Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: 2021 AFC Divisional Round Pick

Buffalo Bills (12-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (12-5)

These two teams met in Kansas City back in week 5, with the Bills pulling the upset on the road by a final score of 38-20, but that’s hardly a guarantee they will do so again. In fact, teams are just 46-59 ATS in the playoffs in a rematch of a regular season game against a non-divisional opponent, including just 1-6 ATS as road underdogs after winning as road underdogs in the first matchup. This is also a different Chiefs team than the first matchup, as the early season Chiefs were in the middle of a 3-4 start, but have since won 10 of 11 games, including a 5-1 record against playoff qualifiers.

The Chiefs’ turnaround has been driven by two things, a drastically improved turnover margin and a drastically improved defense. Through their first seven games of the season, the Chiefs had a turnover margin of -10, but turnover margin is not a very predictive metric so I would predict that any team that had that bad of a turnover margin stretch would soon seen improvement in that metric, especially a team like the Chiefs who have an elite quarterback, which is the only way to consistently win the turnover margin. Unsurprisingly, the Chiefs have a +14 turnover margin in the final ten games of the regular season, giving them a turnover margin of +4 on the season, after a +23 turnover margin across the first three seasons of Patrick Mahomes career as a starter.

Schedule adjusted efficiency is a metric based on yards per play and first down rate, which intentionally minimizes the impact of turnover margin, and, as a result, is more predictive than point differential. The Chiefs rank 3rd in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency on the season, led by a 1st ranked offense and a 3rd ranked special teams, and they are probably even better than that suggests, as they are still dragged down by a defense that ranks 28th, getting off to a horrible start before improving drastically in recent weeks.

The biggest reason for the Chiefs’ defensive turnaround is they have gotten much healthier since the beginning of the season, when key players like safety Tyrann Mathieu, edge defender Frank Clark, cornerback Charvarius Ward, and interior defender Chris Jones all missed time with injury, with the latter two missing the first matchup with the Bills. Even without Jones and Ward, that first matchup was closer than it seemed, as the game largely swung on the turnover margin, with the Bills winning by four and getting a return touchdown to make the margin of victory bigger than it would have been.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, despite all that I mentioned, this will still be a very tough matchup for the Chiefs, as the Bills led the NFL in point differential at +195, going 11-6 despite a 0-5 record in one score games, and then they destroyed the Patriots by 30 last week, en route to ranking first in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency by a wide margin, giving them about a 4.5-point edge over the Chiefs. 

The Bills aren’t fully healthy right now without top cornerback Tre’Davious White, and, if healthy, the Chiefs are the better team, but that may not be the case, as their best cornerback Rashad Fenton is questionable after not practicing all week, which would be a huge absence. If he plays, the Chiefs could be worth betting in this game, as overreaction to the Bills win last week and the public putting too much stock into the first matchup between these two teams has dropped this line to just 1.5, but they’re not bettable without Fenton and he seems more likely to be out than to play. This is a low confidence pick for now, but that could change.

Kansas City Chiefs 34 Buffalo Bills 31

Pick against the spread: Kansas City -1.5

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 2021 AFC Wild Card Round Pick

New England Patriots (10-7) at Buffalo Bills (11-6)

These two teams are pretty similar, as they have solid records, but even more impressive point differentials, with the Bills ranking 1st at +194 and the Patriots ranking 3rd at +159. That carries over to efficiency rating, which is more predictive week-to-week, as the Bills rank 7th in schedule adjusted offensive efficiency and 1st in schedule adjusted defensive efficiency, while the Patriots rank 5th in both metrics, having played a slightly tougher schedule with a better winning percentage against playoff qualifiers. Neither team has fared well against playoff qualifiers though, mostly accumulating their impressive point differentials against sub .500 teams.

