Buffalo Bills (1-2) at New England Patriots (3-0)
The Bills received bad news this week when Sammy Watkins had to be shut down for an extended period of time with pain in the foot he had surgically repaired this off-season. Now on injured reserve, Watkins is not eligible to return until week 12. It comes just as the Bills were getting healthier, with left tackle Cordy Glenn (2 game absence) and cornerback Ronald Darby (1 game absence) likely returning this week. Watkins is the best player on this offense, so he’s obviously a huge loss and he joins the best player on their defense, nose tackle Marcell Dareus, on the sidelines. Dareus is not eligible to return from suspension until next week. In addition, the Bills are also missing first round pick Shaq Lawson for an extended period of time and second round pick Reggie Ragland for the season, two players that were both supposed to start on this defense. They’re getting a couple guys back, but they’re far from what they could be at full strength.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are actually getting healthier. Everyone practiced on Friday and they could have 7 healthy inactives next week. Of course, this doesn’t include suspended players like Tom Brady and Rob Ninkovich or players on the Physically Unable to Perform list like Dion Lewis and Sebastian Vollmer. Brady is obviously the big missing piece, but Jimmy Garoppolo has performed well in his absence and he’s expected to start this week after missing last week with a shoulder injury. In about 6 quarters this season, he’s beaten a good Arizona team on the road and put up a big lead on Miami, before getting injured. He also has a healthy Rob Gronkowski at his disposal for the first time, while linebacker Dont’a Hightower is expected to return on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots defense shut the Texans out last week even without him. This is a deep and talented team on both sides of the ball and they’re healthier now than they’ve been all season.
I think they’ll also be very focused this week, with Tom Brady’s return and an easy game in Cleveland on deck. This team knows if they can get to 4-0 before Brady even plays they’ll be in tremendous shape and a weak Cleveland team doesn’t present a distraction. They’re expected to be 10.5 point road favorites in Cleveland next week and teams are 75-55 ATS since 2008 before being road favorites of 7 or more. Buffalo, meanwhile, is in a bad spot, coming off of an upset win at home against the Cardinals. Teams are 51-75 ATS since 2008 off of a win as home underdogs. Teams tend to get overconfident off of a win against a superior team that just happened to have a bad game on the road.
The Bills’ win last week was impressive, but very fluky, as both teams moved the chains at about the same rate. The Bills just won the turnover battle by 4, but that’s very tough to maintain. Teams that win the turnover battle by 4, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week. The Patriots are also notoriously good in the turnover battle. I locked this line in earlier this week at -5, but it has since jumped to 7.5 with Garoppolo likely in and Watkins definitely out. I’d put money on it all the way up to 9.5 though. Belichick’s Patriots are dangerous off extra rest and will be very focused for their final game without Brady, with an easy trip to Cleveland on deck.
New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 13
Pick against the spread: New England -5