Buffalo Bills (3-5) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-6)
The Steelers are one team that I don’t really have a beat on. Their offense has been massively improved since the bye, but their aging defense seems to be heading in the opposite direction. Any time you allow 55 points, even to the Patriots, who can tear up anyone when they’re right, it’s a bad sign. They are still getting killed in turnovers (-11), which probably won’t continue going forward, especially since it’s largely the result of a 26.3% rate of fumble recovery. They are moving the chains at a 73% rate, as opposed to 75% for their opponents, allowed by their defense.
The Bills have a similar differential, moving the chains at a 69% rate, as opposed to 72% for their opponents. They are better than their record, beating the Dolphins in Miami, the Panthers and Ravens at home, and almost beating both New England and Cincinnati. Last week, their offense outscored the Chiefs’ offense, despite starting undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel and only lost because of two return touchdowns by the Chiefs’ defense.
This week, they get EJ Manuel back from injury, which could improve their offense. However, there’s no guarantee he’ll be 100% off of an extended absence and it’s not like he was playing great football before he was hurt. He’s actually still ProFootballFocus’ 2nd worst ranked quarterback ahead of only Geno Smith despite the limited playing time. Thaddeus Lewis, meanwhile, ranks 25th out of 35. Not great, but better than Manuel. Statistically, Manuel is completing 56.7% of his passes for 6.6 YPA, 5 touchdowns, and 3 interceptions. Lewis, meanwhile, is completing 60.3% of his passes for an average of 6.3 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions with a slightly better quarterback rating.
Manuel is going to be better long-term most likely and it’s good to get him playing time, but, as for the short term, all you can say for sure is that he’ll be better than Jeff Tuel, and the rest of the team might slack off around him with their quarterback back. Their offense could still really struggle, even against Pittsburgh’s aging defense. They’ll need to establish CJ Spiller, who finally broke out last week, rushing for 116 yards on 12 attempts. There’s no guarantee he can do that again, especially since he admitted his ankle is still hurting him. On top of that, all of the Bills’ impressive performances have been at home this season. On the road, they are just 1-3 ATS.
If I had to take a side, I guess it would be the Bills. I’m not confident at all, but I guess if I had to bet on something, it would be CJ Spiller continuing to play well and the Bills being in the better spot distractions wise. There’s much less likely to be distracted with a home game against the Jets on deck, whereas the Steelers have to deal with a better Detroit team next week. Teams are 114-82 ATS as non-divisional road underdogs before being divisional home favorites. I have no confidence though.
Pittsburgh Steelers 19 Buffalo Bills 17
Pick against spread: Buffalo +3