Buffalo Bills (2-4) at Indianapolis Colts (1-5)
After being blown out in the first two weeks of the season by a combined 55 points against the Ravens and Chargers, the Bills have played better football in recent weeks, going 3-1 ATS, pulling off two upset victories (@ Minnesota and vs. Tennessee) and nearly pulling off a third last week in Houston. The defense has been the reason for their improvement and they are now up to 12th in first down rate allowed at 35.45%.
That’s about where the good news ends for the Bills though. Even with an improved defense, the Bills have yet to win the first down rate battle in any of their 6 games, even their two wins, and they rank dead last in first down rate differential at -10.31%. The defense has been solid, but the offense has been horrendous, ranking dead last in first down rate, picking up a first down or touchdown on just 25.14% of offensive snaps.
Making matters worse offensively, the Bills lost starting quarterback Josh Allen for an extended period of time with an elbow injury. Allen was not playing well before the injury, but this offense’s problems go far beyond the quarterback position and, thanks to their bizarre pre-season trade of AJ McCarron to the Raiders for a 5th round pick, the Bills are completely without an even remotely capable backup. Second year quarterback Nathan Peterman has not resembled an NFL quarterback in limited action thus far in his career, so the Bills will have to turn to veteran Derek Anderson, who is 35 years old, hasn’t been a full-time starter since 2010, and just arrived in Buffalo last week. He’ll likely get better as he spends more time with his new teammates, but if Anderson is an upgrade over Peterman this week, it’ll only be by default.
Despite the Allen injury, this line barely moved from last week to this week, as the Colts were 5.5 point favorites on the early line and are now favored by a touchdown. The Colts have injury problems too, but they’ve had them for most of the season and they are actually getting healthier, with left tackle Anthony Castonzo returning two weeks ago against New England, running back Marlon Mack returning last week, and wide receiver TY Hilton and defensive tackle Margus Hunt returning this week.
The Colts are still missing key players like tight end Jack Doyle and defensive tackle Denico Autry, but even without those two I still have this line calculated at Indianapolis -10, so we’re getting good line value with the Colts at -7. The Colts are just 1-5 on the season, but 3 of the 5 losses came by 8 points or fewer, with their other losses coming against the Bengals, who got a late return touchdown to push the margin of victory to multiple scores, and the Patriots, who are one of the better teams in the league.
The Colts are also in a much better spot. While they have another easy game on deck against the Raiders, the Bills have to turn around and play the Patriots on Monday Night Football next week, a game in which they are 10.5 point home underdogs on the early line. Big underdogs tend to struggle before being big underdogs again, going 46-65 ATS as underdogs of 6+ before being underdogs of 6+ the following week, and teams in general tend to struggle before big home games, going 30-54 ATS before being home underdogs of 6+.
All three of the Bills’ covers have come against opponents in bad spots. The Vikings were coming off of a tie with the Packers and had another game against the Rams in 4 days on Thursday Night Football. The Titans were coming off of an overtime upset win over the Eagles and had another tough game against the Ravens on deck. The Texans were coming off of an overtime win over the Cowboys and had a trip to Jacksonville on deck.
This week, it’s the Bills in a bad spot. With a quarterback that just arrived last week with a much bigger game on deck, the Bills could easily not give their best effort and if they don’t they won’t have much chance of keeping this one close. In a week without a good top choice (I may not have any other high confidence picks), the Colts are my Pick of the Week, as they should be able to hand the Bills their 4th double digit loss of the year and their 9th since the start of the 2017 season.
Indianapolis Colts 23 Buffalo Bills 10
Pick against the spread: Indianapolis -7
Confidence: Pick of the Week