Buffalo Bills (8-7) at New England Patriots (12-3)
I’m kicking myself for not locking in Buffalo +10.5 before the Bengals/Broncos game. Even when I thought the Broncos were going to win that game and force the Patriots to play their starters week 17, in order to lock up the #1 seed in the AFC, I had Buffalo circled as one of my favorite picks of the week for three reasons. One, there was a huge line movement, with the early line having the Patriots favored by 6.5. That’s a 4 point movement. I love fading huge line movements because they’re almost always overreactions.
That line movement was a result of Buffalo’s loss in Oakland last week, but Kansas City and San Francisco also lost in Oakland. Teams tend to cover off of huge upset losses anyway, going 88-61 ATS since 1989 off of a loss as 6+ point road favorites. On top of that, the Bills are in their 2nd straight road game. This puts them in a good spot. Teams are 113-77 ATS as road underdogs off a road loss since 2008, including 96-55 ATS when it’s their 2nd of 2 road games. Historically, teams cover at about a 65% rate in that situation. This is because teams tend to do better in their 2nd straight road game than their first one, but lines don’t really adjust for this. Teams are 196-200 in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.29 points per game, as opposed to 276-392 in their 1st of one road game since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 3.19 points per game.
However, the Broncos lost to the Bengals, which made this a meaningless game for the Patriots in the standings and immediately dropped the line to 3.5. Now this game is largely a crapshoot. If the Patriots play their starters a good amount, they should be able to cover, but Bill Belichick is predictably mum on the subject and won’t give anyone any indication of what he’s planning to do this week. This isn’t like Indianapolis/Tennessee, where Chuck Pagano assured the public that he would be playing his starters despite being locked into the #4 seed, in an effort to get his team ready for the playoffs, as he did in 2012 in the same situation, when the Colts ended up beating the Texans and knocking them from the #1 seed to the #3 seed.
However, history suggests that the Patriots will give this their best shot, especially after a disappointing near loss in New York to the Jets last week. The Patriots have never really done the whole “rest your starters” thing week 17 and are 10-2 ATS week 17 since 2002, despite having the #1 seed locked up several times during this week. This game kind of reminds me of 2010, when they were 3.5 point favorites over the 7-8 Dolphins week 17. Brady and the starters played about two and a half quarters, leaving midway through the 3rd with a 31-0 lead in an eventual 38-7 victory and easy cover.
If the Patriots do give this their best shot, this line is way too low and the Patriots should be the right side. The line value would nullify the two situational trends the Bills have in their favor. The sharps seem to agree, as this line has moved from 3.5 to 5 over the past couple days, despite the public being on the underdog. I just can’t be too confident when I don’t know exactly what the Patriots are doing. It’s possible the Patriots play Brady and the offensive line for a half, but rest Julian Edelman (concussion), LeGarrette Blount (shoulder) and Rob Gronkowski (history of injuries). I don’t know.
New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 17
Pick against the spread: New England -5