Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 12 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Chargers (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (7-3)

The Chargers have once again been one of the most injury prone teams in the league. It started when they lost stud safety Derwin James, arguably their top defensive player, for the season with injury before the season even began and over the first half of the season the Chargers lost several other key players. Last week against the Jets was arguably the healthiest they’ve been since the beginning of the season, with key players like stud defensive ends Joey Bosa (2 games missed) and Melvin Ingram (3 games), starting defensive tackle Justin Jones (3 games), starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga (4 games), #2 wide receiver Mike Williams (1 game), and starting right guard Trai Turner (7 games) all active after missing time earlier this year.

However, that really only lasted a week, as the Chargers have since lost top cornerback Casey Hayward and talented defensive ends Melvin Ingram and Uchenna Nwosu (their top-two edge defenders after Bosa) to injuries. The Chargers could be getting some reinforcements from injured reserve, with starting running back Austin Ekeler and starting cornerback Chris Harris potentially being activated after being designated to return, but, even with those two, the Chargers would still be far from full strength. 

Despite injuries, the Chargers have played reasonably well this season, regardless of what their 3-7 record suggests, as they’ve been within one score in all seven losses, including early leads over top level teams like the Chiefs, Saints, and Buccaneers. However, with Ekeler and Harris’ uncertainty factored in, the Chargers still rank just 23rd in my roster rankings. The general public is also pretty aware that the Chargers have been competitive against good teams in their losses and, as a result, the Chargers are just 4.5 point favorites in Buffalo against a 7-3 Bills team, so we’re not getting any line value with them.

In fact, Buffalo -4.5 is my exact calculated line and, without any situational trends that apply to this game, my decision on which side to take for pick ‘em purposes is going to be entirely dependent on the status of Ekeler and Harris. For now, I’m taking the Chargers, but that would change if Ekeler and Harris were ruled out. Either way, I expect this to be a no confidence pick barring a significant change to the spread or some other unexpected circumstance.

Update: Ekeler and Harris are both in, but I’m leaving this as a no confidence pick.

Buffalo Bills 24 Los Angeles Chargers 20

Pick against the spread: LA Chargers +4.5

Confidence: None

Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals: 2020 Week 10 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (7-2) at Arizona Cardinals (5-4)

These two teams have been pretty similar this year. Both have had dominant offenses, with the Cardinals ranking 1st in schedule adjusted first down rate at +3.55% and the Bills ranking 3rd at +3.09%, but both defenses have struggled mightily, ranking 25th and 28th respectively in schedule adjusted first down rate allowed. Typically, teams with dominant offenses and weak defenses are smart bets going forward because offensive play tends to be much more static week-to-week, while defensive play is more inconsistent.

The Bills have a much better chance of being improved defensively going forward than the Cardinals though, as they have more talent on that side of the ball. These two teams are about the same offensively, but the Bills’ defensive edge gives them a 2.5 point edge in my roster rankings overall. Given that the Cardinals will have minimal fans for this home game, I have this line calculated at Buffalo -1.5, so we’re getting some line value at Buffalo +2.5. 

The Cardinals are also in a look ahead spot, playing the Seahawks on a short week in Seattle on Thursday Night Football. Favorites cover at just a 44.0% rate all-time before Thursday Night Football and, making matters worse for the Cardinals, the Bills should be fully focused ahead of their bye. Favorites are just 13-24 ATS over the past thirty seasons before a short week when their opponent will next have an extended rest, which isn’t a big sample size, but it makes sense. I’d like the Bills more if this line creeps up to +3, but the Bills are still worth a bet at +2.5 and the money line is a smart bet as well.

Update: The Bills had two of their top-3 cornerbacks ruled out on Saturday because of COVID. I probably would not have bet them Friday night if I hadn’t known that was going to happen, but that’s the nature of predicting games in 2020. I do still have the Bills as slightly favored to pull the upset though.