One of the wins against playoff qualifiers that each team has came at the expense of the other, with these two teams splitting the season series and each winning on the opposing team’s homefield. There is more of a tendency to discount the Patriots’ win in Buffalo because it came in tough conditions in a game in which the Patriots kept the ball on the ground almost every play and relied on their defense to stop a more traditional Bills offense, but the season long stats suggest these two teams are even enough that a season series split would make sense and, though the Bills’ win came by more points, they only outgained the Patriots by about a tenth of a yard per play across the two matchups.

Despite the Bills only being slightly better than the Patriots at best, this line, favoring them by 4 points at home, suggests they are a noticeably better team, with homefield advantage only counting for about 1.5 points in recent years and about 30% of games being decided by 4 points or fewer historically. My calculated line has the Bills favored by 2, so we’re getting significant line value with the Patriots, crossing the key number of three, which decides about 1 in 6 games. 

Three is the amount the Bills were favored by in the matchup between these two teams in Buffalo earlier this season, which I thought was too high at the time, and now I think it’s an overreaction to the Patriots’ slow finish to the season that this line has shifted even higher to four, as the Patriots won the yards per play and first down rate battle in two of their three losses to end the season, with the exception being their home loss to the Bills. The Patriots are worth a bet at +4 and I am hoping for +4.5 before gametime for potentially a bigger bet.

Update: This line has moved up to 4.5. The Patriots will be without left tackle Isaiah Wynn, but I wasn’t expecting him to play and his absence isn’t that big of a deal because they can move Trent Brown to left tackle and insert Michael Onwenu at right tackle, where he has had a lot of success when called upon over the past two seasons. Cornerback Jalen Mills being out might be a bigger deal because they are thinner at that position, but I was also expecting him to be out and the Bills have questionable cornerback depth as well, since losing top cornerback Tre’Davious White a few weeks ago. I am going to increase this bet.

Buffalo Bills 24 New England Patriots 23

Pick against the spread: New England +4.5

Confidence: High

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 18 NFL Pick

New York Jets (4-12) at Buffalo Bills (10-6)

The Bills have beaten up on bad teams this season, en route to ranking first in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency and point differential (+177), going 8-1 against teams who are .500 or worse, with their one loss coming by three points and all eight wins coming by at least 14 points, with an average margin of victory of 24.5 points. The Jets would fall into the category of bad teams, but they are not as bad as their 4-12 record and they are being given 16 points here, so we have some room for them to cover even if this game isn’t particularly close, especially if they can get a backdoor cover against a defense that is missing its top cornerback Tre’Davious White, who played in most of the Bills blowout victories this season.

The Jets have struggled significantly with turnovers this season, with the league’s 2nd worst turnover margin at -13, but that is not as nearly predictive as schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, which is based on first down rate and yards per play. The Jets still rank 26th in that metric, but that is still better than their record suggests and their offense has been better in recent weeks, with quarterback Zach Wilson showing some promise. I wouldn’t bet on the Jets, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes, as my calculated line has them as 13-point underdogs.

Buffalo Bills 31 New York Jets 17

Pick against the spread: NY Jets +16

Confidence: Low

Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 17 NFL Pick

Atlanta Falcons (7-8) at Buffalo Bills (9-6)

The Bills are just 9-6, but they lead the NFL in both point differential (+163) and schedule adjusted mixed efficiency (10.5 points above average) and they could easily have a few more wins, as they have gone 0-5 in one-score games, while all nine of their wins have come by double digits, with an average margin of victory of 23.6 points per game. The Falcons, meanwhile, only have a couple fewer wins, but they don’t have any wins by more than one score, while six of their eight losses have come by double digits, leading to them ranking 5th worst in point differential at -122 and 30th in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency (6 points below average)

With the Bills having nine double digit wins and the Falcons having six double digit losses, a blowout seems likely here, but the spread already takes into account that these two teams are nowhere near as evenly matched as their records suggest, favoring the Bills by 14.5 points. My calculated line is Buffalo -16.5, so we are getting line value with the Bills, even though the Falcons are the healthier team, with the Bills missing top cornerback Tre’Davious White for the season, but there isn’t enough here for the Bills to be worth betting. I would still take Buffalo for pick ‘em purposes, but nothing more.

