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