In a surprising turn of events, Buffalo Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Miami Dolphins with a knee injury. That means Thad Lewis will start his fourth game — second against the Dolphins — at quarterback for the Bills.
Anytime a team loses its starting quarterback it’s automatically assumed that the opposing club would garner a decisive advantage. In this case, however, the numbers suggests the Dolphins shouldn’t be considered any more of a favorite than they were prior to Manuel being sidelined.
In Lewis’ three starts for the Bills, he averaged 217 passing yards, one touchdown pass and slightly less than one interception per game. The rookie Manuel, meanwhile, averaged 197 passing yards, slightly more than one touchdown and slightly less than one interception in his first 10 starts as a pro. Lewis completed 60.2 percent of his passes and possessed a 80.2 quarterback rating. Manuel has only completed 58.8 percent of his passes and currently owns a 77.7 quarterback rating.
Statistically, Lewis was actually more productive and efficient in his three starts than Manuel has been in his 10 starts. Obviously, 10 games is a larger sample size than three games. There’s no way of knowing how long Lewis would have been able to maintain that pace if he had remained the starter.
Manuel, as the 16th overall pick of April’s draft, has a higher ceiling than Lewis as well and could begin to drastically improve at any time. But judging by what we’ve seen from the two passers thus far, there’s no reason to think the Dolphins, who are battling for their first playoff berth in five seasons, are getting a significant break here.
The more consequential news could actually be wide receiver Stevie Johnson‘s expected absence. Johnson will reportedly miss Sunday’s game after a loss in his family. With cornerback Brent Grimes nursing a groin injury for the Dolphins, the Bills being without their most productive receiver might be the bigger break for Joe Philbin‘s club.
The popular narrative is that Lewis has already beaten Miami once, referring to the Bills’ 23-21 triumph at Sun Life Stadium back in Week 7. In reality, though, the Dolphins beat themselves on that day with three turnovers — two of which led to 10 Buffalo points while the other occurred in the red zone and prevented Miami points. Lewis just didn’t do anything to lose the game for Buffalo.
So the Dolphins are certainly capable of beating the Lewis-led Bills by playing a more disciplined brand of football, and they should be considered the favorite even on the road in December. They just haven’t gained some substantial advantage with Lewis starting at quarterback instead of Manuel.
Cody Strahm is a Miami Dolphins contributor for Rant Sports. Follow him on Twitter @CodyJStrahm.