Buffalo Bills at Jacksonville Jaguars: 2017 NFL Wild Card Round Pick

Buffalo Bills (9-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)

The Jaguars finished with the easiest schedule in the NFL in 2017, in terms of opponents record. Ordinarily, that would make them a smart team to bet against in the post-season, but they played at a very high level across that easy schedule, finishing 3rd in point differential at +149 and 2nd in first down rate differential at 5.95%. On top of that, they get to face the weakest playoff qualifier in their first game, with the Buffalo Bills coming to town, potentially missing stud running back LeSean McCoy.

Not only were the Bills the last team to clinch a playoff spot, sneaking into the AFC’s 6th seed at 9-7 on a strength of schedule tiebreaker, but they were not as good as their record suggested this season, as they finished with a -57 point differential that is not only the worst among playoff teams, but also worse than 9 other non-playoff teams. Five of their 7 losses came by more than 10 points, as opposed to just 1 win by more than 10 points. The Jaguars, meanwhile, won by more than 10 in all but two of their wins and have a good chance to get another one here this week. I wouldn’t recommend betting on this because the line is pretty steep at -8, but Jacksonville should win this one relatively easily.

Jacksonville Jaguars 20 Buffalo Bills 10

Pick against the spread: Jacksonville -8

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins: 2017 Week 17 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-7) at Miami Dolphins (6-9)

Both of these teams have had a lot of close wins and big losses. The Bills’ have just 1 victory by more than 10 points, as opposed to 5 losses by more than 10 points. Their 8 wins have come by a combined 68 points (8.50 points per game), while their 7 losses have come by a combined 131 points (18.71 points per game). The Dolphins, meanwhile, have just 1 victory by more than 7 points, as opposed to 8 losses by more than 7 points. Their 6 wins have come by a combined 47 points (7.83 points per game), while their 9 losses have come by a combined 153 points (17.00 points per game). In point differential, the Bills rank 23rd at -63, while the Dolphins rank 29th at -106.

The Bills have been even worse than their point differential suggests though, as they’ve been overly reliant on winning the turnover margin, which is unpredictable on a week-to-week basis. They rank 6th in the NFL with a +8 turnover margin, making them the only team with a turnover margin of +5 or better and a negative point differential. In first down rate differential, they rank just 31st at -6.46%, even worse than the Dolphins, who rank -4.93% at 29th.

The Bills are better with Tyrod Taylor under center instead of Nathan Peterman, who has seen some action this season, but the Dolphins have been better since promoting running back Kenyan Drake to the feature back role. At the very least, these two teams are about even right now. Given that, we’re getting good line value with the Dolphins as 2.5 point home underdogs in this matchup. I would need a full field goal with the Dolphins to bet on them, but the money line is worth a small bet at +110, as this game is no worse than a toss up for the Dolphins.

Miami Dolphins 19 Buffalo Bills 17 Upset Pick +110

Pick against the spread: Miami +2.5

Confidence: Low

Buffalo Bills at New England Patriots: 2017 Week 16 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (8-6) at New England Patriots (11-3)

The Bills are 8-6 and right in the mix for one of the two wild card spots in the AFC, which would send them to the post-season for the first time since 1999 and end the longest active playoff drought in the NFL. However, they face a bit of an uphill battle, as their final two games are on the road and they probably need to win at least one of those games to remain in the playoff pictures, with the 8-6 Titans, the 8-6 Ravens, and the 7-7 Chargers also in the mix for those two wild card spots. On top of that, they haven’t been as good as their record suggests, as they have just one win by more than 10 points, as opposed to 4 losses, and have a mediocre point differential of -43. That’s despite having +7 turnover margin, tied for 5th best in the NFL.

Turnover margins tend to be unpredictable on a week-to-week basis, so they won’t necessarily be able to rely on that going forward, and they rank just 31st in first down rate differential at -5.30%. They are also the only team in the league with a turnover margin of +6 and a negative point differential. They are obviously a better team with Tyrod Taylor under center, instead of Nathan Peterman, but even with Taylor under center they’ve had major problems moving the ball because of their lack of pass catchers. On top of that, their defense has had major problems getting off the field without forcing turnovers.

Their opponents this week, the New England Patriots, beat them 23-3 in Buffalo a few weeks back. They rank 6th in first down rate differential at +4.36% and have been even better in recent weeks since working through some early season kinks on defense. The Patriots are also in a great spot, as they have no upcoming distractions with only a home game against the Jets on deck. Favorites of 7+ are 70-43 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again, as good teams tend to take care of business against inferior teams when they don’t have any upcoming distractions. The Patriots have not been as good of a bet at home as they have been on the road in recent seasons and we’re not getting much line value at New England -11.5 (I have this line calculated at 12.5), so I would not recommend betting on this one, but the Patriots should be the right side for pick’em purposes.

Sunday update: Buffalo ruled out starting cornerback EJ Gaines, but this line still fell to 11 Sunday morning. I was on the fence about betting this game before, but I think it’s worth a small wager now. Gaines has been having a solid season and their pass defense has been worse when he’s been out of the lineup, something that’s going to be a big problem against Tom Brady.

