New England Patriots (8-4) at Buffalo Bills (7-4)
Going into the season, I had both of these teams among the best in the league and so far that has been the case. It was a bit of a bumpy start for the Patriots, but they have won six straight games and could easily have won a couple of their early season losses, with losses coming by one point, two points, and in overtime, meaning in three of their loses they were a combined -3 in point differential at the end of regulation.
By contrast, just two of their wins have come by one score, a game in Houston in which the Patriots were missing most of their offensive line and a game in Los Angeles in which the Patriots were up by 10 before a garbage time touchdown cut the margin to 3. On their six game winning streak, the Patriots have not only won, but won convincingly, with an average margin of victory of 24.7 points per game, while covering the spread by at least a touchdown in all six games. That has led to them possessing the league’s best point differential overall at +146, meaning they are arguably even better than their 8-4 record suggests.
The Bills rank right behind them in second at +144 and they have done so in one fewer game, but they also haven’t faced nearly as tough of a schedule as the Patriots, as the Bills’ schedule has been arguably the easiest in the league thus far. All seven of their wins have come by at least 15 points and they possess an average margin of victory of 26.1 points per game, but they also have only faced just four teams with a .500 or better record and they are just 1-3 in those three games.
The Bills’ offense is what carried them a year ago, when they went 13-3, but they have fallen more to the middle of the pack this season, ranking 12th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency, as not everything has gone as perfectly as it did a year ago and defenses have caught on to how to best defend them. Instead, it has been the Bills’ defense, which ranks 1st in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, which has carried them this season, but defense is a less predictive side of the ball and this defense has not really held up against tougher competition. Making matters worse, the Bills lost top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season last week, which is a big blow to this defensive unit.
The Bills’ offense has some bounce back potential, with largely the same personnel as their dominant unit a year ago, but overall the Patriots seem to be the better team heading into this matchup. I wish we were still getting a field goal with the Patriots like we were early in the week, but sharp action quickly dropped this line to Buffalo -2.5, which is not as intriguing of a line, given that 1 in 6 games are decided by exactly a field goal.
Also hurting the Patriots chances of covering this spread is the mid-week news that safety Kyle Dugger will likely miss this game due to COVID protocols, which unfortunately did not trigger the spread to shift back to a field goal. My calculated line is even, so we’re still getting line value with the Patriots, but I like a small bet on the money line more than I like betting this spread, unless we get a field goal before gametime, or some surprising good news on Dugger.
Update: Dugger is not playing, but the Patriots will have linebacker Jamie Collins back from injured reserve and, despite that, this line has still moved up to a full field goal. The Patriots are worth a bet at that number, in addition to a money line play. They should be considered no worse than 50/50 to win this game straight up.
New England Patriots 24 Buffalo Bills 23 Upset Pick +120
Pick against the spread: New England +3