Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 17 NFL Pick

Miami Dolphins (7-8) at Buffalo Bills (5-10)

The Dolphins have 7 wins and were in the playoff race late in the season, but they haven’t been nearly as good as their record and have arguably been one of the worst teams in the league. While their 7 wins have come by a combined 38 points, with none coming by more than 8 points, their 8 losses have come by a combined 127 points, with 7 of 8 coming by double digits. Their -89 point differential ranks 29th in the NFL and they’ve been even worse than that suggests.

Not only have they faced the 6th easiest schedule in the NFL, but they’ve also benefited from a +8 turnover margin, which is unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. In terms of first down rate differential, they rank 30th on the season at -5.60%. Their offense has been a little better since getting quarterback Ryan Tannehill back from injury, but he’s not at 100% and their secondary has major issues without injured cornerback Xavien Howard and injured safety TJ McDonald, both of whom are expected to sit again this week. Since week 9, they’ve been even worse in first down rate differential, ranking 31st at -8.09%.

The Bills, meanwhile, have actually ranked 11th in first down rate differential over that time period. Their offense hasn’t been great, picking up first downs at a 34.19% rate since week 9, 25th in the NFL over that time period, but they’ve been better since getting Josh Allen back from injury, while their defense has been dominant over that time period, ranking 4th in first down rate allowed at 32.75%, as Sean McDermott has once again gotten the most of his defensive talent, despite missing a couple key players with injury. The Bills lost in Miami a few weeks ago, but they could have easily won that game despite a -2 turnover margin and they won the first down rate battle by 3.39%, despite Miami’s secondary being healthy at the time. I expect them to win with relative ease in rematch in Buffalo.

I also expect the Bills to have the motivational edge in this one, with reports coming out that the Dolphins will be moving on from quarterback Ryan Tannehill and head coach Adam Gase after the game. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see David Fales in the second half either. The organization clearly likes him, keeping him on the roster as a 3rd quarterback all season, and they gave him playing time in a meaningless week 17 game last season as well. Even not taking that into account, I have the Bills calculated at -8.5 in this one, so we’re getting good line value with the Bills at -5.5. The Bills aren’t a great team, but they could easily give the Dolphins another double digit loss, especially if the Dolphins don’t play their best game.

Buffalo Bills 23 Miami Dolphins 13

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -5.5

Confidence: High

Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 15 NFL Pick

Detroit Lions (5-8) at Buffalo Bills (4-9)

Earlier in the week, I was strongly considering betting on the Lions in this game, for a couple of reasons. For one, the Lions typically play well against losing teams, while struggling against good teams. Since 2014, they are 20-12 ATS against teams with a losing record and they went 17-4 straight up against non-playoff teams between 2016 and 2017. The Bills certainly qualify at 4-9. Their offense has been better since getting Josh Allen back from injury a few weeks ago, but their defense takes a big hit with the losses of linebacker Matt Milano and cornerback Taron Johnson and they could be without running back LeSean McCoy with injury as well this week.

On top of that, the Bills are in a terrible spot and could easily be looking forward to next week’s game in New England. With their season essentially over, the Bills might not bring their best effort against the Lions, ahead of a much bigger game. Since 2014, teams are 39-67 ATS before being double digit underdogs (the early line is New England -13), including 10-18 ATS as favorites, which the Bills are by 2.5 points in this one.

Unfortunately, the Lions have had their own injury issues in the past week, losing stud rookie defensive tackle Da’Shawn Hand, slot receiver Bruce Ellington, talented right tackle Rick Wagner, and top edge rusher Ezekiel Ansah. The Lions have lost as much as any team in the league since week 1, with those 4 players joining a list that includes starting wide receivers Marvin Jones and Golden Tate, starting running back Kerryon Johnson, and stud right guard TJ Lang. On top of that, quarterback Matt Stafford is less than 100% with a back injury. The Lions are pretty bad team right now and we’re not getting much line value with them at +2.5. The money line is worth a bet at +120, but I’d need at least +3 to consider betting this spread.

