Five things to watch: Dolphins-Bills

The AFC East will be in the national spotlight Thursday night when the Buffalo Bills (3-6) host the Miami Dolphins (4-5) on NFL Network. Game time is 8:20 p.m. ET.

Here are five things to consider leading up to the game:

  • Gut-check time for Dolphins: This is when we truly find out what the young Dolphins are made of. Miami was a nice story after getting off to a 4-3 start with a rookie quarterback (Ryan Tannehill) and rookie head coach (Joe Philbin). But the Dolphins have lost two in a row and face the toughest part of their 2012 schedule. After playing Buffalo on Thursday, Miami hosts the Seattle Seahawks (6-4) and New England Patriots (6-3) then travels to play the San Francisco 49ers (6-2-1). The Dolphins could quickly fall to 4-9 if they aren’t focused.

  • It's finally Spiller time: A national audience will get its first chance this season to see dynamic Buffalo tailback C.J. Spiller. The 2010 first-round draft pick is leading the NFL with 7.3 yards per carry. Buffalo’s coaching staff has struggled to give Spiller enough opportunities this season, as Spiller is averaging just 7.5 carries the past two games. But the injury to running back Fred Jackson should force Buffalo’s hand to give Spiller the ball against a Miami run defense ranked fifth in the NFL.

  • Can Tannehill bounce back? Tannehill is coming off the worst performance of his career in a 37-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans. Tannehill threw for 217 yards with three interceptions. One of those turnovers was a pick-six. Tannehill has performed well above expectations in his rookie year, but there’s speculation he is showing signs of hitting the rookie wall. The average college season is 11 or 12 games. Tannehill needs to be consistent over 16 games.

  • Gailey versus the AFC East: The Bills have struggled mightily against division foes under coach Chan Gailey. Buffalo is 2-13 against the AFC East in nearly three seasons under Gailey. The Bills have never won more than one game in the division and are 0-3 this season. Gailey, who is on the hot seat, must win in the division to keep his job. Including Thursday, the Bills have three games remaining against AFC East foes.

  • Bush whacked: Miami starting tailback Reggie Bush is coming off his lowest output of the season. Bush rushed for 21 yards on four carries last week. He was benched most of the first half after fumbling on Miami’s second possession. Philbin said Bush is not in his doghouse. However, Philbin did use Bush to send a message that poor play won’t be tolerated. Miami’s offense needs Bush, who is one of the team’s few playmakers. The Dolphins have talked about getting their running game going again, and this may be the week. Buffalo’s run defense is the worst in the league, allowing 163.7 rushing yards per game.