MIAMI -- A long, long time ago -- in August when the Miami Dolphins were 0-0 and the world was bright -- the Dolphins said the outcome of their first game in Buffalo would be crucial to the entire season.
The Dolphins, coach Don Shula included, would say the winner of that season opener would take a big step toward the AFC East title and playoff berth, while the loser would be in trouble from the get-go.
The Dolphins were right. They lost a thriller, 35-31, and have been in trouble ever since.
Flash forward to the present, and we find Buffalo at 9-1 holding a veritable lock on the division crown once again. We also find the Dolphins (5-5) in a desperate struggle to become a playoff wild-card team once again.
Guess what? The Dolphins are facing the Bills again tonight before a capacity crowd at Joe Robbie Stadium and a national TV audience.
The game means something for Buffalo in that the Bills currently have the AFC's best record, but Houston is but a game behind. The team with the best record stays at home in the playoffs -- which would be a major advantage for either Buffalo or Houston.
The game means everything for the Dolphins. The general feeling is that Miami must beat Buffalo tonight or beat the Bears in frigid Chicago next week to have a real shot at the playoffs. And beating Buffalo at home may be the easier task.
It's simple, really. In their last three meetings, Buffalo has averaged 501 yards and 34.3 points. All the Dolphins must do is cut those totals in half.
A simple task to understand. The question is figuring out how. It's a question that has haunted Miami defensive coordinator Tom Olivadotti, who knows all too well that Buffalo has a 9-1 edge on Miami since he joined Shula's staff in 1987.
"Fundamentally, I know how to stop them," said Olivadotti, 46. "I can draw up some great things on the blackboard.
"The problem is then they run [Thurman] Thomas for 12, then 6, then 7. What do you do then?"