Buffalo Bills 34 Arizona Cardinals 33 Upset Pick +125

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +2.5

Confidence: Medium

Seattle Seahawks at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 9 NFL Pick

Seattle Seahawks (6-1) at Buffalo Bills (6-2)

The Seahawks are 6-1, but four of their six wins have come by one score, including a pair that came down to fourth down stops against the Vikings and Patriots, and they rank just 12th in schedule adjusted first down rate differential. However, there is reason to expect they will be better going forward. The Seahawks have been carried by their offense, ranking 1st in first down rate over expected at 3.52%, but just 26th in first down rate allowed over expected at -2.15%, and offensive performance tends to be much more consistent on a week-to-week than defensive performance. If the Seahawks can even be an average defense going forward, they’re going to be a very tough opponent. 

The Seahawks are also getting a huge boost on the defensive side of the ball this week with stud safety Jamal Adams returning for the first time since week 3, further increasing their chances of being significantly improved defensively going forward. On top of that, the Seahawks have typically been a better team in the second half of the second under Pete Carroll, going 51-31 ATS in week 9-17, as opposed to 41-36 ATS in week 1-8. 

All that being said, we’re not getting a ton of line value with the Seahawks as 3-point favorites in Buffalo, even though the Bills won’t have any fans in attendance. I have the Seahawks calculated as 4-point favorites, but the Bills are similar to the Seahawks in that they’ve had a strong offense and an underwhelming defense, ranking 3rd in first down rate over expected at +3.14% and 30th in first down rate allowed over expected at -3.51% and could be significantly better on defense going forward. The Bills have faced an easier schedule than the Seahawks and they aren’t getting much healthier on defense, with top linebacker Matt Milano now missing time for the second stint this season, but they could keep this close. The Seahawks are the pick, but for pick ‘em purposes only.

Seattle Seahawks 35 Buffalo Bills 30

Pick against the spread: Seattle -3

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 8 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (2-4) at Buffalo Bills (5-2)

I had a lot of confidence in the Patriots last week. The Patriots started 2-1, easily defeating capable teams in the Raiders and Dolphins and coming up just short on the road in Seattle. Then their COVID outbreak happened, costing them starting quarterback Cam Newton for a game in Kansas City that it looked like the Patriots would have won had Newton been able to play and then the following week costing them significant practice time and several offensive linemen from an already injury plagued group, leading to the Patriots’ upset home loss to the Denver Broncos. 

With a healthy offensive line and a normal week of practice, I expected the Patriots would bounce back to their early season form, but instead they had easily their worst performance of the year, getting blown out at home 33-6 by the 49ers in a game in which the Patriots lost the first down rate battle by 6.58% and really didn’t do anything well on either side of the ball. Making matters even worse, the Patriots have been bit by the injury bug over the past week. The Patriots’ offensive line is much more complete than it’s been for most of the season, but they’ll be without their top-2 wide receivers this week from an already thin group, as well as several other questionable players, most notably top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who seems unlikely to play after a mid-week injury.

Given the disparity between how the Patriots played early in the season and how they’ve played recently, it’s tough to know what to make of this team, but it seems like the general public is completely ignoring their early season success and just focusing on their recent struggles, leading to them being 4-point underdogs in Buffalo against a Bills team that will have minimal homefield advantage and that was also better early in the season than they’ve been in recent weeks. The Bills started 4-0, with competitive wins over quality teams like the Raiders and Rams, but then they lost back-to-back games by multiple scores against tougher opponents in the Titans and Chiefs and last week they had trouble with a Jets team that had previously lost by at least 9 points to every team they’d faced all season. 

The Bills obviously have a better record than the Patriots, but they’re much closer together than their records suggest in terms of point differential (-4 vs. -28) and first down rate differential (+0.60% vs. +0.51%), even though the Bills have played a below average schedule, while the Patriots have faced one of the toughest schedules in the league. When schedule adjustments are taken into account, the Patriots actually have a significant lead in first down rate differential, ranking 11th at 1.65%, while the Bills rank 23rd at -1.11%. Of course, if the Patriots come out and play like they did last week again, it won’t matter than they’ve been better statistically than the Bills this season, just like it didn’t matter that they had a statistical edge over the 49ers going into last week, but I don’t expect the Patriots to come out flat like that in back-to-back weeks, especially since this is a must win game for the Patriots against a division rival.

