Buffalo Bills (3-0) at Las Vegas Raiders (2-1)
The Bills got a huge victory last week at home over the Rams. Coming into the season, the big question was whether or not this team could elevate their level of play against tougher competition. The Bills made the post-season last year, but they had a very easy schedule and did not perform well in their tougher games. They went just 1-5 against teams that finished with a winning record, with their only win coming against the Marcus Mariota-led Titans in a game in which the Titans missed 4 field goals and lost by 7. Even with that win against the Titans included, quarterback Josh Allen completed just 51.7% of his passes for an average of 5.65 YPA, 7 touchdowns, and 4 interceptions against winning teams, as opposed to 62.6% completion, 7.26 YPA, 13 touchdowns, and 5 interceptions against .500 or worse teams.
With their schedule getting much tougher this season, the Bills needed to take a step forward against winning competition if they wanted to make it back to the post-season. I thought they had a chance to, given the addition of Stefon Diggs at wide receiver and the likely improvement of quarterback Josh Allen in his third season, and the Rams last week were their first chance to test that, after the Bills opened they season by taking care of business against a pair of bad teams in the Jets and Dolphins.
It wasn’t a convincing win for Buffalo, as they blew a 28-3 lead to allow the Rams to pull ahead at one point late, but ultimately they got the win by closing the Rams out with a late touchdown drive. Now 3-0, the Bills might not be an elite team, but they seem to have taken a step forward from last season. How much of a step forward might not be clear until they face tougher competition, and they’ve been lucky to avoid injuries thus far, but they currently rank 9th in my roster rankings, so they’re not going to be an easy team for anyone to defeat unless injuries strike.
The Bills won’t be tested as much this week as it looks as first glance. They are traveling to face a 2-1 Raiders team, but the Raiders have a negative first down rate differential at -0.15% and are really beat up in this game. In total, they are missing a pair of starting offensive lineman in left guard Richie Incognito and right tackle Trent Brown, their top-two outside receivers in Henry Ruggs and Bryan Edwards, and top cornerback Damon Arnette, pushing them down to 22nd in my roster rankings.
The Raiders are also in a tough spot, as they have another big game on deck in Kansas City, a game in which they are currently projected to be 11.5-point underdogs. Teams are 40-74 ATS since 2016 before being underdogs of 10 points or more, as that tends to serve as a big upcoming distraction. At far less than 100% health wise, in a tough scheduling spot, the Raiders could struggle against a team like the Bills, even at home, where they won’t have the benefit of fans. I have this line calculated at Buffalo -4.5 even before taking into account that the Raiders could get caught looking ahead this week, so the Bills are worth a play this week at -3. The Raiders have had a tendency to get blown out over the past two seasons (7 of 10 losses coming by 16 points or more) and Buffalo is good enough to give them another big loss this week.
Buffalo Bills 24 Las Vegas Raiders 17
Pick against the spread: Buffalo -3