(WGR 550) -- One can make an argument that any game in the early-to-middle part of the regular season can serve as one that can define the rest of the year for any given team. However, when it comes to the Buffalo Bills and their upcoming contest against the Miami Dolphins, it may be the one that will either keep the Bills in contention or the one that sends them to another season of early draft analysis.
At 2-4, the Bills have quite a daunting next few weeks. Of course, they're on the road Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (3-2), but that's followed up with a road game against New Orleans (5-1) and then a home contest with the Kansas City Chiefs (6-0).
The upcoming showdown is perhaps the most winnable game of the three, and if the Bills don't claim a victory in this one, they could very easily be staring a 2-7 record to start the season in the face.
How might it all shake out on Sunday? Here are some things to look for throughout the contest:
1) Mario of utmost importance
- To say the offensive line of the Dolphins has struggled would be very kind to both left tackle Jonathan Martin and right tackle Tyson Clabo. Simply put, Martin is not cut out to be a left tackle in the league and Clabo has regressed from his play when he was a member of the Atlanta Falcons. If the Bills want to potentially come away with the victory, their pass rushers are going to have to force the issue in Miami's pocket. Their best chance for this will be Mario Williams providing pressure off the edge, and the Bills may be best served lining him up in front of Martin more often than not. Over the past two weeks, Williams hasn't made a very large impact with his own cooked up pressure in one-on-one opportunities. He'll have the chance to do just that in what could be his most winnable one-on-one matchup of the year.
2) Wake Up!
- The Bills will have to be just as careful with a piece of their offensive line, because the potent pass rusher Cameron Wake is probable to play in the upcoming contest. Wake generally lines up on the left side of the defensive line and over the right tackle. In recent weeks, Buffalo's starting right tackle Erik Pears has seen his play dip against two defensive lines that are amongst the best in the league. The task won't get any easier for Pears because Wake would be a handful for anyone, let alone an aging right tackle that may have peaked two years prior. That is undoubtedly the big matchup to watch when they're on offense, and if the Bills can limit Wake's effectiveness, they stand a much better chance at a victory.
3) Keeping the Dolphins one dimensional
- While the Bills are one of the standard setters around the NFL in the rushing department, the Dolphins are at the back of the pack. Poor offensive line play has led to Miami basically abandoning their running game. If they stand a chance in establishing that part of their game, it will need to be Lamar Miller that keys the efforts. He's a running back with home run potential and an actually respectable yards per carry average (4.2). If the Bills can slow him up early, then it turns to Ryan Tannehill to lead Miami to the victory as it has for most the year. All in all, their offensive line has prevented them from doing very basic parts of an offense. They are 29th in the league in rushing, Tannehill is constantly facing pressure in the backfield and because of it, they haven't been able to utilize their big play threat Mike Wallace on deep routes. The Bills will have the chance to keep the Miami rushing woes going at least, and then try to make the still unproven Tannehill beat them.
4) Pressure taken off the young WRs
- Thad Lewis will be starting his second straight game as Buffalo's quarterback, and he'll have one of their top pass catchers back for the contest. Wide receiver Stevie Johnson makes his return to the lineup after a one-week absence, and without a second to spare. Without Johnson, Buffalo's passing offense -- most notably rookie wideout Robert Woods -- struggled to get going outside of the two scoring drives in the fourth quarter with the Bengals backing off a bit. Johnson will take pressure off of Woods and give Lewis another target, but be on the lookout for cornerback Brent Grimes. Since signing with Miami this off-season, Grimes has been silently spectacular. The former franchised player of the Falcons will likely try to take away one of Johnson or Woods, but on the other side a matchup to exploit will be had. Dmitri Patterson is questionable to play with a groin injury, and if he doesn't suit up, it provides potential for the Bills' passing offense. Even with a hobbled Patterson on the field, Buffalo could have some advantages.
5) Heightened workload for Byrd?
- Last week, franchised safety Jairus Byrd made his return to the field for the game against Cincinnati. Outside of a pass breakup in the first quarter Byrd was mostly quiet in his return, but was doing so in less than a starting role. When all three were healthy, Byrd was the third safety in while Da'Norris Searcy and Jim Leonhard were in on base packages. With Byrd coming away healthy from last week and not even being listed on the injury report this week, it could be fair to expect Byrd to be starting at safety alongside Leonhard, with Searcy coming in as the third safety during some sub-packages. Byrd has had some success against Miami and Tannehill, including his diving interception to lock up the victory on Thursday night football in 2012 between the two sides. The Bills are certainly hoping that version of Byrd will come back with a possibly heightened role this weekend.
Injuries Buffalo OUT: QB EJ Manuel (knee) PROBABLE: HB C.J. Spiller (ankle), WR Stevie Johnson (back), DE Mario Williams (hip), QB Thad Lewis (foot), LB Manny Lawson (hamstring), DL Kyle Williams (Achilles/Illness), CB Ron Brooks (foot)
Miami DOUBTFUL: LB Dannell Ellerbe (shoulder) QUESTIONABLE: CB Dmitri Patterson (groin), WR Brandon Gibson (hip) PROBABLE: DE Cameron Wake (knee), S Chris Clemons (knee), LB Koa Misi (shoulder), DE Dion Jordan (ankle), C Mike Pouncey (ankle), T Nate Garner (knee), LB Jason Trusnik (rib), T Will Yeatman (shoulder), P Brandon Fields (back)
Prediction: Dolphins over Bills
- It's going to be a tough act for the Bills to fly down to Miami and upend a mending Dolphins team that is coming off their bye week. The struggles on the road for Buffalo have been well-recorded, with them not having a victory away from Ralph Wilson Stadium since October 14, 2012. It's a hurdle to clear and a very important step for Buffalo as they try to progress as a young team, and this is their best chance to do it in the month of October. It will likely be a close contest that will come down to which quarterback can overcome the pass rush of their opponents most effectively, and although not an extraordinary talent, Tannehill and his ability to throw under pressure will ultimately be the difference in the game.