In fact, if either of these teams comes out flat again this week like they did last week, it’s likely to be the Bills, as the Bills still were able to pick up the win last week because of their easy competition and would still hold a healthy divisional lead even if they lose this game. This isn’t to say the Bills are going to look past the Patriots, who they’ve been trying to get past for years, but the Bills have another tough game on deck against the Seahawks, while the Patriots get the Jets next, so the Patriots are much more likely to be fully focused than the Bills, especially given the results of last week. 

Underdogs cover at a 62.7% rate before being favorites when their opponents will next be underdogs and all three of those are likely to be the case in this one. On top of that, teams are 115-67 ATS as underdogs since 1989 before being road favorites of 4 or more, which the Patriots will be in New York next week (-7 on the early line). There is too much injury uncertainty for me to lock in a bet on the Patriots now, but if their inactives list is favorable and/or the Bills’ isn’t, the Patriots are worth a bet this week. I will have an update before gametime most likely.

Update: Gilmore is out for the Patriots, but I was expecting that. The bigger news is that their other questionables are playing, most importantly JC Jackson, who will be their new #1 cornerback in Gilmore’s absence, while the Bills will be without safety Micah Hyde. Despite that, this line has dropped to 4.5, likely due to the Gilmore news, so the Patriots are worth a bet this week. The Bills haven’t been much better than the Patriots have been lately and the Patriots played better against tougher competition earlier in the year.

Buffalo Bills 24 New England Patriots 23

Pick against the spread: New England +4.5

Confidence: Medium

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets: 2020 Week 7 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (4-2) at New York Jets (0-6)

The Jets are not just the last remaining winless team and the worst team in the league; they’re the worst team in the league by a wide margin and one of the worst teams of all time statistically. None of their games have been decided by one score or less. They haven’t been remotely competitive in any of their games, with their best single week first down rate differential being their -6.56% mark in week 2 in a 31-13 loss to the 49ers. They’ve lost by an average of 18.3 points per game and their -110 point differential is the 9th worst through 6 games since the merger. In terms of first down rate differential, the Jets are at -11.68% when adjusted for schedule and no other team is worse than -6.79%.

The Jets can look to last year’s Dolphins, who were 0-6 with a -148 point differential and a -13.68% first down rate differential through 6 games, before eventually going 5-5 over their final 10 games, but the Dolphins had a capable veteran quarterback to turn to in Ryan Fitzpatrick and were well coached by first year head coach Brian Flores, two things the Jets don’t have going for them. 

The Jets are getting healthier on offense, which has been the worse side of the ball, as not only will they have Sam Darnold back from a two-game absence, but he could have his top-3 wide receivers all healthy for the first time all year, with Jamison Crowder returning three weeks ago, Breshad Perriman returning last week, and rookie Denzel Mims likely to make his season debut this season. However, even with better health, the Jets still stand out as dead last in my roster rankings.

This week, the Jets host the Bills and are 10-point home underdogs. Earlier this week, I was thinking of making a small bet on the Bills just as a fade of the Jets, who have yet to cover this season, but the injury developments have changed my mind, as not only are the Jets getting healthier, but the Bills, who haven’t played as well over the past two weeks, are going in the other direction injury wise. They may get linebacker Matt Milano back from injury, but wide receiver John Brown, tight end Dawson Knox, guard Cody Ford, cornerbacks Josh Norman and Levi Wallace, and possibly top cornerback Tre’Davious White are all expected to be out this week. 

This line has shifted from -12.5 earlier this week down to -10 because of the injury news, but I still don’t like betting on a huge road favorite when they’re banged up and could potentially be sleep walking through the game, with a much bigger game against the Patriots on deck. The Bills are still the pick for pick ‘em purposes now, but if both Milano and White are ruled out, I may flip this pick, as I don’t have a strong lean either way.

