Miami Dolphins (8-6) at Buffalo Bills (5-9)
Believe or not, the Bills have actually been very good at home. It doesn’t show in their home record (3-4), but they are 5-2 ATS at home, 5-1 ATS if you ignore what was essentially a neutral site game in Toronto and 5-1 ATS at home dogs. Given that they’ve been underdogs in all 6 of their games in Buffalo, their 3-3 record there seems a lot better. They’ve had a very tough schedule, facing the Patriots, Panthers, Chiefs, Bengals, four likely playoff teams who currently all have 9-5 or better records, the Ravens, another possible playoff team who is currently 8-6, and the Jets. The Jets were the easiest team they’ve faced at home and the Bills won that game by 20.
Of those 3 losses, only one came by more than a field goal and that was the game in which Jeff Tuel started against Kansas City, a 10 point loss in which the Chiefs scored 14 points off of return touchdowns. Why is everyone so sure the Dolphins will beat them by more than a field goal? The public is all over Miami as 3 point favorites and I love fading heavy public leans whenever it makes sense, as the odds makers always make money in the long run. It certainly makes sense here.
EJ Manuel is out for this one, but I don’t think Thad Lewis is a serious downgrade or anything. In fact, the game in which the Bills took the Bengals to overtime in Buffalo was started by Thad Lewis. He also beat the Dolphins in Miami earlier this season. EJ Manuel has more long-term upside, but for this season, I think Thad Lewis is at least a comparable quarterback, if not a better quarterback. EJ Manuel actually has a lower QB rating on the season than Lewis, completing 58.8% of his passes for an average of 6.44 YPA, 11 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions, a QB rating of 77.7. Thad Lewis, meanwhile, is completing 60.2% of his passes for an average of 6.33 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 2 interceptions, a QB rating of 80.2.
Besides, it’s not like offense is the reason why Buffalo has had any success this season. They move the chains at a 66.21% rate, which is one of the worst in the NFL. Their defense, however, has been incredible, allowing opponents to move the chains at a 68.34% rate. Their defensive line has especially been good (league leading 49 sacks), which is going to be trouble for the Dolphins, whose weakness is their offensive line (league leading 51 sacks allowed). Ryan Tannehill was under pressure on 16 of 39 dropbacks in their last matchup (41.0%) and Tannehill completed passes on just 5 of those dropbacks, a big part of the reason why the Bills were able to prevail.
That rate of moving the chains differential of -2.13% is 21st in the NFL. The Dolphins are actually 22nd, moving the chains at a 68.35% rate, as opposed to 70.95% for their opponents, a differential of -2.60%. That actually suggests the Bills should be favored by 3.5 points. Now, you can’t just follow that blindly. I don’t think the Bills and Dolphins are exactly comparable teams nor do I think the Bills are a better team than the Dolphins. The Dolphins are playing better football of late. However, it’s not something you can ignore. The Bills are better than their record and the Dolphins are better than their record. DVOA backs this up as the Dolphins rank 18th, while the Bills rank 23rd. The Dolphins don’t deserve to be 3 point favorites here, even before you take into account the Bills’ home dominance.
There are a couple of reasons why the Bills aren’t a bigger play. For one, the Bills are in a bad spot as they have to face the Patriots next week in New England, which could be a distraction for them. Teams are 26-40 ATS as divisional home underdogs before being divisional road underdogs. The Dolphins, meanwhile, don’t really have an upcoming distraction as they face the Jets next week in Miami. Teams are 39-22 ATS as divisional road favorites before being divisional home favorites since 2002. Still, there’s enough here for me to be fairly confident in the Bills, as long as we’re getting field goal protection.
Buffalo Bills 20 Miami Dolphins 17 Upset Pick +130
Pick against spread: Buffalo +3