The Bills' 47-17 blowout of the Patriots in the wild-card round of the playoffs last season left little doubt that the AFC East runs through Buffalo. The Bills entered this season as Super Bowl favorites, which made the divisional crown seem like a formality. However, here we are, 12 weeks in, and only two games separate the first-place Bills (8-3) and the last-place Patriots (6-5). New England gets the opportunity to tighten the AFC East race Thursday night in front of its home crowd at Gillette Stadium. It's only the fourth time this season the Bills are favorites of fewer than four points. Here's why a slight recency bias is baked into this number, allowing us to bet on one of the few elite teams in the NFL at a discount.
Buffalo Bills (-3.5) at New England Patriots
I will not make excuses for the Bills' Thanksgiving performance and admit that it's been a few weeks since they have played to their potential. Josh Allen's red-zone turnovers are concerning, but I'm not sold on New England being able to get stops on defense. They could not force a single punt in last year's playoff game, allowing the Bills to roll up 482 yards of total offense while converting 6 of 7 third downs. Has that much changed from last year between the two teams?
I just watched the Patriots lose a game in which Mac Jones threw for 382 yards at 9.8 yards per attempt solely because the defense couldn't get stops. After hearing all week about his struggles in prime-time games, Kirk Cousins put on a clinic by completing 30 of 37 passes and throwing three touchdowns. Minnesota led all NFL teams with a 64.1% passing success rate against the Pats in Week 12. If you can't handle Cousins, it will not be pretty against Josh Allen.
After getting comfortable with the Bills' having offensive success in this matchup, the only bet to make was to lay the points. In Week 6, the Bills closed as 2.5-point favorites in Kansas City, and they won the game. Now six weeks later, they are only 3.5 point favorites in New England? In the same week, New England was a 3-point underdog to the Cleveland Browns before getting embarrassed the following week by the Bears in a 19-point home loss. I understand a lot has changed over the past few weeks, but I still contend the market is overvaluing the Patriots at this price. Additionally, Buffalo gets some reinforcements on defense with Tre'Davious White's increased workload and the expected return of DE Gregory Rousseau. Bet the Bills to cover the short number.
One-game parlay +1100
Josh Allen over 39.5 rushing yards
Isaiah McKenzie 20+ receiving yards
Rhamondre Stevenson anytime TD
This week's game provides some solid opportunities for those who like cooking up a small parlay for the prime-time games. Despite anticipating offensive success for the Bills, increasing the total to 47.5 and playing on the under makes sense. The Patriots are 6-5 to the under, with all their games closing below the 47.5 mark. Bills totals close much higher, but they are averaging only 24 points on the road (10 points less than at home). I could see a 27-17 final score.
Mobile quarterbacks have been the Achilles heel for this Patriots defense, so Allen's relentless nature of bulldozing his way to get every available yard made this a must play. In addition, McKenzie and Stevenson are becoming bigger parts of their respective offenses. Stevenson had his number called 17 times on Thanksgiving, with 10 targets in the passing game. McKenzie had a season-high 10 targets as well and seized the opportunity by posting 96 yards and a touchdown.
Stats provided by teamrankings.com, rbsdm (based on 90-10 WP).