Dolphins vs. Bills: How do they match up in Week 15?

How do the Miami Dolphins (6-7) and Buffalo Bills (7-6) match up for Sunday’s NFL Week 15 tilt at New Era Field?

LeSean McCoy #25 of the Buffalo Bills is upended while running with the ball by Michael Thomas #31 and Kiko Alonso #47 of the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter at New Era Field on December 24, 2016 in Orchard Park, New York. The Miami Dolphins defeated the Buffalo Bills 34-31 in overtime. (Photo by Rich Barnes/Getty Images)

When the Dolphins have the ball…

Miami total offense (28th in NFL) vs. Buffalo total defense (23rd in NFL)
Miami scoring offense (24th) vs. Buffalo scoring defense (16th)

Miami passing offense (19th) vs. Buffalo pass defense (17th)

Jay Cutler had his best game of the season last Monday night against the Patriots, throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns while connecting on 25 of 38 passes. While Cutler’s performance was inspiring, it may not be a sign of things to come as the veteran quarterback has been up and down all season long. Perhaps more important were the performances turned in by Jarvis Landry, Jakeem Grant and DeVante Parker, who each eclipsed 40 yards receiving (despite several drops from Parker), with Landry adding two touchdowns. Miami has also done well to get their running backs involved in the passing game, as evidenced by Kenyan Drake’s five-catch, 79-yard night as a pass catcher. The Bills are coming off a game played in a blizzard against a below-average quarterback who they held to 64 passing yards. Snow isn’t in the forecast, so playing against a more skilled passing offense with more offensive tools, especially in the better weather, will be an adjustment Buffalo will struggle to make. Edge: Dolphins

Miami rushing offense (29th) vs. Buffalo rush defense (27th)

Miami has found its feature back of the future in Kenyan Drake, who continued the most impressive streak of his young career with 114 yards on 25 carries against the Patriots. If Damien Williams is unable to play, the lack of depth at the position may come back to haunt Miami, especially coming off a short week. But Buffalo’s run defense is bad enough that the Dolphins should be able to mask any deficiencies. Buffalo allowed 130 yards to Frank Gore, but he also ran the ball 36 times. Drake has had back-to-back big games, and with plenty of opportunity to run the ball against a defense near the bottom of the league, he should put up more big numbers. Edge: Dolphins

When the Bills have the ball…

Buffalo total offense (26th in NFL) vs. Miami total defense (16th in NFL)
Buffalo scoring offense (23rd) vs. Miami scoring defense (26th)

Buffalo passing offense (31st) vs. Miami pass defense (14th)

After the way that Miami’s defense performed against Tom Brady, there is no reason they shouldn’t have a good game whether Tyrod Taylor or Nathan Peterman is under center for the Bills. Peterman is completing only 49 percent of his passes this season and has thrown five interceptions in four games. If Taylor plays — and it appears he will — he’d present Miami with a much stiffer challenge, given his athleticism and accuracy. Despite Taylor being the better option, Miami’s pass defense and its newfound confidence should be able to keep the Bills passing game in check, particularly if the weather is questionable. Edge: Dolphins

Buffalo rushing offense (6th) vs. Miami rush defense (15th)

LeSean McCoy has already surpassed 1,000 rushing yards this season and is showing no signs of slowing down. The veteran back racked up an impressive 156 yards on 32 carries in the snow against the Colts as part of a Buffalo attack that rushed for 227 yards. The conditions will likely be better, but McCoy will certainly have plenty of opportunities to find holes in a Dolphins run defense that allowed a season-low 25 yards on the ground against New England. The Dolphins had given up 100 rushing yards in the two previous contests so, seeing as McCoy has produced consistently throughout the season, Buffalo should have a slight advantage. Edge: Bills

Special teams

Steven Hauschka is as solid a veteran kicker as there is in the NFL. The former Seahawk has connected on 22 of 25 field goals this year and all 24 of his extra-point attempts. On the other side, Cody Parkey — 15 of 16 on field goals and 23 of 26 on PATs — just keeps knocking them through the uprights for Miami. He hasn’t misfired — on anything — since a missed extra point on Nov. 5 against the Raiders. Parkey may have more opportunities given his offense’s recent ability to move the ball. Fins punter Matt Haack has been tremendous the last few games, and although he and Buffalo’s Colton Schmidt have the exact same yards-per-kick average (44.7), Haack has put a higher percentage inside the 20. Edge: Dolphins

Miami Dolphins fans get called out in new study, which ranks them among NFL’s worst

finsfansA new study has ranked the best fans in the NFL for the 2016 season, and the Dolphins didn’t receive a favorable ranking.

The study, conducted by Emory University Professor Michael Lewis, uses data to create statistical models of fan interest and takes into consideration factors such as market size and team performance. The study also uses measurements like Fan Equity, which measures fans willingness to spend money on their teams, and Social Equity, which indicates fan support beyond the field of play. Social media also plays a large role in the rankings.

The Dolphins ranked number 27 on the list of 32 teams, finishing ahead of the bottom five teams on the list, the Bills, Rams, Chiefs, Raiders and Jaguars.

Some of the Dolphins’ biggest AFC East rivals fared far better in the study, with the Jets securing a middle-of-the-pack ranking of 17 and the Patriots topping the list as the best fan base in football.

Patriots fans’ “willingness to pay premium prices, strong attendance and phenomenal social media following,” contributed to their number one ranking, according to Professor Lewis.

