Carolina Panthers (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (7-6)
The Bills have had a weird season. They are 7-6 and barely hanging out to a playoff spot, but five of their six losses have come by one score, while their seven wins have all come by 15 points or more, meaning they are 0-5 in close games and could easily have a couple more wins at least. As a result, their point differential of +134 ranks 2nd in the NFL. Their schedule has been one of the easier in the league, but even with that taken into account, the Bills rank 7th, 1st, and 14th in offensive, defensive, and special teams efficiency, while leading the league in mixed efficiency.
However, their success has been primarily concentrated against their weaker opponents, as they are just 1-5 against teams who are .500 or better. Some of those games could have gone the other way fairly easily, but it’s a concern for the Bills as they try to make a deep playoff run. The Panthers are more in line with the teams the Bills normally blow out, but, as bad as their offense is (31st in schedule adjusted efficiency), their defense is still one of the best in the league (3rd in schedule adjusted efficiency), so they’re not a complete pushover and the Bills are not as healthy as they were for their blowout victories this season.
The big blow for the Bills was losing top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season a few weeks ago, but they will also be without starting left tackle Dion Dawkins and starting wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in this game, while quarterback Josh Allen could be limited with a foot injury. I still have the Bills calculated as 10.5-point favorites, but this line is at 12, so we’re getting some line value with the Panthers, albeit not significant value.
The Panthers are also in a little bit better of a spot as the Bills could be looking forward to their rematch with the Patriots next week and could either give less than their best effort or take their foot off the gas with a big lead and allow a backdoor cover. I’m still hesitant to go against a team that has blown out so many teams this season, so this is a no confidence pick, but the Bills are banged up and the Panthers aren’t as bad as most of the teams the Bills have blown out, so I expect this to be closer than the Bills’ other victories.
Update: Derrick Brown has been ruled out for the Panthers with COVID, but the line has adjusted appropriately, moving up to 14, so I am still on the Panthers for a no confidence pick at the new number.
Buffalo Bills 26 Carolina Panthers 13
Pick against the spread: Carolina +14