20-16), and Chargers, and its recent run of success against the Dolphins (seven wins in the last eight meetings) is what makes the Bills a favorite in Week 8, and Miami's uneven 2-4 record has a little something to do with that dynamic as well.
The Dolphins come into the game on a two-game losing streak, with back-to-back losses to the Texans (29-28) and Ravens (27-13) helping drop the stock that had been raised with impressive wins over the Patriots (38-13) and Chargers (17-10) earlier in the season.
Despite its general competitiveness compared to last year's 1-15 debacle, Miami still finds itself in last place in the AFC East, and there is some question about whether the team's much-ballyhooed "Wildcat" scheme is a gimmick that has promptly run its course.
The "Wildcat" was used only five times against Baltimore last Sunday, and accrued a mere four yards.
Tony Sparano's club wasn't quite the same without the threat that the single- wing-styled scheme presented, scoring just 13 points, the team's fewest since the "Wildcat" was unveiled in Week 3. In its prior three games utilizing the offense, Miami had averaged 27.7 points and gone 2-1.
"The 'Wildcat' is all predicated on what people do," said Sparano following last week's setback. "From our standpoint, we looked at it and we were getting bigger chunks other ways. I mean, we threw the ball down the field. You guys are always begging me to throw and we threw down the field today. [Tight end] David Martin had some nice chunk plays in the middle of the field. With what those guys are doing out there on defense, to me they played a lot of post-safety today, there was a lot of people around the box that gave us an opportunity to throw the ball to the seams. We didn't really need the 'Wildcat' from that standpoint. So, you're not going to force a square peg into a round hole. The thing isn't going, it's not going."
Miami leads the all-time regular season series with Buffalo, 49-34-1, but has lost seven of the last eight in the series, including four straight. The Bills were 13-10 road winners when the teams met in Week 10 of last season, and took a 38-17 home decision when the clubs squared off in Week 14. The Dolphins last defeated the Bills at home during the 2005 season.
Though the Dolphins lead the regular season series, the Bills hold a 3-1 edge in postseason games. Buffalo defeated Miami in a 1990 AFC Divisional Playoff, the 1992 AFC Championship, and a 1995 AFC First-Round Playoff, while the Dolphins were winners in a 1998 AFC First-Round Playoff.
Jauron is 4-1 in his head coaching career against the Dolphins, including a 27-9 loss for his Bears in Miami during the 2002 season. The Dolphins' Sparano will be meeting both Jauron and the Bills for the first time as a head coach.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Though he's continued to fly somewhat under the radar, any discussion of Pro Bowl quarterback candidates out of the AFC ought to include the Bills' Trent Edwards (1209 passing yards, 5 TD, 2 INT). Edwards is 5-0 in games he's started and finished this season, has completed an impressive 69.7 percent of his passes, and has a 133.1 passer rating in the fourth quarter this year. Last week, Edwards bounced back from a concussion suffered against the Cardinals in his previous tilt, completing 25-of-30 passes for 261 yards with a touchdown and zero sacks absorbed against the Chargers. Wideout Lee Evans (24 receptions, 3 TD) was again Edwards' top target, coming up with eight grabs for 89 yards and a score. Tight end Robert Royal (17 receptions, 1 TD) also made an impact, finishing with four catches for 53 yards in the win. In the running game, Marshawn Lynch (389 rushing yards, 5 TD, 19 receptions) hasn't always been dazzling, but has kept defenses honest. Lynch and backup Fred Jackson (167 rushing yards, 1 TD, 17 receptions) combined for 103 ground yards a week ago. An underrated Buffalo o-line has surrendered just 11 sacks of Edwards this season.