New England Patriots 31 Buffalo Bills 17

Pick against the spread: New England -11

Confidence: Medium

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 15 NFL Pick

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

The Bills pulled out an overtime victory at home against the Colts last week 13-7 with Nate Peterman under center, a game they could have easily lost on several occasions. As a result, the Bills are now 7-6 and turn the team back to starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who returns from a one-game absence with a knee injury. The Bills are not nearly as good as their record though. They rank 23rd in point differential at -50 and 31st in first down rate differential at -6.44%.

The Dolphins have had their share of issues this season, but they’ve been better in recent weeks. People thought they were crazy for trading away Jay Ajayi at the trade deadline, but new starter Kenyan Drake has proven to be a much better fit in this offense and has given this offense a new dimension in recent weeks, as he’s taken over as the feature back with backup Damien Williams out. They’ve also been better defensively since getting safety TJ McDonald back from suspension. Last week’s win at home over the Patriots may not have been a complete fluke, especially since the Dolphins easily beat a capable Broncos team the week before.

Last week’s win puts the Dolphins in a terrible spot, as teams tend to be flat off of wins as home underdogs. Teams cover at a mere 45% rate off of a home upset win. However, the Bills aren’t in a great spot either, as they have to face New England next week in Foxboro, a game in which they will almost definitely be double digit underdogs. Teams are 50-86 ATS since 2012 before being double digit underdogs, as it’s understandably tough to play your best when you have a really tough game on deck.

On top of that, divisional home favorites are just 25-62 ATS since 2002 before being divisional road underdogs. The Dolphins are probably the better team and definitely in the better spot, so I like getting more than a field goal with them. About 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less, so getting Miami +3.5 gives us some significant cushion if the Dolphins can’t pull the upset. The Dolphins are worth a small bet if you can get 3.5.

Buffalo Bills 19 Miami Dolphins 17

Pick against the spread: Miami +3.5

Confidence: Medium

Indianapolis Colts at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 14 NFL Pick

Indianapolis Colts (3-9) at Buffalo Bills (6-6)

The Bills started 5-2, but have since fallen to 6-6. What happened? Well, this decline should have been expected, given how reliant they were on the turnover margin to win games early in the season. They started the season with a +14 turnover margin in their first 7 games, but turnover margins tend to be very inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so they were unlikely to be able to continue relying on that going forward. Sure enough, the Bills have a -8 turnover margin in their last 5 games and are 1-4 in those 5 games as a result.

The Bills are even worse than their 6-6 record too, as they have a point differential of -56, 9th worst in the NFL. Having a point differential that bad, despite still having a positive turnover margin at +6, is very rare. The Bills have struggled mightily to move the ball this season and to get off the field without forcing takeaways. They rank 29th in first down rate at 29.83%, 30th in first down rate allowed at 36.76%, and 31st in first down rate differential at -6.93%. The only team the Bills rank higher than in that metric are their opponents this week, the Indianapolis Colts, who rank dead last at -7.63%.

Making matters even worse for the Bills, they have to start rookie quarterback Nathan Peterman this week with Tyrod Taylor injured and he has struggled mightily in limited action this season, showing why he fell to the 5th round of the draft in April in the first place. The Colts are one of the worst teams in the league, especially with valuable players like left guard Jack Mewhort, defensive end Henry Anderson, outside linebacker John Simon, cornerback Rashaan Melvin, and safety Malik Hooker out for the season. However, I still have this line calculated at -3 with Peterman in the lineup because I have these two teams about even at the moment.

The Colts are also in a good spot in their second of two road games.  Teams typically do better in their second of two road games, as opposed to a single road game sandwiched between two home games. Teams are 256-274 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.89 points per game, as opposed to 379-523 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.94 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. Lines don’t really adjust for that, which can give us some good betting spots, especially with road underdogs off of a road loss, like the Colts are this week. Teams are 121-78 ATS since 2008 as road underdogs off of a road loss in their second of two road games.

The Colts are 3-9 with their only wins coming against the 49ers, Browns, and Texans, three of the worst teams in the league. However, the Bills are arguably just as bad as those teams right now, so the Colts have a chance to pull this upset straight up and, even if they don’t, we get a good cushion at +3.5, as about 1 in 4 games are decided by a field goal or less. At the very least, I’m happy getting more than a field goal with the significantly better quarterback, which is what Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett is in this matchup with Peterman. The Colts are worth a small bet at 3.5.

Buffalo Bills 17 Indianapolis Colts 16

Pick against the spread: Indianapolis +3.5

Confidence: Medium

New England Patriots at Buffalo Bills: 2017 Week 13 NFL Pick

New England Patriots (9-2) at Buffalo Bills (6-5)

The Bills pulled the upset in Kansas City last week, but the Chiefs have long been overrated and have lost 5 of 6, so that upset isn’t as impressive as it might seem. The Bills are undoubtedly a better team with Tyrod Taylor back under center, but they lost by a combined 50 points to the Jets and Saints in Taylor’s two starts prior to his start in Kansas City. The Bills started the season 5-2 with Taylor under center before that, but that was largely because of a +14 turnover margin. In the 4 games since, they are -8 in turnover margin.