Buffalo Bills 33 Atlanta Falcons 17

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -14.5

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2021 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5)

These two teams met in Buffalo a few weeks ago, with the Patriots pulling the small upset on the road. Now that these two teams are meeting in New England, many expect the Patriots to be able to win easier than they did last time, but that isn’t always how these rematches go. In fact, divisional road underdogs cover at a 42.1% rate in a same season, regular season rematch against a team that previously pulled the upset against them as road underdogs earlier in the season. Not only do they cover at a high rate, but they also pull upsets at a high rate, winning almost at a 50% clip as underdogs of less than a touchdown.

That being said, we aren’t getting enough line value with the Bills as mere 2-point underdogs, as my calculated line has the Patriots favored by a field goal, holding a slight edge in my roster rankings and the homefield advantage. The Bills have the better point differential (+151 vs. +140) and rank 1st in schedule adjusted mixed efficiency, while the Patriots rank 5th, but the Bills’ defense hasn’t been the same since losing top cornerback Tre’Davious White and, on top of that, most of the Bills’ success has come against weak opponents.

The Bills are 7-1 against teams who are .500 or worse, with all seven wins coming by 15 points or more, but they are just 1-5 against teams who are .500 or better. Blowout wins, even against bad opponents, are more predictive than close losses, of which the Bills have five, making up all but one of their losses, leading to their impressive point differential, but it’s hard to ignore that the Bills haven’t performed at a high level against capable opponents, especially given that they are facing one of the best teams in the league this week. I am still taking the Bills for pick ‘em purposes, but I still think the Patriots are more likely to win this game and I could see this one going either way against the spread.

Update: This is staying as a no confidence pick, but I want to switch sides. This line has dropped to one, despite the Patriots getting good news with top receiver Kendrick Bourne coming off the COVID list. Originally both of these teams had significant absences in the receiving corps, with the Bills missing Gabriel Davis and Cole Beasley and the Patriots missing Bourne and Nelson Agholor, but Bourne playing is a big boost for New England.

New England Patriots 26 Buffalo Bills 24

Pick against the spread: New England -1

Confidence: None

Carolina Panthers at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 15 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: None

Buffalo Bills at Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 2021 Week 14 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (7-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-3)

The Bills are 7-5 and their point differential is even better than that, ranking 2nd in the NFL at +140, as all seven of their wins have come by at least 15 points. However, they have faced arguably the easiest schedule in the league and have mostly beaten up on bad teams, which hasn’t translated to opponents with a .500 or better record, against whom they are 1-4. Blowout wins, even against bad opponents, are more predictive than close losses, of which the Bills have 4, making up all but one of their losses, but it’s hard to ignore that the Bills haven’t performed at a high level against capable opponents, especially now that they are heading into a matchup with the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay and doing so without their top cornerback Tre’Davious White, who went down for the season two weeks ago.

Defending Super Bowl Champions, the Buccaneers once again look like a top contender, sitting at 9-3, despite having some key injury absences, many of which have since returned, putting them in strong position for the stretch run. They are still without wide receiver Antonio Brown and they are down to their third string safety, but they have gotten starting cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting back from extended absences, as well as stud tight end Rob Gronkowski, while talented nose tackle Vita Vea and key offensive lineman Ali Marpet have returned from shorter absences. I still think the Bills are one of the better teams in the league, but the Buccaneers are on another level and, here at home, I have them favored by 5.5 points over the Bills in my calculated line.