Final Update: The injury report is better than I was expecting, as the Bills will have both Tre’Davious White and Matt Milano, while the Jets will be missing their top receiver Jamison Crowder in a surprise inactive (as well as talented guard Alex Lewis, but that was known earlier this week). I still wouldn’t bet on the Bills, but I’m pumping this up to low confidence.

Buffalo Bills 24 New York Jets 10

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -10

Confidence: Low

Kansas City Chiefs at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 6 NFL Pick

Kansas City Chiefs (4-1) at Buffalo Bills (4-1)

Both of these teams started the season 4-0, but both teams also had disappointing results last week, with the Bills getting blown out on the road by fellow undefeated Tennessee by score of 42-16 and the Chiefs getting upset in shocking fashion at home against a middling Raiders team by score of 40-32. The odds makers seem more concerned about the Titans’ result, as this line has shifted from favoring the Chiefs by 3 points on the early line to now favoring the Chiefs by 5, but the Bills’ disappointing result was more excusable, seeing as they were missing top cornerback Tre’Davious White, top linebacker Matt Milano, and starting wide receiver John Brown, who could all return this week. The Chiefs, meanwhile, will be without starting guard Kelechi Osemele and starting wide receiver Sammy Watkins.

I still have this line calculated at Kansas City -3, so we’re getting good line value with the Bills, but I’m no longer considering this for Pick of the Week, like I was when it seemed like Brown, White, and Milano would almost definitely return. All three practiced all week, but they’re still listed questionable and Brown and Milano were both downgraded to limited on Saturday after full practices all week. My calculated line factors in them all being questionable, but if one of them were to miss, my calculated line would increase, and vice versa if all three were able to play. If the latter ends up being the case, I’ll probably bet on Buffalo, perhaps for a larger wager, but this is a low confidence pick for now. If I decide to bet this one, it’ll be before gametime, when inactives are announced.

Update: Brown will play, but Milano won’t. It’s not ideal, but this line has moved up to 6 in some places. If you can get 6, I think that’s worth a bet. My calculated line is still -3 and this should be a close game.

Kansas City Chiefs 33 Buffalo Bills 30

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +6

Confidence: Medium

Buffalo Bills at Tennessee Titans: 2020 Week 5 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (4-0) at Tennessee Titans (3-0)

I think this game is finally safe to write up. A line was posted at Buffalo -3.5 and after two straight days of COVID negatives by the Titans, it seems likely that this game will take place, for the Titans their first game in 16 days. A team having that much time off between games mid-season isn’t unprecedented in the NFL, as three teams went three weeks without playing in 2001 due to 9/11 cancellations, but there is very limited history of how this affects teams and the Titans have also had very little chance to practice and will be playing without several key players, which puts the Titans in uncharted territory historically.

The Titans activated defensive end Da’Quan Jones from the COVID list and they’ll have top wide receiver AJ Brown back from injury for the first time since week 1 and any of their other COVID list players could theoretically be activated before gametime, but right now they are slated to be without starting cornerback Kristian Fulton, starting wide receivers Corey Davis and Adam Humphries, and top defensive lineman Jeffrey Simmons. This is nowhere near their full strength squad. 

Making matters worse for the Titans, they weren’t nearly as good as their 3-0 record suggests, even before all this happened. Their three wins have come by a combined 6 points, despite a +5 turnover margin, something that they’re not necessarily going to be able to count on going forward, and they actually entered week 5 ranking just 25th in first down rate differential at -3.44%. Part of that was due to injury absences, as they’ve also been missing top cornerback Adoree Jackson all season, but they’re in much worse shape now. 

The Titans also haven’t had a particularly tough schedule thus far, struggling to put away the Broncos, Jaguars, and Titans, and now face a much tougher test, as the Bills are off to an impressive 4-0 start and look significantly improved in 2020 thanks to Josh Allen’s improvement and the addition of wide receiver Stefon Diggs. This line favors the Bills by 3.5, which would be my calculated line in normal circumstances, but the Titans are also definitely at a disadvantage due to their lack of practice time and unpredictable schedule over the past two weeks. 

