Buffalo Bills (2-2) at Los Angeles Rams (3-1)
Both of these teams had rough starts and then came roaring back. The Bills dropped their first two games, including a home loss on Thursday night to the divisional rival Jets, but fired their offensive coordinator after week 2 and seem to have woken the team up, as they’ve defeated the Cardinals and Patriots in underdog fashion in each of the last 2 weeks. What once looked like an 0-4 start and Rex Ryan’s firing is now a 2-2 start and a team right back in the playoff mix. The Rams, meanwhile, got annihilated on Monday Night Football week 1 28-0 by the lowly 49ers, but have since bounced back to win their last 3 games, including a home game against Seattle week 2 and a game in Arizona last week. Those are their two biggest division rivals.
However, the Bills 2-2 record is more legitimate than the Rams’ 3-1 record is. The Rams 3 wins have come by a combined 15 points and they still have a negative -13 point differential on the season. In fact, in none of their 3 victories did they win the first down percentage battle. Last week, they were able to beat the Cardinals by 4 despite allowing 12 more first downs than the Cardinals did, thanks to a +4 turnover margin and a late long punt return. Those things are very tough to rely on every week, especially turnover margin. Teams with a turnover margin of +4 in a game, on average, have a turnover margin of +0.0 the following week.
Add in their crushing week 1 loss to a terrible opponent (which can’t be ignored in a season that’s still only had 4 games) and the Rams rank dead last in the league in first down percentage differential despite their 3-1 record and by a wide margin. They rank 32nd in first down percentage, 24th in first down percentage allowed, and their -10.25% differential is significantly worse than 31st place Cleveland, who come in at -5.89%. If the Rams want to continue winning, they’re going to have to play significantly better.
That’s going to be tough this week, as the Rams are expected to be down 3 defensive lineman with injury, as defensive tackle Michael Brockers, defensive end Robert Quinn, and defensive end William Hayes are all on the doubtful side of questionable after not practicing all week. The Rams’ defensive line is easily the strength of an overall underwhelming defense, so those players are a huge loss. The Bills are still without top wide receiver Sammy Watkins and first and second round rookies Shaq Lawson and Reggie Ragland with injury, but they got stud left tackle Cordy Glenn back last week from injury and now get top defensive lineman Marcell Dareus back from a 4-game suspension.
The Bills only rank 24th in first down percentage differential, but they have a major talent advantage in this one. They’re also in a much better spot, as they face the lowly 49ers in Buffalo in arguably the easiest game of their season next week, while the Rams turn around and face another competent team (Detroit) on the road. With an easy game on deck, they should be completely focused for an opponent who might not be. That’s historically been the case, as underdogs are 82-57 ATS since 2012 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. The Bills are the play here.
Buffalo Bills 17 Los Angeles Rams 13 Upset Pick +100
Pick against the spread: Buffalo +1