Final Update: The Bills will be without LeSean McCoy and backup Chris Ivory in this one, but the line has still climbed up to +3. Detroit is worth a small bet this week as the better team in the better spot, getting a field goal.

Detroit Lions 19 Buffalo Bills 17 Upset Pick +135

Pick against the spread: Detroit +3

Confidence: Medium

New York Jets at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 14 NFL Pick

New York Jets (3-9) at Buffalo Bills (4-8)

These two teams met week 10 in New York in a game the Bills shockingly won 41-10 as 7-point underdogs, despite starting journeyman Matt Barkley, signed 11 days prior, at quarterback. Going into that game, the Bills had a league worst 25.85% first down rate, but they picked up first downs at a 36.99% rate in that game. The Bills then got Josh Allen back from a 4-game absence in their next game following the bye and have picked up first downs in a 39.17% rate in two games since, as Allen has improved significantly as his rookie year has gone on. The Bills also have a solid defense and are 3-3 with a -12 point differential in 6 games started and finished by Allen, who also was leading on the road in Houston in the second half in the game in which he got hurt.

The Bills winning in the first matchup doesn’t necessarily mean they’re going to cover or even win this week, as divisional home favorites are just 41-68 ATS since 2002 against teams they’ve previously beaten that season as divisional road underdogs and only have a 55% winning percentage, despite being favored by 5.1 points on average. However, the Bills are the significantly better of these two teams right now, as the Jets rank 31st in first down rate differential at -6.73%, are missing top linebacker Darron Lee due to suspension, and have not played good football in weeks, losing last week in Tennessee despite an interception touchdown and a blocked punt. We’re not getting much line value with the Bills as 3.5-point favorites, but they should be the right side for pick ‘em purposes.

Buffalo Bills 17 New York Jets 12

Pick against the spread: Buffalo -3.5

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins: 2018 Week 13 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (4-7) at Miami Dolphins (5-6)

These two teams have had pretty similar seasons. Both have struggled statistically, as the Dolphins rank 27th in point differential at -60 and 30th in first down rate differential at -6.03%, while the Bills rank 30th in point differential at -111 and 31st in first down rate differential at -7.30%. Both teams have also been without their starting quarterbacks for stretches, but both the Bills’ Josh Allen and Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill are back on the field now.

The quarterback injury affected the Bills a lot more though, as the Bills had to start street free agents in Allen’s absence, while Dolphins started Brock Osweiler, who statistically wasn’t much worse than Tannehill. In 5 games started and finished by Josh Allen, the Bills are 3-2 with a point differential of -8 and they were also leading on the road in Houston before Allen got hurt. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are 3-3 with a -18 point differential in 6 games started and finished by Tannehill. The Bills have also faced a much tougher schedule, 8th toughest in terms of opponents record at 54%, while the Dolphins rank 25th at 47%.

Allen still has his issues, as a raw rookie quarterback, but he’s playing his best football right now, both as a passer and a runner, and seems to be fully over his elbow injury. Tannehill, meanwhile, did not have a good first game back last week, with just 130 yards on 24 pass attempts if you don’t include a 74-yard touchdown where his receiver did most of the work. The Dolphins had a first down rate of just 33.33%, against an underwhelming Colts defense, and it’s very possible that Tannehill’s shoulder is still not at 100%.

In addition to his own issues, Allen also doesn’t have a good supporting cast on offense, but Tannehill’s is falling apart fast, with their 2 leading receivers, Albert Wilson and Danny Amendola injured right now. Most importantly, the Bills are much better on defense, ranking 12th in first down rate allowed at 35.36%, as opposed to 21st in first down rate allowed at 37.82% for the Dolphins. Both teams have their issues, but the Bills are at least even with the Dolphins right now, if not a little better.