The other teams that comprise the top five are the Cowboys, Broncos, 49ers and Eagles.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were ranked ahead of the Dolphins, securing the top spot in the state of Florida, coming in at number 24.

This is how the Miami Dolphins will end their playoff drought

The Miami Dolphins haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. Since that time, the franchise was seen multiple coaching changes, personnel changes and made hundreds of roster moves, including several at key positions. Despite a near decade of average to mediocre seasons, the Dolphins future may be bright. Here are five reasons to believe that the Dolphins could end their playoff drought this season:

Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase directs mini-camp practice at Doctors Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla., on Thursday, June 16, 2016. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)
Miami Dolphins head coach Adam Gase directs mini-camp practice at Doctors Hospital Training Facility at Nova Southeastern University in Davie, Fla., on Thursday, June 16, 2016. (Al Diaz/Miami Herald/TNS)

Adam Gase:

First-year coach Adam Gase brings the reputation of being an offensive coach with him to Miami. The team’s success will hinge on his ability to maximize the potential of Ryan Tannehill and the offensive line, while also getting solid production out of his defense. Gase’s track record as an offensive coordinator should give Dolphins’ fans a reason for optimism.

Jarvis Landry:

Jarvis Landry has been a bright spot for the Dolphins offense in the last two years. He has caught at least 80 passes in his first two seasons and eclipsed the 1,000 yard mark in 2015. Landry has trended upwards in his brief time in the league, leaving little reason to believe that that trend won’t continue.

Tom Brady’s suspension:

Anytime the best quarterback in the division is facing a four-game suspension, it is reason for optimism. For years, the Patriots have sat atop the AFC East with little competition, but Tom Brady’s “Deflategate” suspension may open the door for another team to take the top spot. If the Dolphins can capitalize on the opportunity, they can put themselves in strong position to make a playoff push.

Jay Ajayi:

Entering his second year, Ajayi will benefit from a heavier workload and may benefit from an improved offensive line. Much like Tannehill, Adam Gase’s offense may help Ajayi develop. The offense may be able to open up some running lanes for the former Boise State Bronco. If the Dolphins can implement the running game more than they did last year, creating a balanced offensive attack, it could lead to more wins.

Revamped defense:

The additions of veterans Mario Williams and Andre Branch should help bolster a pass rush led by Cam Wake. The Dolphins also added linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell in a trade with the Eagles and drafted cornerback Xavien Howard. If the new faces on defensive contribute, the Dolphins may be a step closer to the playoffs.

Dolphins Ryan Tannehill just one NFL quarterback with something to prove in 2016

Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) drops back to pass against the Patriots (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill (17) drops back to pass against the Patriots (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Ryan Tannehill is entering his fifth season as the Dolphins’ starting quarterback and, despite back-to-back 4,000 yard seasons, Tannehill enters the 2016 season with something to prove. Tannehill has yet to lead his team to the playoffs and has yet to take the leap that several experts have expected him to take. With a restocked offensive line playing in front of him, quarterback whisperer Adam Gase calling the plays and Jarvis Landry running routes, this year is shaping up to be the year where Tannehill proves whether he is the long-term option at quarterback for the franchise.

Other quarterbacks in the NFL who are entering the 2016 season with something to prove include:

Matt Stafford:

The 28-year-old veteran has thrown for over 4,250 yard in each of the last five seasons, collecting a three year, $53 million contract along the way. In 2011, Stafford threw for over 5,000 yards and 41 touchdowns and, more recently, he posted 32 touchdown and 13 interception season in 2015.

Though his numbers have been impressive, Stafford will have to deal with the departure of his primary target Calvin Johnson, who retired following last season at the age of 30. Johnson accounted for over 30 percent of Stafford’s career passing yards and touchdowns. 2016 will be an opportunity for him to prove that he can sustain his success without Johnson.

Brock Osweiler:

After a breakout year of sorts filling in for Peyton Manning, Osweiler turned his seven starts for the Broncos into a four year, $72 million contract with the Houston Texans. Osweiler threw for 1,967 yards, completing 61.8 percent of his passes and throwing 10 touchdowns while helping lead the Broncos to Super Bowl 50.

Though he hadn’t started a game until this year, the 25-year-old was given a sizable contract and a starting spot. The former second-round pick will need to perform up to his contract in 2016 to prove that last season was not a fluke.

Jared Goff:

Anytime a quarterback is selected with the first pick in the draft, he enters his rookie season with something to prove. Add in the fact that Goff was drafted to a franchise that moved from St. Louis to Los Angeles in the offseason, and all eyes will be on the former California Golden Bear.

Goff was drafted with the intention of him becoming a franchise quarterback and he will likely start at some point in his first season, making 2016 an opportunity for Goff to capture the imagination of post-Kobe Bryant Los Angeles.

Colin Kaepernick:

Things got ugly for Kaepernick in 2015 as the 28-year-old started only eight games for the 49ers, completing 59 percent of his passes for 1,615 yards, six touchdown and five interceptions. Just a few years removed from reaching the Super Bowl with Kaepernick under center, the 49ers flirted with the idea of moving Kaepernick this offseason, but ultimately decided to keep him.

It’s unclear whether the Chip Kelly reign in San Francisco will begin with Kaepernick as the starting quarterback but, if it does, he will have plenty to prove. He ended last season on injured reserve and will being playing for his future in San Francisco in 2016.