Edwards' chief concern on Sunday should be avoiding pass rusher Joey Porter, who is undergoing a renaissance with 6.5 sacks in his last four games. The veteran notched two sacks of Baltimore's Joe Flacco last Sunday. If the Bills can get Porter blocked, they should be in good shape. Miami has made few plays in the secondary all year, as just one of their miniscule total of three interceptions has come from a defensive back. Cornerbacks Andre' Goodman (18 tackles, 1 INT) and Will Allen (20 tackles) figure to bear primary responsibility in slowing Evans and the Buffalo receivers. The Dolphins enter Week 8 ranked a healthy 12th against the run (97.5 yards per game), but could take a hit without nose tackle Jason Ferguson (ribs) at the center of the defense. Ferguson (8 tackles), who is listed as doubtful for this week, was absent for most of the Ravens contest, in which Willis McGahee went over 100 yards for the first time this season. Inside linebackers Channing Crowder (48 tackles) and Akin Ayodele (30 tackles, 1 INT) are among the team leaders in tackles, and will have to help pick up the slack.
WHEN THE DOLPHINS HAVE THE BALL
Despite last week's loss, Miami quarterback Chad Pennington (1396 passing yards, 6 TD, 3 INT) again showed the ability to move the offense. Versus a Baltimore defense that ranks near the top of the league in most categories, Pennington completed 24-of-35 passes for 295 yards, a touchdown, and a costly interception that went the other way for a 44-yard Terrell Suggs touchdown. Pennington, who has a 97.4 passer rating as a Dolphin, has been showing greater chemistry with wideouts Greg Camarillo (27 receptions, 1 TD) and Ted Ginn (20 receptions), as well as third-down back Patrick Cobbs (10 receptions, 2 TD) and tight ends David Martin (16 receptions, 1 TD) and Anthony Fasano (17 receptions, 2 TD). Camarillo led the team with six catches for 74 yards a week ago, while Martin chipped in with four grabs for a season-high 71 yards. Despite a weak 13-carry, 27-yard performance against Baltimore, running back Ronnie Brown (363 rushing yards, 7 TD, 11 receptions) figures to remain the focal point of the Dolphins offense. Brown has just 77 yards over his past two contests.
Miami will want to establish the run against a Bills defense that is a middle- of-the-pack 15th in the league in rushing defense (107.2 yards per game), and makes most of its big plays against opposing passers. That said, Buffalo is just a week removed from holding the Chargers to just 72 yard on the ground, and front seven stalwarts like tackle Marcus Stroud (19 tackles, 2 sacks) and linebackers Paul Posluszny (41 tackles) and Kawika Mitchell (27 tackles, 2 sacks) have shown the ability to make plays. Mitchell had seven tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and his first interception as a Bill last Sunday. Meanwhile, Buffalo ranks eighth in the league against the pass (185.8 yards per game) and could have cornerback Terrence McGee (knee) back to start opposite Jabari Greer (30 tackles, 1 INT) this week. McGee (14 tackles, 2 INT) is questionable, as is top pass rusher Aaron Schobel (19 tackles, 1 sack), who is nursing a foot problem. The Bills enter Week 8 having recorded 12 sacks on the year.
Edwards was left unselected in many fantasy drafts, but he's now a borderline starting candidate due to his efficiency and improving numbers. The Dolphins don't make a lot of big plays defensively, so both he and Evans are strong plays. Lynch should get his numbers too, especially if Ferguson is unavailable for the Miami "D". Leave the Buffalo defense on the bench, since the Fins rarely turn it over, but start underrated kicker Rian Lindell.
Pennington is a good starting option if your main QB is on a bye, if only because he's a reliable decision-maker who won't get you negative points. Brown remains a no-brainer to start, and Fasano and Martin are reasonably attractive tight end choices. The Miami defense and kicker Dan Carpenter should remain on the waiver wire, or at least the bench.
The standings may say that the Bills are a first-place team and the Dolphins reside in last, but in terms of talent level, these two clubs are reasonably close. Buffalo has been more consistent in all phases because the Bills have been at it longer, whereas Miami is only six games into a rebuilding project that has yielded mixed results. But Jauron and company don't yet look like the kind of team that is going to go on the road and blow a lot of teams out, much less a division opponent that will be hungry to avoid a second straight home loss. Look for this one to be nip-and-tuck throughout, with Pennington providing the late-game magic that has been part of Edwards' makeup for most of the season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Dolphins 24, Bills 21
10/23 17:28:17 ET
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