The Bills are also in a much better spot, as they host the Jets next week, while the Dolphins host the Patriots. Underdogs are 90-55 ATS since 2014 before being favorites when their opponent will next be underdogs. On top of that, teams are 22-44 ATS since 2014 before being home favorites of 7 or more (Miami is +10.5 on the early line), as big upcoming home games tend to be a distraction for teams. We could easily see a much better effort from the Bills than the Dolphins this week, in which case the Bills would have a great shot of stealing this game on the road. I like the Bills a lot this week as underdogs of more than a field goal.

Buffalo Bills 17 Miami Dolphins 16 Upset Pick +160

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +4

Confidence: High

Jacksonville Jaguars at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 12 NFL Pick

Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (3-7)

The Bills have endured some truly terrible quarterback play in recent weeks. Matt Barkley played well in his start before the bye, but prior to that the Bills were a combined 75 of 121 (62.0%) for 676 yards (5.59 YPA), no touchdowns, and 7 interceptions in their previous 3 games, losing all 3 games by a combined 83 points. Barkley likely wouldn’t be able to keep that up for more than a start, but fortunately the Bills get starting quarterback Josh Allen back from injury this week. Allen hasn’t played well this season, but he should be a noticeable upgrade over the street free agents they’ve been starting in his absence. The Bills actually have a solid defense (10th in first down rate allowed) and Allen returning to stabilize the quarterback position should allow their defense to shine more, especially against easier opponents.

The Jaguars qualify as an easier opponent. Their defense hasn’t really been much worse than last season (4th in first down rate allowed), but they haven’t quite been the dominant unit they were last season and their offense has been noticeably worse due to injury. The Jaguars are missing their top-3 left tackles, their top-3 tight ends, their top wide receiver Marqise Lee, and their top offensive lineman center Brandon Linder. A year after finishing 2nd in first down rate differential, the Jaguars rank just 22nd at -2.10%. This line favors the Jaguars on the road by a field goal, but I think this line should be closer to even.

The Jaguars are also in a terrible spot. Not only did they have a crushing last second loss at home last week to the Steelers in what was their best effort in weeks, but they have another big home game against the Colts on deck, so they could easily look past the 3-7 Bills. Road favorites struggle mightily before being home underdogs, going 39-62 ATS since 2008, and the Jaguars are expected to be home underdogs for the Colts next week. The Bills are a smart bet as field goal home underdogs, as they should at least be able to push this week. The money line is also worth a bet at +150, as this game is basically a toss up.

Buffalo Bills 17 Jacksonville Jaguars 16 Upset Pick +150

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +3

Confidence: Medium

Buffalo Bills at New York Jets: 2018 Week 10 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (2-7) at New York Jets (3-6)

I was stalling this write up a little bit because I was hoping we’d get some word today on who the Bills will start under center this week. Derek Anderson remains out with a concussion, but regular starter Josh Allen got some limited practice time in this week and the Bills did not commit to going back to backup Nathan Peterman if Allen can’t go this week, meaning street free agent Matt Barkley is a candidate to start in this one, after less than 2 weeks with the team.

If Allen is ruled out, the Bills are an auto-fade this week and I will likely bet on the Jets. The Bills have been an auto-fade ever since Josh Allen went down, losing all 3 games by an average of 27.7 points and failing to cover in any of them. Allen wasn’t exactly playing well either, but the Bills’ options behind him on the depth chart are so bad and they have a horrible supporting cast around the quarterback on offense. In a league where moving the ball in easier than it’s ever been, the Bills have picked up a first down or touchdown on just 25.85% of offensive snaps, 10.70% below the league average, and they have a ridiculous 16 interceptions to just 3 passing  touchdowns.

The Jets aren’t playing well either, but if Allen is out, they are more than 4 points better than the Bills, which is what this line (Jets -7 at home) suggests. Quarterback Sam Darnold is out with a foot injury, but that might actually be a good thing for this team right now, as Darnold had been playing terribly and they have a capable veteran backup in Josh McCown ready to go behind him on the depth chart.

