Bills roundtable: What Buffalo needs to leave Miami with AFC East title


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The wide range of emotions Buffalo Bills fans could feel by Sunday night’s end is unparalleled. Buffalo could leave Miami Gardens with an AFC East title in tow along with the conference’s No. 2 seed. Or the Bills could miss the playoffs.

What might happen by the end of Week 18? The Athletic’s Tim Graham and Joe Buscaglia break down all things Bills and Sunday’s pivotal matchup against the Dolphins.

These two teams have changed a lot since their first meeting. What or who is the biggest key to a Bills win Sunday?​

Buscaglia: The biggest key will be the healthy Bills defensive line, which has been excellent for weeks on end and will be up against an injured Dolphins offensive line. Miami won’t have opening day starting left guard Isaiah Wynn or center Connor Williams, and instead will rely on Lester Cotton and Liam Eichenberg to try and prevent interior pressure from the Bills. The Dolphins might get Robert Hunt back at right guard, though he hasn’t played in a game since Dec. 3. Bills defensive tackle Ed Oliver has been outstanding this season, and by getting DaQuan Jones back next to him this week, the Bills are primed for quick pressures up the middle of the Dolphins offensive line. Getting pressure on Tua Tagovailoa quickly enough to get him off his spot is the recipe for success they’ve used before against the Dolphins.

Graham: Buffalo’s lopsided record against Miami has been done through the air. Josh Allen is 10-2, the first loss when Charles Clay dropped a well-thrown Hail Mary in 2018 and the second by two points last season with an injury-plagued roster in a Hard Rock Stadium sauna. Allen averages 280 yards passing, 3.1 touchdowns and 0.6 interceptions. In the Week 4 obliteration, Allen had more touchdowns (four passing, one rushing) than incompletions (four). But since Week 10, the Bills have made a concerted effort to run more, a push that earned tailback James Cook his first Pro Bowl selection. Allen is averaging 222.8 yards the past eight games. Remove his 339-yard performance in overtime against the Philadelphia Eagles and his average drops to 206.1 yards. It will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Joe Brady unleashes the aerial attack that has been so dangerous for the Dolphins, who are allowing just 3.8 yards per carry.

Any concern Josh Allen’s sore neck lingers in the playoffs, if the Bills make it?​

Buscaglia: It may linger, but not enough to believe Allen won’t be out there for every single practice and every single game. From what we’ve seen since his first year, his pain tolerance threshold is extremely high, often returning to practice much quicker than most would expect. There is a reason that Allen hasn’t missed any starts since his rookie season despite all the massive hits he takes during the year. That reason is him, and his outright refusal to allow anything to prevent him from being on the field while the Bills are right in the middle of their Super Bowl window.

Graham: This is what life with No. 17 should be all about. He’ll always be at least a little banged up because of how he plays at his most effective. We saw how discombobulated the offense got when Buffalo made an organizational effort to make Allen more of a pocket passer. The concept was to keep him healthier, prolong his career. But what’s the point in having Allen as the franchise quarterback for 15 years when he’s ordered to play a style that restricts what makes him so great? So dealing with these injury issues is par for the course and always worth worrying about. If not the neck, then the elbow. If not the elbow, then the shoulder. If not the shoulder, then the back. He always seems one hit away from trouble, but he’s also one sensational play away from changing any game.

Not including Josh Allen or Stefon Diggs, is Rasul Douglas Brandon Beane’s greatest acquisition during his Bills tenure?​

Buscaglia: If the question is about 2023 only, it’s Douglas in a runaway vote for me. The upgrade that Douglas has been over either Dane Jackson or Kaiir Elam is massive, and in turn, they’ve watched as their 2022 sixth-round pick Christian Benford has flourished in a full-time starting role without having to be the “top guy” at the position. Plus, Douglas is signed through the 2024 season, which gives them an option to move on from Tre’Davious White after the season and save cap room if they so choose. But for Beane’s entire tenure, and since Matt Milano doesn’t count because he was selected in the draft before Beane was hired, I think it’s Ed Oliver. He has been a top performing player since he arrived in 2019, they signed him to a long-term contract extension in the offseason and he’s reached even greater heights since then, and only turned 26 about a month ago. Oliver may wind up being one of the best defensive tackles in franchise history.

Graham: This is a great question because it can be debated so passionately. The Bills’ season might be in deep trouble — perhaps even over — without Douglas. The loss of top cornerback White four games into the campaign was potentially devastating, especially with other moving parts in the secondary, but Douglas helped steady the defensive backfield. The Bills generated splash takeaways early, tailed off to near-nothingness and then have picked up again lately with Douglas the main catalyst. All that said, I would lean more toward someone who has made a more prolonged impact, say, edge rusher Leonard Floyd for being great all season or center Mitch Morse for being such a substantial plank in the culture foundation. Morse is an organizational cornerstone.

Do the Bills need Stefon Diggs to produce at a higher level to win in the playoffs?​

Buscaglia: Yes, they do, and they know it. The time for getting by with great defense against subpar offensive opponents is coming to a close. As we’ve seen in playoff runs over the past four years, offensive brilliance has superseded regular-season defensive dominance far more often than not. For the Bills to push past the Dolphins and make a playoff run, Allen and Diggs have to be connected and making an impact together. The AFC looks wide open for the taking for the team that gets hot on that side of the ball, and with all of their health on that side of the ball, that could very well be the Bills if they get Diggs going. My guess is, in this game against the Dolphins, they’ll try to get him matched up against either Eli Apple or Kader Kohou. If successful, there’s a legitimate chance Diggs has his best outing since October.

Graham: Probably, although the Bills have been winning without him. During their four-game win streak, Diggs has caught just 17 of his 32 targets for 127 yards and no touchdowns. Youngsters Cook, Shakir and Dalton Kincaid have picked up much of that slack and are hinting at the club’s future perhaps earlier than expected. This time of year, however, teams need their star players to perform as such. The Bills struggled to survive the Los Angeles Chargers two weeks ago and had some tighter-than-desirable moments Sunday against the New England Patriots. If we can eventually look back on January and February as a stretch that the Bills did not need Diggs, then we probably will be talking about a team planning its championship parade because his presence would be an incredible void to overcome.

Does Von Miller suit up again for the Bills this season, playoffs included?​

Buscaglia: My guess is benching Miller this late in the season is extremely meaningful, and a decision they didn’t make lightly. It feels like a turning point and a decision they’d feel committed to as long as no injuries to the defensive ends ahead of him occur. The simple fact is that Miller has been the worst performing defensive end on the roster this season. He has been outplayed by all of his teammates at the position, including Kingsley Jonathan who has only been on the field for limited reps. The Bills cannot waste valuable snaps in a game trying to get Miller back to what he was before the injury if they don’t have to. Injuries can always change things, but his on-field performance alone is enough to wonder what Miller’s future in Buffalo may be after the 2023 season.

Graham: I hope not because that means the Bills don’t need him, that Floyd, A.J. Epenesa and Gregory Rousseau are playing well enough and fans are no longer forced to choose whether to root for someone who last month was arrested for assaulting his pregnant girlfriend. I haven’t been given any reason not to trust the moral judgments of Beane and head coach Sean McDermott. I’m confident they have sorted through the ramifications of Miller’s arrest and didn’t keep playing him simply because they’re paying gobs of guaranteed dollars. I also know his accuser has recanted. That said, there’s no reason to believe Dallas police invented testimony and evidence to get Miller arrested. The district attorney is weighing whether to charge him. It’s simply better if he remains dispensable.