MIAMI (AP) — The perennial also-ran Miami Dolphins won’t make much progress in the AFC East until they figure out how to beat Buffalo, which they’ll try to do Sunday.
Miami lost twice to the Bills last season by a combined score of 74-31, and Buffalo has won five of six meetings since 2013.
It’s a more troublesome matchup for the Dolphins than the Patriots, who have won seven consecutive division titles but split with Miami each of the past three seasons.
And now it appears the Bills (4-2) actually have a good team. A four-game winning streak under coach Rex Ryan has raised hopes for the franchise’s first playoff berth since 1999.
The Dolphins (2-4), meanwhile, are coming off a surprising victory over Pittsburgh — their best game yet under first-year coach Adam Gase.
Here are things to know about the 105th meeting between the teams:
BUFFALO’S DOMINATION: Last season the Bills totaled more than 400 yards with a 100-yard rusher in each game against Miami.
“In the past we’ve gotten confused against their running game,” Miami linebacker Jelani Jenkins said. “We didn’t do a good job of adjusting. We haven’t been playing team defense against them, and that’s what has hurt us.”
Ryan Tannehill is 2-6 against the Bills with a passer rating of 75.6, well below his career rating of 85.3. A team turnaround would represent major progress, he said.
“You really want to take advantage of these home games and have a big win against a divisional opponent,” he said.
Tannehill and the Dolphins had better luck against Ryan when he coached the New York Jets. Ryan downplays any trend in the Buffalo-Miami series, noting he heard the same sort of thing before the Bills lost to the Jets and quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 2.
“I was 8-1 against him, and then he lit us up like a Christmas tree,” Ryan said. “Each game is different. We know that. We know we’ve got our hands full this week.”
BRUISING BILLS: Each game is different, but the Dolphins face a familiar challenge against the Bills: stopping the ground game.
That won’t be easy for a unit ranked next to last in the NFL in run defense. And the Bills lead the league with 166 yards rushing per game and 5.6 yards per carry.
In last week’s win over the 49ers, the Bills netted 312 yards rushing, their most since 1992.
The Bills might be without running back LeSean McCoy, who is nursing a sore hamstring. The Dolphins will be without safety Reshad Jones , a ferocious tackler, who suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last week.
MESSAGE RECEIVED: After Miami’s Jay Ajayi more than doubled his season rushing total with 204 yards last week against the Steelers, a teammate hung a gas can in his locker with an accompanying note: “Can you fill up your gas tank every single week?”
“I don’t know who put it up there, but the message was received,” Ajayi said.
He briefly fell out of favor with Gase early this season because of attitude issues. So what was the gas-can message after his breakout game?
“Just continue to build off of it,” Ajayi said. “It was good to have a performance like that, but I definitely don’t want to be satisfied. I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder, so I have to keep working.”
STOUT DEFENSE: The Bills’ defense has meshed a year after Ryan was criticized for a high-priced and under-performing unit that finished 19th in the NFL in yards allowed. That was the lowest ranking for Ryan in 11 years as a coach or defensive coordinator.
During the Bills’ winning streak, they’ve allowed only four touchdowns. They’re tied for second in the NFL with 12 takeaways, including three returned for TDs, and lead the league in red zone defense.
They’re doing it with backups at numerous spots. Ten-year journeyman Lorenzo Alexander leads the league with eight sacks filling in for first-round pick Shaq Lawson, who might make his NFL debut Sunday after recovering from shoulder surgery.
BIG GAINS: Tannehill was booed at home two weeks ago and has middling statistics in most categories. But he ranks fifth with an average of 8.1 yards per attempt, by far the best of his five-year career.
“When we’ve had opportunities, I think we’ve made most of the plays downfield,” he said.
Tannehill has been knocked for a lack of accuracy on deep throws, and Gase said the criticism is undeserved. In the past two weeks, Tannehill has completions of 58, 53, 50 and 39 yards.
“He’s probably a little more accurate on the deep ball than everybody told me when I got here, I know that,” Gase said. “He’s just hitting everything down the field.”
AP Sports Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report.
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