Part of that is because of Nathan Peterman’s 5-interception half against the Chargers, but turnover margins tend to be inconsistent on a week-to-week basis, so the Bills were always likely to regress to the mean in turnover margin. They’ve struggled to win the first down battle regardless of who is under center, as they rank 30th in first down rate differential at -6.48%. Taylor is a capable starting quarterback, but he isn’t working with much in the receiving corps, especially with Kelvin Benjamin out, and their defense has problems getting off the field if they aren’t forcing turnovers.

The New England Patriots come to town on a 7-game winning streak and, even more impressively, a 14-game winning streak away from New England. They’ve won those 14 games by an average of 13.21 points and covered the spread in 11 of them. The Patriots have fans throughout the country, much like the Cowboys, so it makes sense that they’d do well even away from home. They’re also in a great spot with only a trip to Miami on deck. Big favorites tend to cover before being big favorites again, as favorites of 7+ are 67-42 ATS since 2012 before being favorites of 7+ again (New England is -11.5 in Miami on the early line). Without any upcoming distractions, the Patriots should take care of business and get another double digit road victory, against a significantly inferior Bills team. This is a high confidence pick as long as the line is below 10.

New England Patriots 34 Buffalo Bills 20

Pick against the spread: New England -9

Confidence: High

Buffalo Bills at Kansas City Chiefs: 2017 Week 12 NFL Pick

Buffalo Bills (5-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-4)

These two teams both got off to great starts, but both have skidded in recent weeks. The Bills started the year 5-2, but have lost 3 straight games by a combined 80 points since then, while the Chiefs started the year 5-0, but have since lost 4 of 5. Both teams are arguably coming off their worst week of the season as well, as the Bills lost 54-24 in Los Angeles to the Chargers and the Chiefs lost in overtime in New York to the previously 1-8 Giants, despite coming off of a bye.

The Bills are in a better spot this week though. The Chiefs could be a little tired after a road overtime loss (home teams cover at a 43% spread off of a road overtime loss since 1989) and could overlook a Bills team that is coming off of back-to-back blowout losses. It’s counter-intuitive, but teams are 45-32 ATS since 2002 after back-to-back 21+ point losses, as teams tend to be overlooked, embarrassed, and underrated after two big losses in a row. The Bills could be all three of those things this week, and, at the very least, they are definitely underrated.

Despite Kansas City losing to a previously 1-win team, this line has actually shifted a half point in Kansas City’s favor since the early line last week, as the Chiefs are now 10 point favorites after being favored by 9.5 last week.That’s despite the fact that the Bills played an underrated Chargers team and played a lot better after pulling unprepared rookie Nathan Peterman, who threw 5 first half picks, for Tyrod Taylor, who should have remained the Bills’ quarterback all along.

Taylor is back under center this week for the Bills, which should put this offense back on track. They got blown out by the Saints even with Taylor the week before, but the Saints are one of the best teams in the league. Before that, they lost to the Jets in New York by 13, but that was because they lost 3 fumbles, something that hasn’t been the norm for this team this season. The Bills are far from a great team, but they were a capable opponent just a few weeks back and could easily bounce back over the next few weeks.

I think the Chiefs’ recent struggles are actually more concerning, because their offense has predictably fallen back to earth after starting the season on a record pace in turnover rate and big play rate, but their defense has continued to struggle mightily since losing safety Eric Berry in the opener. They still rank dead last in first down rate allowed at 39.42% and, as a result, they rank 24th in first down rate differential at -2.48%, even with an offense that still ranks 5th in first down rate on the season. Their only win in their last 5 games came at home to the Broncos, who have lost 6 straight, a game in which the Broncos won the first down batlle 23 to 16 and outgained the Chiefs by over 100 yards. I only have the Chiefs about 2.5 points better than the Bills in my rankings, so we’re getting a lot of line value with the Bills as 10 point underdogs.

Ordinarily homefield advantage is worth about 3 points, but the Bills are in a good spot as road underdogs in their 2nd of two road games off of a road loss, as teams are 118-77 ATS in that spot since 2008. That’s because teams typically do better in their second of two road games, as opposed to a single road game sandwiched between two home games, but lines don’t really adjust for that. Teams are 254-268 straight up in their 2nd of two road games since 2008, getting outscored by an average of 0.80 points per game, as opposed to 376-517 straight up in a road game that’s sandwiched between two home games, getting outscored by an average of 2.93 points per game, a difference of about 2 points. Given that, I have this line calculated at about -4 or -4.5, so we’re getting a ton of line value with the Bills at +10.

The Bills do have a tough home game next week against New England and could quit if they get down big early (teams are 22-46 ATS since 2012 before being 7+ point home underdogs), but I see this being a close game. The Chiefs are particularly weak against the run on defense and the Bills should be able to run all over them with Taylor and LeSean McCoy, which will make it tough for Kansas City to pull away. If the New England game wasn’t on deck for the Bills, this would be my Pick of the Week, but it’s a high confidence pick nonetheless.

Kansas City Chiefs 27 Buffalo Bills 23

Pick against the spread: Buffalo +10

Confidence: High