Buffalo Bills (10-3) at Denver Broncos (5-8)
The Chiefs are consensus favorites in the AFC, as not only defending Super Bowl Champions, but also the NFL’s last remaining 1-or-2-loss team, but there is plenty of debate over the 2nd best team in the AFC. In my opinion, it is the Buffalo Bills because they are the only team with a comparable offense to the Chiefs and offensive performance tends to be much more predictable week-to-week than defensive performance.
In fact, after last week’s strong performance against the Steelers’ strong defense, the Bills have actually jumped ahead of the Chiefs for the league lead in first down rate over expected (+4.13% vs. +3.97%). The Chiefs still lead the conference in schedule adjusted first down rate differential (+2.81% vs. +2.39%), but that’s only because of the Bills’ defensive struggles, as the Bills rank just 25th in first down rate allowed over expected at +1.74%.
As I mentioned, defensive performance is much less predictable week-to-week than offensive performance, but beyond the inherent unpredictability of defensive performance, the Bills are also healthier than they’ve been all season on defense and they are much more talented on paper than their overall season performance, so I would say they’re much more likely to be improved going forward than your typical 25th ranked defensive unit. If they can even be a middling group defensively going forward, the Bills should be a tough out in the post-season for anyone because their offense is likely to continue playing at a very high level.
The Broncos, on the other hand, have a terrible offense, ranking 31st in first down rate over expected at -3.96%, and they’re arguably even worse than that suggests, as their interception rate (4.82%) is significantly higher than the 2nd worst team (3.88%). They’ve been better in both metrics with Drew Lock under center, but only by default, and his 4.02% interception rate is still worse than any other team in the league.
The Broncos’ saving grace has been their defense, which ranks 4th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.08%, which actually puts the Broncos only slightly below average in first down rate over expected (-0.87%), but it’s far from a guarantee that they’ll continue playing that well, especially since they are very short handed in the secondary and have overachieved their talent level thus far.
We saw the Bills’ offense prevail against an even stronger defense last week against the Steelers and the Broncos’ offense is much less likely to keep them in the game than Pittsburgh’s was. My calculated line is Buffalo -7, so we’re getting some line value with them as 5.5-point favorites. There isn’t quite enough here for the Bills to be worth betting, but that could change depending on which questionable players are able to suit up for the Broncos, particularly their talented right guard Graham Glasgow.
Buffalo Bills 27 Denver Broncos 19
Pick against the spread: Buffalo -5.5