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Joe B: 5 things to watch for in Buffalo Bills vs. Miami Dolphins (12/30/18)

Posted at 4:04 PM, Dec 29, 2018

(WKBW) — In Week 16, the Buffalo Bills played a frustrating game in New England and never really posed a threat to win the game. And with only one game to go, this is the last we'll see of the Bills on the field until they resume work during OTAs in May.

Rounding out the schedule, the Bills have the Miami Dolphins at home -- a team they nearly defeated, and in a game in which their rookie quarterback looked the part. Will the Bills be able to reverse the result of the first fixture and end the season with a sixth victory?

Five things to watch for from a Bills' perspective during Sunday's game:

1) The Kyle Williams factor
- Coming into the week, the temptation of just going through the motions in a somewhat meaningless game against a team that can no longer make the playoffs was quite real. That is until Kyle Williams flipped the entire motivation for the game on its head with his announcement, anyway. After 13 years in the NFL, Williams decided that it's time to step away from the game for good -- with one last game at home ahead of him. With how much Williams has meant to plenty of players in the locker room, any thoughts of going through an emotionless game is now entirely off the table. The Bills, because of Williams, have something to play for on Sunday. They want to send Williams to retirement on a high note, helping him to one last victory in front of the home fans. And it no doubt will be an emotionally charged up fan base at New Era Field for him, too. The Bills usually run out on to the field as a team, skipping individual introductions, but something tells me they're going to make an exception for Week 17 and Williams. Considering the emotion going into the day for Williams, I'm expecting to see flashes of the old, dominant player he was in the prime of his career -- and for the team around him to try and set him up for a big play or two as the game goes along. It's going to be as loud for a Week 17 game in a non-playoff year that you'll find in Orchard Park.

2) Josh Allen's chance to end on a high note
- For the Bills' rookie quarterback, the Week 16 loss in New England served as a buzzkill. Following his return from injury Allen, in every game ahead of the Patriots' contest, the rookie made clear progress in several different ways. However, in the first half, Allen's progress hit a wall. For the first time since he first took over the starting job, it seemed as though the game was too big for him at the start. Perhaps he built up the contest too much in his head considering the opponents and the name of their starting quarterback, but he didn't settle in until the second half came around. However, Allen now needs to flush that performance from his system and get back to the similar player that the Bills saw in Miami against these same Dolphins. One of his best performances to date, Allen was a dropped pass in the end zone away from leading the Bills to a comeback victory. Now, I'm not expecting him to come out and be able to run all over the Dolphins the way that he did in Miami. The Dolphins would be a bit foolish to employ the same defensive game plan and to ignore the approaches from both the Lions and the Patriots the past two weeks. The defensive game plan of those two teams muted the ground game from the young quarterback, and the Patriots confused him enough to induce some mistakes along the way. The Bills and Allen will both want the rookie to go into the offseason with a solid performance to end on, and they've got a good matchup that could bring on some success to bring the 2018 season to a close.

3) Last chance saloon for some youth of the franchise
- For young players, the significant part about a season like this one is that the Bills afford them a meaningful opportunity on the field to both improve and to show that they can provide some value to the team moving forward. Once that season is over, though, and the opportunities are no longer there, the Bills have only the final half of the season to diagnose what young players fill offseason needs, and which might be better served in a secondary role or off the team altogether. While players like wide receiver Robert Foster and cornerback Levi Wallace have shown that they can contribute in significant ways and could even factor into starting roles in 2019, for players like guard Wyatt Teller, guard Ike Boettger, tight end Jason Croom, wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, and defensive end Mike Love, Sunday might be the last opportunity to receive meaningful snaps. Of the latter bunch, the two that have the best chance to factor in next season are probably Teller and Croom, though both players could use an overwhelmingly good showing on Sunday. At guard, the Bills have been in the process of seeing if Teller could be at least a starter for 2019 rather than adding that to the list of offseason needs. While he has shown flashes and played better the past two weeks, the overall consistency just hasn't been there for Teller. At tight end, Croom showed he could make plays down the field, but he's also fumbled the ball twice in only 20 catches which makes the team consider his trustworthiness. With Charles Clay likely to be released in the offseason, a big game from Croom could help the Bills think they can kick the can down the road on addressing tight end with a substantial resource in the hopes that the second-year player can develop into something.

