By Peter Mann

An AFC East rivalry dating back to 1966, that of the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins, interwoven on the main by the New England Patriots, as well as the New York Jets, is one that has, prior to the final game of the current regular season, witnessed 120 games.

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A lot is riding on this one though, a place in the playoffs, and the chance to become divisional champions are just two reasons in which to succeed late Sunday night; granted it was the Bills that won the first two meetings back in ’66, and the Dolphins dominated the seventies. 

Boy did they dominate the seventies, winning all twenty, yes twenty, collisions, between two of the East Coast’s finest franchises, but it is the Bills that have won the last three AFC East crowns. In doing so finally snapped what was a near two-decade stranglehold by Bill Belichick’s Patriots, who claimed seventeen of nineteen titles between 2001 and 2019, winning six Super Bowls along the way. 

Back in 1966, and the opening two salvos of the Bills – Dolphins rivalry, it would be Joe Collier’s Bills that would claim victory, twice, on their way to losing the AFC Championship game against Kansas City Chiefs, who they also lost to during the regular season.

Let’s Take a Look at the History

Bills – Dolphins though, the first came in week three, and brought it with the first win of the season for the Bills, claiming a 58-24 success at their then, War Memorial Stadium home, in front of more than 37,500 spectators; Bills’ QBs, Jack Kemp and Daryle Lamonica, only threw for one TD apiece, Kemp adding a one-yard rush opener for added measure. 

In fact, it would be DB Butch Byrd with two TD returns in the first quarter, RB Bobby Burnett with two rushing TDs in the second quarter, and FB/K Jack Spikes also with two, along with seven successful conversions, and a 13-yard FG from Booth Lusteg, that sae the Bills romp home. 

Six weeks later the Bills put a shut-out on the Dolphins, registering a 29-0 success at the Miami Orange Bowl as more the 37,000 witnessed Bobby and Booth put the hosts on the deck, the former with two TDs and the latter two FGs and three successful conversions.

Spells of Dominance...

Throughout the seventies, the Dolphins soared, impressively, winning twenty straight games against their divisional rivals, including the double-header in the perfect season, which saw a 34-0 whitewash in 1971 (in front of over 61,000 at the Orange Bowl), and a 13-0 whitewash in 1977. 

From the late eighties, and throughout the nineties, the Bills put together twenty-one wins, to the Dolphins nine, the Bills winning the 1995 Wild Card clash, 37-22, at the Rich Stadium, New York, the Dolphins avenging that just a couple of years later, in the 1998 Wild Card, 24-17, at the Pro Player Stadium, Miami. 

With the Patriots taking centre-stage in the East, the Bills-Dolphins rivalry took somewhat of a back seat, both winning ten apiece during the noughties, and the Bills edging the record in the 2010s, rounding off the last couple of seasons (2017-19) with a 5-1 record as the team from Buffalo looked to finally assert some dominance of their own. 

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The More Modern History…

Of the last ten outings, before this Sunday’s 2023 regular-season finale in Miami, the rivalry, as well as the division, has been all about the Bills – as the Patriots’ fall from grace becoming more and more catastrophic. 

In 2020, Sean McDermott’s Bills, en route to an AFC Championship loss to the Chiefs, inflicted a season finale 56-26 beat-down on Brian Flores’ Dolphins, at the Bills Stadium, wrapping up a 13-3 regular season; Josh Allen claimed three TDs for 224-yards, with Antonio Williams adding two TDs for sixty-three yard; the Dolphins answering with three TDs of their own, and a pair of FGs from Jason Sanders. 

The following season saw a 35-0 shut-out in week two, and at the Hard Rock Stadium, with Allen, and Zack Moss, popping in two TD scores, Devin Singletary and Stefon Diggs both crossing during the first quarter; last season meanwhile saw the Dolphins claim their first success in four years, with a narrow 21-19 home win on week three as Tua Tagovailoa posted one TD, 186-yards, and Chase Edmonds with two TDs, twenty-one yards, Josh Allen with two of his own for 400-yards. 

