There was a time when the Dolphins never lost to the Bills.
That time was called the 1970s.
The AFC East rivals met 20 times that decade. The Dolphins won all 20.
And they did so convincingly.
The average score of those 20 games?
Miami 28, Buffalo 15.
All of this is a long way of telling you that Shakespeare needs revision.
The past might indeed often be prologue — but not always.
Because the Bills-Dolphins drama of today has about as much in common with its 1970s predecessor as a Bugatti has with a Ford LTD.
The teams renew their five-decade-long rivalry Sunday in South Florida, and the roles have most definitely been reversed.
Buffalo has won five of the past six meetings, including both in 2015. The Bills’ 41-14 road romp last September all but sealed Joe Philbin’s fate. The now-deposed coach went 2-5 against the Bills and never beat them on the road.
Just one example of how much damage the Bills have wrought: The Dolphins would have made the playoffs in 2013 if they simply took care of a 5-9 Bills team at home. Instead, they lost 19-zip.
Coach Adam Gase knows all of this. Back in the winter, he studied all of the Dolphins’ divisional games to see how they fared. As he saw, the answer is not well.
“You know that first game [in 2015] … nothing went right for them,” Gase said. “... Is there a little bit of a past there where they’ve kind of come in here and bullied us a little bit? Yes. But we need to figure out a way to go in there and play the same level we played last week, where we were aggressive, we attacked, and we didn’t hold anything back. Guys were emotional and they played hard for 60 minutes.”
Yes, if there’s any history the Dolphins want to replicate, it’s the most recent. They manhandled the Steelers 30-15 last week, putting together their most complete game of the season.
They’ll need to do so again Sunday. The Bills are scorching hot, winning their past four games. Buffalo owns the league’s No. 1 rushing attack (166.5 yards per game), although there’s a good chance running back LeSean McCoy does not play because of a hamstring injury.
As for the Bills’ defense? Solid as ever. Buffalo (4-2) ranks in the top half of the league in yards allowed, run defense and pass defense, is fifth in scoring defense and has the league’s most surprising star in Lorenzo Alexander. The linebacker has nearly as many sacks in the first six games of his 10th NFL season (eight) as he did in his first nine seasons combined (nine).
That’s bad news for Ryan Tannehill, who has been sacked an absurd 27 times in eight career games against the Bills. In those games, he’s completed just 58.1 percent of his passes and has averaged an interception a game.
Tannehill’s career passer rating against Buffalo? 75.6.
“They’ve got a Rex Ryan defense, and they throw a lot of looks at you,” he said. “He does a good job of really throwing the kitchen sink at you and then seeing if you’re prepared enough to handle it.”
Historically, they have not.
But if this series has taught us anything, it’s that all streaks end, given a long enough time line.
The Dolphins (2-4) desperately need the time be now for the story to change. Even after last week’s surprise upset of Pittsburgh, they’re still three games out of first in the AFC East and two games out of the second Wild-Card spot, which is currently occupied by the Bills.
Win or lose Sunday, the math is bleak for Miami, but it’s way bleaker if they lose. Since the NFL expanded the playoff field to 12 teams in 1990, just 19 percent of teams that start 3-4 have gone on to reach the postseason, according to Stats LLC.
As for those who start 2-5? Just six of 134 teams (4.5 percent) played football in January.
“The whole key to this sport [is], ‘How many wins in a row can you get?’ ” Gase said. “We’ve won one game. Really, at the end of the day, I’ve said it before, no one cares next Sunday if you won last week. What are you going to do this Sunday?”
We’ll soon find out.