DAVIE, Fla. -- The Miami Dolphins will have officially reached a crossroads Sunday when they visit Western New York to face the Buffalo Bills. Both teams are 3-4 and looking to get to .500 at the midway point of the season.
The winner will enter the second half of the schedule much more optimistic about making a run at a wild card in the AFC. The loser will be 3-5 and have a rough time getting back in the hunt.
Can the Dolphins win their first AFC East game?
Here are three major keys to victory:
Ryan Tannehill must shine: Few teams have given Tannehill more headaches than Buffalo. He is 2-5 against the Bills, and 0-3 at Ralph Wilson Stadium. Some of his worst performances have come in Western New York, though Tannehill tried to put a good face on it this week by saying this is one of his favorite road venues. In addition, Tannehill’s turnovers are up this season, which is concerning. He has thrown nine interceptions in seven games and is on pace for 20 interceptions, which would be a career high. Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell and offensive coordinator Bill Lazor both defended Tannehill this week and said playing from behind too often contributed to his increased turnovers.
"I don’t care who you are. You don’t want to be in those situations," Campbell said. "When you get behind by more than two scores or you put yourself in third-and-ridiculous, it’s hard. It’s going to make it hard on him."
Win on third down: This isn’t a recent issue for Miami. This has been a season-long trend of struggling on third down. The offense is converting on just 27.2 percent of third downs this season, including an abysmal 3 of 20 (15 percent) in the past two games. Part of winning on third down includes production on first and second down. The Dolphins need to get manageable distances and avoid third-and-long situations, which is where Tannehill and the offense really struggle.
Negate Buffalo’s 'cold front': This key has nothing to do with the weather. This is actually the nickname of the Bills’ talented defensive line led by Pro Bowlers Mario Williams and Marcell Dareus. This group has pounded Miami’s offensive line in recent years and is one of the biggest reasons Buffalo has won four of the past five meetings. Surprisingly, the Bills’ biggest strength hasn’t played well this season. They have just 11 sacks, which is tied for 29th in the NFL. On the flip side, Miami’s offensive line has been shaky most weeks and has allowed 21 sacks of Tannehill. This group must play better, despite missing right tackle Ja'Wuan James, who is out with a toe injury.