McDermott’s Bills also won the Wild Card game, on 15 January 2023, by a narrow 34-31 score at the Highmark Stadium, having done enough in the first three quarters for the win; which brings the rivalry full circle, onto this season, and a ball-busting season finale akin to clashes past. 

A Recent Wave of Bills dominance

With the Bills having won the last three AFC East championships, posting a record of 35-12, and reaching the AFC Championship game back in 2020, McDermott’s franchise will be itching to go all the way this time, and at the expense of their rivals. 

The Dolphins’ last divisional success was back in 2008, some fifteen years ago now, before losing in the Wild Card game against Baltimore Ravens as they look to rekindle past glories, and at the expense of their rivals. 

As for the New York Jets and the New England Patriots, they’ve long since been out of the 2023 picture, they are heading into the regular season finale weekend with 6-10 and 3-12 records respectively, yes, 4-12 on Belichick’s Patriots, who’d have thought that one up. 

But how have the top two in the AFC East fared in the 2023 regular season, ahead of what is crunch time for both franchises?

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Will We See The Tide Turn Again?

Mike McDaniel’s Miami Dolphins, who head into the season finale atop the AFC East, and with an 11-5 record, began with a 3-0 run which also saw a gut-busting 70-20 demolition of Denver Broncos, in late September, a game that saw Tagovailoa post four TDs, 309-yards, before losing to Buffalo in week four. 

Sean McDermott’s Buffalo Bills meanwhile, sit second in the East, with a 10-6 record, after surprisingly losing their season opener, 22-16, against the New York Jets, before putting 35+ points past both the Las Vegas Raiders and the Washington Commanders, in successive outings; then they took care of the Dolphins. 

That game there, on week four, could be the catalyst for the Hard Rock hosts on Sunday night, the Dolphins gunning for revenge for the 48-20 defeat at the start of October, a game that would see the Bills run in six TDs, and a couple of FGs, Josh Allen posting four TDs, 320-yards, and Stefon Diggs three TDs, 120-yards. 

Up until recent weeks, the Dolphins’ form has been the better of the two, East franchises, collecting nine wins compared to the Bills’ six; however, in their last four outings, the Dolphins have been 50-50 whereas the Bills have racked up four-on-the-spin. 

Victories for the Dolphins, over the Jets (30-0) and Dallas Cowboys (22-20), were sandwiched between losses against Tennessee Titans (27-28), and a heavy, last-outing defeat, to Baltimore Ravens (19-56), whilst the Bills put together four straight wins to make the finale a one-game shoot-out, defeating Kansas City Chiefs (20-17), Dallas Cowboys (31-10), Los Angeles Chargers (24-22), and fallen rivals, the Patriots (27-21). 

It All Comes Down to This…

What the rivalry does mean however, when it comes to the 2023 playoff picture, as the game sees a lot on the line for both franchises; the Dolphins are already in the play-offs and victory for them will see them lift the AFC East for the first time in quite some time, and in doing so, knock the Bills out of the play-offs altogether; victory for the Dolphins, at home, will also guarantee a home play-off game. 

As for the Bills, they’ve been in and out of the playoff picture, but their recent, four-game winning stretch means that should they beat the Dolphins, they take the AFC East title for the fourth successive season and finally book their own playoff berth. 

In the game itself, the Dolphins go in as the underdogs, despite being at home, with many pegging the Bills not only for success here but are also third favourites in some quarters, behind the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers, to go all the way to Super Bowl success. 

The respective quarterbacks for each franchise, Tua Tagovailoa for Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins, has registered some twenty-eight TDs (4,451 yards) in his sixteen outings this campaign, while Josh Allen for Sean McDermott and the Bills, he’s at sixteen TDs (3,947 yards) passing, and another fifteen TDs (457-yards) rushing – both WILL have a say in the outcome of the game. 

Neck on the line time, prediction here, and despite a love for Miami Dolphins, I’ll put the Buffalo Bills in the driving seat, by ten, plus.

Feature Image Credit: Buffalo Rumblings