4) Dion Dawkins needs to strengthen his grip on left tackle
- Heading into the 2018 season, the Bills put former second-round pick Dion Dawkins in at left tackle in permanent ink in the hopes that he would make a jump forward from the potential he flashed in his rookie season. Early in the season, they saw just that from the second-year offensive tackle. Through the first six weeks of the season, Dawkins played at an above average level, and he seemed poised to make the jump. Though starting in Week Seven against Indianapolis, that's where things began to fall off for Dawkins, and that's how his season-long grade from my All-22 Review series has fallen considerably from his 2.68 GPA in 2017, down to 2.47 in 2018. For the Bills, that's a concerning trend to see, primarily because they have only one game since the start of Week Seven -- Week Ten against the Jets -- where Dawkins stood out positively. I don't foresee the Bills replacing Dawkins in the starting lineup completely, but I also don't think he has shown enough progress or played well enough to make the Bills believe they don't need to consider a left tackle in the offseason. If anything, it offers them flexibility in the draft or free agency to bring in a left tackle and then to figure out where to put Dawkins -- whether it be at right tackle or by sliding him inside to guard. If the Bills had their druthers, though, they would love to see Dawkins put together a great game against Miami to make them believe that his form from early in the season wasn't the anomaly of 2018 for the left tackle. They have enough needs as it is on offense, so figuring out what to do with Dawkins is something they'd rather not deal with in the offseason. However, they have to be self-aware and know the strengths and weaknesses of their roster and to figure out if they'd be best served with Dawkins starting elsewhere along the line. Sneakily, I think this is a big game for Dawkins as his final showing in 2018.

5) Draft positioning on the line
- The Bills have been positioning themselves for the 2019 offseason since the 2018 offseason. All the moves they made to get rid of older, uninspiring players, to untie the Bills from all albatross-like contracts and the dead money on the salary cap, and to maintain their full complement of draft picks for 2019, have all been with the sole purpose of doing the majority of their rebuild in the coming months. Considering that, the Bills have plenty on the line based on the results of their game and throughout the rest of the NFL. The range for where the Bills might be picking in the first round of the 2019 NFL Draft is set. If entirely everything goes the Bills' way in a loss to Miami, they can choose as early as fourth overall. Should the Bills win against Miami and all the other games they need to go their way don't, then they could wind up at 12th overall. Let's take that a step farther, too. If the Bills were to lose, their first-round draft pick could be at best fourth, and worst eighth. With a win, the best-case scenario is seventh overall, and the worst-case scenario being 12th overall. Just as a refresher, the only tiebreaker in the draft order is by way of strength of schedule. For teams with the same record, the team with the worst strength of schedule gets awarded the best available draft selection. So, who should you be rooting for on Sunday to help improve the Bills' selection? Rather than just listing the teams, I'd like to help out with a nice, easy to read go-to chart that considers the possible outcomes. Be sure to click on the tweet for clarifications that are listed, too. Here it is, in all its draft pick splendor:

Injury Report

OUT: LB Julian Stanford (ankle), WR Deonte Thompson (toe)
QUESTIONABLE: RB Chris Ivory (shoulder), CB Ryan Lewis (concussion)

DOUBTFUL: S T.J. McDonald (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: LB Kiko Alonso (knee, hamstring), DE Andre Branch (knee), DE Ziggy Hood (hamstring), CB Xavien Howard (knee)

Bills' Projected Inactives: QB Derek Anderson, WR Deonte Thompson, TE Charles Clay, G Vladimir Ducasse, LB Julian Stanford, CB Ryan Lewis, S Dean Marlowe

Prediction: Bills over Dolphins
- The letdown following being eliminated from playoff contention after being involved in it all season is a real one. For the Miami Dolphins, the Jacksonville Jaguars eviscerated them from postseason considerations, and now we could wind up seeing a run-to-the-bus situation from a banged up team. And when you combine that with the emotional powderkeg that will be New Era Field due to it being the final game for longtime Bills player Kyle Williams, that's a potential recipe for disaster for the Dolphins in trying to end their season with a victory. While it would likely stand to benefit the Bills more to lose the game and ensure a top ten draft selection, there is no way the team is going to head into the stadium on Sunday unenthused and lacking motivation. They want to send Kyle Williams to retirement the right way with a win at home in front of the fans that supported him for a decade-plus. Considering the opponent, the ability, their injuries, and the motivation behind the game for both teams, I would not be surprised to see the Bills ending the season with a blowout victory of their rivals from South Florida.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia