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Dolphins need to reshuffle the deck with a win in Buffalo

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DAVIE, Fla. — Miami’s outlier playoff hopes are on the line Sunday in Buffalo (3-4), where the Dolphins (3-4) are 0-3 in the last three years.

The problem for the Dolphins is with possible tiebreakers.

Miami is 0-3 against AFC East teams and 2-4 against AFC teams. Another loss, even with a strong finish at the end of the season, makes it very difficult for Miami to get a wildcard berth.

Right now eight AFC teams have four or fewer losses. Only one team other than Miami, Pittsburgh (4-4), has four conference losses. None aside from Miami has three division losses.

Complicating things for the Dolphins this week are problems up front.

Defensive end Cam Wake (Achilles) is out for the season and right tackle Ja’Wuan James (toe) is could be sidelined for a few games.

Wake had seven sacks and four caused fumbles in the last two-plus games. He was the most disruptive defensive player on the team with the possible exception of strong safety Reshad Jones (team-leading 51 tackles, two interception return touchdowns).

Defensive end Derrick Shelby is expected to take Wake’s place in the starting lineup.

James’ absence could be more significant, however, because this week it leaves right tackle Jason Fox facing Buffalo defensive end Mario Williams.

Miami gave up five sacks in last week’s 36-7 loss at New England, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 21 times, sixth-most in the NFL.

The Dolphins could get a break, however. Buffalo’s 11 sacks rank 29th in the NFL.

On the other hand, the Bills are sixth in rushing defense at 91.9 yards per game, which could be troubling for the Dolphins. If Miami has issues running the ball things get grim.

The Dolphins are 17th in the NFL in rushing at 102.9 yards per game. They are 0-4 this year in games in which they rush for fewer than 100 yards.

It all adds up to this: Miami must find a way to win at Buffalo, or the team that spent $114 million on defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh probably will miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season.

SERIES HISTORY: 109th regular season meeting. Dolphins lead the series, 57-51-1. Buffalo won the last meeting, 41-14, in Miami earlier this season. Miami has lost its last three games in Buffalo.

GAME PLAN: Miami wants to run the ball effectively so it gets a balanced offensive attack. If the Dolphins have to rely on quarterback Ryan Tannehill to pass them to a victory they’ll likely be in trouble. Buffalo, which only has 11 sacks, wants to make the Dolphins one dimensional so it can unleash its pass rush.

Defensively, Miami has to contain athletic quarterback Tyrod Taylor. If he’s allowed to gain yards on the ground it’ll be a long day for the Dolphins’ defense. And when the times comes, Miami must put pressure on Taylor and get him rattled. That won’t be easy without Cam Wake (season-ending Achilles) but defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh has to pick up the slack.

And if all of that fails Miami can employ the tactic it used in its first two games under Campbell – have the star players (Brent Grimes, Suh, Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, Branden Albert, Reshad Jones, etc…) make game-winning plays.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

–RT Jason Fox, who is starting in place of Ja’Wuan James, vs. Buffalo DE Mario Williams, who has had good success vs. Miami.

Fox is a decent backup and spot starter, but going against Mario Williams is a different thing. Williams is a beast who can change the outcome of a game. And Fox won’t have much help, he’ll have to do it alone most of the game. This might not be good for QB Ryan Tannehill.

–Miami interim coach Dan Campbell, who has a 2-1 record, vs. Buffalo coach Rex Ryan, who is 4-3 vs. Miami since 2012.

Campbell defeated Houston and Tennessee in impressive fashion but his team was outmatched last week at New England. Ryan is a master at mind games such as sending out Buffalo’s ex-Dolphins players for the coin toss (which he did in the game at Sun Life Stadium this year). But Campbell is becoming good at that stuff, too. For example, he has the offense and defense compete in practice and the winners get to wear black jerseys. Campbell needs to outfox Ryan in any and every way.


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