Just one week into this intriguing NFL season, there is already a surprise in the AFC East: The Miami Dolphins sitting alone atop the standings with a 1-0 record.
They're being chased by the New England Patriots, New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, who invade Miami on Sunday looking to rebound from a 23-16 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in which their offensive juggernaut was stifled.
What's more, their only touchdown was scored by Gabriel Davis, one of three wide receivers to appear on the injury report this week.
Calling this game a must-win for the Bills might be premature, but a loss would put them two games behind Miami after just two weeks and certainly would mean they'd have to win against Washington at home in Week 3.
Like the Steelers, the Dolphins feature a formidable defense who now possibly have been provided a blueprint by the Steelers on how to neutralize quarterback Josh Allen and so many of the Bills' other offensive weapons.
Said Bills wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders: I don't know ... how teams will play us going forward. Like the Dolphins they play a lot of man-to-man coverage, but we don't know how they're going to play. It's a copycat league sometimes. Some teams, you know, mimic the formula that another team used when we lost vs. the Steelers.
"But one thing there is about this offense, I feel like we're prepared for anything, and so I'm looking forward to Sunday to see where we stand."
So without further ado, let's get to the details.
Game: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins, 1 p.m.
Venue: Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Fla.
Records: Bills 0-1; Dolphins 1-0.
Betting info: Bills by 3½. Over/under 47½.
Bills: WR Gabriel Davis (ankle), DT Star Lotulelei (calf) and DE Efe Obada (calf) are questionable.
Lotulelei is trending toward playing for the first time since 2019. He had opted out of 2020 and was unable to go last week.
Obada's injury could open the door for rookie Boogie Basham, who was a healthy scratch last week, to make his debut in the pass-rush rotation.
Dolphins: WR Will Fuller (personal/non-injury) is out.
Starting nose tackle Raekwon Davis has been placed on injured reserve.
The Bills' struggled to protect quarterback Josh Allen last week in a 23-16 loss to Pittsburgh marred by holding penalties called on every starting offensive lineman except guard Cody Ford.
In the wake of that setback, coach Sean McDermott initially didn't rule out changes to the starting alignment, but indicated later in the week that there simply was an extra emphasis placed on fundamentals and for the linemen to move their feet better.
Left tackle Dion Dawkins was flagged twice for holding after being told by the officials before the game started that an extra emphasis has been placed on holding penalties for offensive linemen who grab opponents outside the shoulders.
"Before the ball was even snapped, [the officials] were talking about hands, hands, hands inside," Dawkins said. "So we knew going into it that they were emphasizing it, harping on it. Cool. Like that just teaches us that we've got to be on our game and, specifically, me. We've just got to be on our game that much tighter.
"Those penalties, it hurt us. But it's another week. The Dolphins is where our mind is."
Confidence in Wallace
Despite the shaky moments Bills cornerback Levi Wallace experienced against the Steelers, the bottom line is that the Steelers' offense managed just one touchdown while Ben Roethlisberger finished 18-for-32 for 188 yards. Those are far from the kinds of numbers that have already punched his ticket to Canton.
"Overall, I thought he did a good job," defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said. "There are going to be some moments where those 50-50 balls might not go your way. It just just happens. Even the best corners in our league, you've just got to win your share of them, and I thought he did. I thought he made some good tackles for us yesterday. He was in good position.
"It's unfortunate the one that they did get in the end zone. I mean, he got his hands on it, you'd like to be able to get that out, but that's the one that kind of sure sticks in his mind. But he was in good position most of the day and made some good plays for us. Just unfortunate, you know, you can't make every play."
Staying the course
All week, the focus for the Bills has been on what's ahead, not their discouraging season debut.
"We've learned from some things and we are excited to get back out on the field and play some football again," Allen said. "It [was] Week 1 of 17. And Sunday will be a good test against a really good individual opponent.
"... But really what we did last week and what they did last week, it doesn't matter. It's a game-plan, week-to-week league, and we've got to go out there and execute."
Bills QB Josh Allen vs. Dolphins pass rush
Allen was not helped by the play-calling last week. The overmatched offensive linemen were counted on too often to win one-on-one battles, and the pass-heavy offense malfunctioned.
Allen can't count on all the the problems being fixed in seven days, so he will have to take it upon himself to get rid of the ball quicker and make his unrushed opportunities count.
Maybe that means throwing to closer targets like tight end Dawson Knox, who caught all four passes thrown his way last week, and the running backs.
"The execution of plays just wasn't where it needed to be," Allen said. "Starts with me there. So again, we've learned from some things and we are excited to get back out on the field and play some football again."
Bills CB Tre'Davious White vs. Dolphins WR DeVante Parker
One of the few cornerbacks in the NFL better than White is Miami's first-team All-Pro, Xavien Howard. Howard is one of White's biggest admirers.
"He’s a baller," Howard said. "He tackles well, he plays the ball, he does a lot of great things well. He’s also quick. Just watching his game – I try to watch a lot of guys’ games, especially when I’m playing against them. Each corner, I try to learn from and try to see what they do well."
As far as Parker goes, the matchup could be made easier because of the mysterious absence of Fuller because of a personal situation.
Bills RB Devin Singletary vs. Dolphins LB Jerome Baker
Baker has been the Dolphins' leading tackler by far since the start of the 2019 season. Last year, he upped his pass-rush game to finish with 7.0 sacks.
So whether it's making Baker miss or trying to hit him in pass protection, Singletary will be challenged throughout.
The Bills host the Washington Football Team next Sunday.
The Dolphins visit the Las Vegas Raiders next Sunday.
Although the Dolphins have talked all week about how last season's finale, a 56-26 Bills' romp, is not playing into their motivation, there's no way they're not thinking about that embarrassment and how to avoid it again, especially at home.
There is little doubt the Bills will get the Dolphins' best in this game. The question is whether their best will be good enough.
The answer is: Not if the Bills respond in kind, which they failed to do at home last week but believe they've cleaned a lot of things up since.
We'll see if perhaps the most balanced Bills roster of all time will end up proving Week 1 was a hiccup or a symptom. Hard to think they're going to lose two in a row, even though it happened last season on their way to a 13-3 mark.
One thing we do believe here at Bills Central is that they will face a lot more games decided by one score this year than they did in 2020, when they won five of six under those circumstances — and that they will have to have the same percentage this year to repeat as AFC East champs. That process starts Sunday in Miami Gardens. Bills 27, Dolphins 23.