I’m not sure if I’m going to bet on the Bills, however, because the Titans have players who could be activated before gametime, while the Bills’ top cornerback Tre’Davious White is questionable after not practicing all week and could join top linebacker Matt Milano on the sideline, though the extended week probably gives White a better than normal chance of playing despite the lack of practice time. Either way, I’ll likely have an update before gametime, but I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick on Buffalo for now.

Final Update: White is out for the Bills, but the Titans won’t be getting any additional players back from the COVID list and this line has dropped to a field goal. I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick, but the Bills should still be the right side.

Buffalo Bills 30 Tennessee Titans 24

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -3

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at Las Vegas Raiders: 2020 Week 4 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Medium

Los Angeles Rams at Buffalo Bills: 2020 Week 3 NFL Pick

Los Angeles Rams (2-0) at Buffalo Bills (2-0)

The Bills made the playoffs with 10 wins last season, but they faced a very easy schedule and their performance against tougher competition is concerning. 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 more concerning is the statistical split of quarterback Josh Allen between games against winning teams and non-winning teams.  

Even with a solid game against the Titans included, he 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 the Bills’ schedule getting much tougher this season, the key to them making it back to the post-season will be Josh Allen and the rest of this team playing better than they have against tough competition. 

Whether or not they can do that is still up in the air, as the Bills started their season with a pair of easy games against divisional opponents, taking care of business in both games. This week, their schedule gets tougher, as they play host to the Rams. The Rams came into the season with several glaring weaknesses, but, one of them, their offensive line, has been pleasantly surprising this season thanks to the emergence of young players and bounce back years from veterans. They haven’t faced the toughest schedule to get to 2-0 and they barely won their week 1 game, but the Rams are exceeding expectations and have mostly avoided injuries so far, and they should easily compete for a playoff spot if that continues.

The Bills are better on offense since adding Stefon Diggs this off-season and Josh Allen is another year experienced, now in his 3rd season in the league, so I give them a better chance of beating a team like the Rams than I would a year ago, but I still have the Rams about a point higher in my roster rankings. This line, favoring the Bills by 2 at home, suggests these two teams are about even, so we’re getting a little bit of line value with the Rams, but the Bills could easily end up winning this game by a field goal, so this isn’t one I’m confident in. In fact, a Bills win by a field goal is probably the single most likely outcome, even if the Rams overall may have a better chance of covering.

Buffalo Bills 24 Los Angeles Rams 23

Pick against the spread: LA Rams +2

Confidence: None

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins: 2020 Week 2 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (1-0) at Miami Dolphins (0-1)

The Bills started their season with a big home win over the Jets, winning by score of 27-17 and finishing with a +9.90% first down rate differential, 4th best of the week. That result shifted this line from 3.5 on the early line last week to 5.5 this week, as bettors seem to think that the Bills will continue that into another easy matchup with the Dolphins. That’s not necessarily the case though, for a few reasons.

For one, they’ll be on the road in Miami, where the Dolphins will have at least some fans in attendance. The Dolphins are also a better and healthier team than the Jets and they play harder and are better coached as well. On top of that, the Bills will have to play this game without their talented young linebacker duo of Tremaine Edmunds and Matt Milano, who are both out for this game. That’s a big blow to this Buffalo defense and should make it easier for the Dolphins to keep this close. I’ll need to confirm Devante Parker’s health status before the game, as the Dolphins #1 receiver is a gametime decision with a hamstring injury, but if he’s in the lineup and the line doesn’t move, the Dolphins may be worth a bet.

Update: Parker is playing, but this line has crept up to 6 in some places. I think that’s worth betting if you can get it. Without both of Buffalo’s linebackers, this line shouldn’t be any higher than 3.

Buffalo Bills 23 Miami Dolphins 21

Pick against the spread: Miami +6

Confidence: Medium