Remember, McCown had a pretty underwhelming Jets team at 5-7 last season before he got hurt and he had a solid 94.5 QB rating, with 18 passing touchdowns to 9 interceptions. His age (39) and injury history are a concern, but he should be able to give them a couple good spot starts and I think he’s an upgrade over Darnold right now. The Jets also get top cornerback Trumaine Johnson back this week from an extended absence, which will help.

On top of that, the Jets are in a great spot going into their bye, as teams are 55-22 ATS since 2002 as home favorites of 7+ before a bye. Normally that trend is reserved for top level teams, who tend to be very focused with a week off in front of them, but teams with sub-.500 records are also 7-3 ATS in that spot. With no upcoming distractions, the Jets should be able to take care of business at home against an inferior opponent, as long as Allen remains on the sideline.

Conventional wisdom would suggest that’s going to be the case, as it wouldn’t make sense for the Bills to rush Allen back and risk further injury to his throwing arm in a lost season, but the Bills might be so desperate to be competitive in a divisional game that they rush him back. I’m leaving this as a low confidence pick for now, but if/when Allen is ruled out I will bump this up to medium, as long as the line doesn’t move significantly. I’m guessing it won’t and that this line already takes into account that either Peterman or Barkley will likely start this game.

Update: Josh Allen was ruled out Saturday afternoon as expected, leaving Matt Barkley to start this game for the Bills, but this line shifted to 7.5. That might not seem like a significant line movement, but about 1 in 10 games are decided by exactly a touchdown. I’m going to leave this as a low confidence pick unless the line goes back down. The Jets should win this with ease, but asking their offense to cover a 7.5 point line against a capable Bills defense is a lot. Barkley will probably throw a pick six or something to make it easier for the Jets, but that’s not something you can confidently bet on.

Final update: This line has shifted back to -7 Sunday morning, so this is now a medium confidence pick.

New York Jets 20 Buffalo Bills 9

Pick against the spread: NY Jets -7

Confidence: Medium

Chicago Bears at Buffalo Bills: 2018 Week 9 NFL Pick

Chicago Bears (4-3) at Buffalo Bills (2-6)

If the Bills’ quarterback situation went from bad to worse when rookie quarterback Josh Allen got hurt, forcing them to start to street free agent Derek Anderson in his absence, then I’m not sure what the phrase is to describe what happened to their quarterback situation when Anderson suffered a concussion late in his second start last week, forcing to the Bills to turn to 2017 5th round pick Nathan Peterman as their starter this week. Peterman has completed just 45.7% of his 81 career pass attempts in 2 seasons in the league, for an average of 4.44 YPA, 3 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions and has proven on numerous occasions he does not belong on an NFL field at this stage of his career.

Peterman has been so bad that even the Bills, who have been high on him since drafting him and even started him week 1 this year, decided that signing Anderson as a free agent and starting him after less than a week with the organization was a better idea than going back to Peterman. Peterman also will not get any help from his supporting cast on easily the worst offense in the NFL, which ranks dead last, picking up a first down or touchdown on a pathetic 25.42% of offensive snaps.

Making matters worse for Peterman this week, he faces arguably the toughest defense in the NFL with the Chicago Bears coming to town. The Bears are just 4-3, but their 3 losses came by a combined 11 points and they actually won the first down rate battle in 2 of those 3 losses. On the season, they rank 6th in point differential at +50 and 2nd in first down rate differential at +8.03%. They should be able to go into Buffalo and give them their 6th double digit loss of the season and 11th in their last 12 losses, but I’m not confident in them because they’re pretty banged up.

Not only is right guard Kyle Long out for the rest of the regular season, but they could also opt to hold out wide receiver Allen Robinson and edge rusher Khalil Mack against a weak opponent, like they did last week at home against the Jets. The Bills’ offense is horrendous and is probably more likely to allow a defensive touchdown than score an offensive one, but they have a capable defense that could make this one close if the Bears aren’t at 100% and aren’t focused against a weak opponent.

Chicago Bears 20 Buffalo Bills 9

Pick against the spread: Chicago -10

Confidence: None