The Buccaneers are currently favored by 3.5, which doesn’t given us a ton of line value, but there is a very good chance this line goes down to a field goal before gametime, in which case the Buccaneers would be an intriguing bet, as just 8% of games are decided by two points or fewer, as opposed to 16% of games being decided by exactly a field goal. In the scenario where the Buccaneers became field goal favorites, they would basically just have to win to ensure at least a push and I expect them to beat the Bills relatively easily, as the Bills again prove overmatched against tougher competition, going into Tampa Bay and facing a Buccaneers team that hasn’t lost at home since week 12 of 2020.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 33 Buffalo Bills 27

Pick against the spread: Tampa Bay -3.5

Confidence: Low

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 13 NFL Pick

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

Confidence: Medium

Buffalo Bills at New Orleans Saints: 2021 Week 12 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (6-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-5)

The Saints are 5-5, but they aren’t anywhere near as good as their record in their current injury situation, arguably the worst in the league. Already without their top wide receiver Michael Thomas for the whole season, the Saints’ offense lost starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the season a few weeks ago and will also be without feature back Alvin Kamara, stud right tackle Ryan Ramcyzk, and possibly talented left tackle Armstead. Armstead could return from a two-game absence, after returning to limited practices this week, but the Saints’ defense will now be without talented edge defender Marcus Davenport, who missed four games earlier this season with a different injury and now is out again.

Unfortunately, we aren’t getting the same line value betting against the Saints as we have been in recent weeks, as this line has shifted from favoring the Bills by 4.5 on the early line last week to favoring the Bills by 6 this week, despite the Bills getting blown out in an upset loss to the Colts last week. The Saints were also blown out last week, but that was a less surprising result and, with both teams having disappointing weeks last week I would have expected this line to stay put. My calculated line is exactly where this line is, favoring the Bills by 6, and, without any obvious situational trends involved in this game, that makes this one a very tough call. I am still taking the Bills for pick ‘em purposes, but I don’t have any confidence in them and a push might be the most likely result.

Update: Despite Terron Armstead being active, this line has moved up to a full touchdown. The Saints won’t have running back Mark Ingram, a surprise inactive, but Armstead being confirmed as active is bigger injury news. This game still isn’t bettable, but I like the Saints at +7 more than I liked the Bills at -6.

Buffalo Bills 23 New Orleans Saints 17

Pick against the spread: New Orleans +7

Confidence: Low

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: 2021 Week 11 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (5-5) at Buffalo Bills (6-3)

The Bills don’t have the best record in the league at 6-3, but they lead the league in point differential by a wide margin at +145, as all three of their losses have come by just one score, while their six wins have come by an average of 26.2 points per game, with none coming by fewer than 15 points. Normally, this would be a sign that the Bills will win at a higher rate going forward, as their record in close games starts to even out, but the Bills have also faced by far the easiest schedule in the league. Six of their nine games have come against teams with three wins or fewer and the Bills are just 1-2 in their other three games.

There are still a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Bills, who rank 1st and 3rd respectively in defensive and special teams efficiency, even when schedule is taken into account, and are more talented on offense than their 12th place rank in efficiency suggests, but they face a much tougher test than they are used to this week, with the Colts coming to town. The Colts are just 5-5, but that still gives them the 4th best record of any of the Bills’ opponents this season and they are even better than their record suggests.

The Colts have also faced a relatively easy schedule, but they have still faced a tougher schedule than the Bills and they have a +38 point differential, 9th in the NFL, despite suffering through some early season injuries, including the extended absence of their two best offensive linemen Braden Smith and Quenton Nelson and an ankle injury that limited quarterback Carson Wentz for several weeks. The Colts average margin of victory has been 14.2 points per game, while their five losses have all come against 2020 playoff qualifiers, including a pair of overtime losses, a loss by a field goal, a 9-point loss in a game in which Wentz was far from 100%, and a 12-point loss in week one.

We’re not getting a ton of line value with the Colts at +7.5 and I’m hesitant to bet big against a team who has so many blowout victories on the season, but we’re still getting some line value with the Colts, who should be able to at least keep this game close like most of their games, while giving the Bills a much tougher test than most of the teams that have the Bills blown out. The Colts are also in a better spot, with the Bills having to play again in four days on Thursday Night Football, a situation in which favorites cover at just a 40.7% rate all-time. This isn’t a big play and I wouldn’t take the Colts at +7, but if you can find a good +7.5, they are worth a bet.

Buffalo Bills 23 Indianapolis Colts 17

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +7.5

Confidence: Medium