We analyze a clash of AFC East rivals both playing on Thursday night for the second consecutive week and identify a valuable bet available to us because of noisy Week 12 results
Buffalo Bills (-3.5) at New England Patriots (O/U 43.5)
Buffalo enters this game after squeaking out a win against the Lions in Week 12. Josh Allen has looked mortal over the last couple of weeks and the Bills have struggled to run their opponents off the field like they have in the past. The Bills defense has also struggled more than their season-long numbers suggest.
New England comes into Week 13 after a brutal loss to the Vikings where they were killed by special teams, a rarity for a Bill Belichick led team. A kick-return TD and a costly Running into the Kicker penalty on a late 4th-and-3 offset an impressive offensive performance from Mac Jones and the Patriots offense.
Bills Offense vs Patriots Defense
Josh Allen is still playing at a high-level, but not at the MVP standard expected from him at the start of the year. Allen has shown flashes of who he was as a rookie and made bad decisions at a fairly high rate. He is tied for most interceptions thrown in the league and has a 4.24% Turnover-Worthy Play%, which is one of the highest in the NFL. Against this elite Patriots defense, being prone to turnovers can be deadly. New England forces turnovers at a high-rate and generates pressure at the second highest rate of any defense and is great at making quarterbacks make tough throws, which is something that Allen loves to do. Yes, Allen is more than capable of completing these passes but he has also has a habit of trying to do too much. With Bills LT Dion Dawkins out with an injury, EDGE Matt Judon and the rest of the Patriots pass rush will be able to get to Allen all night and prey on his tendency to turn the ball over.
From a coverage perspective, the Patriots defense should be able to utilize its classic scheme for facing an elite wide receiver. New England’s best coverage corner, which is either Jack Jones (6th out of 121 CB’s in PFF Grade) or Jonathan Jones (11th in CB PFF Grade) will blanket Gabe Davis, Buffalo’s #2 receiver. Their second-best coverage guy (the other Jones) will guard Stefon Diggs and receive additional safety help. Belichick has been running this for years and it has been a big part of their consistent defensive success. Interestingly, the Patriots didn’t elect to play this scheme last week against the Vikings and Justin Jefferson as they played man-coverage just 34.1% of the time, a significant decrease from their season-long average of 45.8%, per PFF. Their change in scheme proved costly as Jefferson exploded for 9 receptions, 139 yards, and a TD. I’d expect Belichick to revert back to his man-based gameplan tonight to prevent Diggs from shredding them like Jefferson did. With two elite coverage cornerbacks and a proven defensive scheme, the Patriots should be able to limit the Bills ability to move the ball through the air.
Patriots Offense vs Bills Defense
The key to the Patriots offense is how well they can protect QB Mac Jones. When Mac has a clean pocket, he has a Passer Rating of 104.3 which is one of the best in the NFL. When opponents generate pressure on Mac, his Passer Rating plummets all the way to 27.6 (!). These are some of the most extreme splits in the NFL and makes it clear what the Patriots must do to maximize Mac’s performance: Protect him. New England’s offensive line has been around average this year as they rank 17th in Pass-Block Win Rate and 12th in Pressure/Dropback Rate. However, they should be able to keep Mac upright and unbothered tonight against this Buffalo defense that will be without Von Miller, one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL. Buffalo has generated pressure a top-10 rate this year but Miller has been responsible for 27 of their 106 total pressures on the year. Without Miller, they would be a bottom-10 defense in terms of pressuring the quarterback.
Miller has generated the 16th most negative EPA through sacks this season and the impact of losing on this Bills defense cannot be understated.
The Bills should struggle to get to Mac Jones tonight which will allow him to be incredibly efficient with a clean pocket. The status of LT Trent Brown, whose currently questionable, is definitely important here but isn’t as impactful because of Miller’s absence. Still, Brown’s availability is definitely worth monitoring before kickoff.
With safety Micah Hyde out for season, the Bills secondary lacks playmakers. CB Tre’Davious White is still working his way back from an ACL injury and should play few snap tonights, which will leave struggling coverage players like Taron Johnson (57th in CB PFF Grade) and Dane Jackson (80th in PFF Grade) responsible for the lions-share of snaps tonight. Buffalo plays a mixture of man and zone-coverage and should continue to do so tonight. Because Buffalo won’t be able to generate much pressure, Mac Jones should have all day to pick out receivers like Jakobi Meyers, Nelson Agholor, and Hunter Henry as they work their way through the holes in the Bills defense. Look for Meyers, who ranks in the top-20 in Pass Catcher EPA+ to have a productive game and help New England move the ball down the field efficiently.
The Patriots found offensive success last week agains the Vikings by throwing the ball at a higher rate than normal. Mac threw for 382 yards, 2 TD, and an impressive 11.3 EPA+. The Patriots should continue to #LetMacCook and target this weak Bills secondary
Best Bet: Patriots +3.5 (2u)
This matchup is ideal for the Patriots. Although their offense has really struggled this year, the absence of Von Miller is massive and should allow Mac to build on his impressive Week 12 performance and have a productive day. Defensively, this is a textbook place for New England to deploy their patented coverage scheme and should be able to limit Allen and the Bills pass offense which hasn’t been as effective in recent weeks. This line isn’t accounting for the fact that Buffalo isn’t playing like the elite team we all perceive them to be.
Since Week 7, Buffalo found themselves around at 15th in NET EPA+. Because of their unbelievable defense, the Patriots sit at 8th. New England has a unique path to offensive success tonight in addition to the the elite defensive performance we should expect from them. If the Patriots can become even an average offensive team, they will be scary down the stretch.
Getting the key number of 3 is pivotal here as we should see a relatively low scoring game with a total of 43.5. Back the Patriots to cover +3.5 at home as a live home underdog.