- Win Over/Under: 5.5 (-110/-110)
- Make AFC Playoffs: +700 (13%)
- Win AFC East: +1800 (5%)
- Win AFC Championship: +10000 (1%)
- Win Super Bowl: +20000 (0.5%)
Odds from Westgate as of Sep. 1.
The Action Network’s Projected Wins: 6.05 (29th)
Head coach Sean McDermott did well to deliver a playoff berth in Year 1 to a fan base that had suffered through four straight Super Bowl losses, the Music City Miracle and then a 17-year postseason drought.
What should they expect in Year 2?
The worst team in the NFL.
Westgate odds as of Aug. 17 have the Bills tied with the Browns, Jets and Cardinals at a league-low win total of 6, but the Bills have the most juice on the under — and the public is betting the under at near-unprecedented rates. (UPDATE: The Bills’ win total has moved down to 5.5 since publication.)
And it’s not necessarily wrong to do so.
Although the Bills were able to ride quarterback Tyrod Taylor’s game management to a 7-1 record vs. opponents with no more than six wins, they got exposed with a 2-6 mark vs. opponents with at least seven wins.
The Bills went 9-7 despite getting outscored by 57 points, which equates to a Pythagorean win total of only 6.4 (a much stronger predictor of future wins).
History says overachieving teams like this will regress: According to BetLabs, teams with a winning percentage equal to 9-7 or better and a Pythagorean winning percentage equal to only 6-7 victories have won just 6.06 (37.9%) of their games the following season.
Now the Bills have a second-place schedule, facing 11 teams with Vegas win totals of seven or more, including an absolutely brutal eight-game stretch to start the season.
Any argument for the over starts and ends with the defense. Cornerback Tre’Davious White allowed a sub-50% completion rate as a rookie, and he and safeties Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer all graded in the top 10 at their positions (Pro Football Focus).
But even the defense is not a sure thing. Last year, the unit was bottom-five in run defense, and a similar showing this year could be costly for an offense-averse team incapable of overcoming even small deficits. First-round linebacker Tremaine Edmunds will help, but some of the team’s other additions struggled with run defense last year.
In the analytics community, there’s a general belief that football games are decided by four parts offense, three parts defense and one part special teams, which is unfortunate for the Bills: If running back LeSean McCoy ends up suspended like Ezekiel Elliott last year, Buffalo will be down to zero parts offense.
Behind McCoy is 30-year-old Chris Ivory, who hasn’t cracked 4.0 yards per carry since 2015 (although Ivory still represents an upgrade on McCoy’s backup last year, 32-year-old fullback Mike Tolbert).
The top pass catchers are wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin and tight end Charles Clay, who are decent, but two 245-pound hulks with knee issues aren’t ideal as team’s top options.
Wideouts Corey Coleman and Zay Jones can run, but their on-field speed pales in comparison to their reputations as busts-in-process. (UPDATE: Coleman was waived on Sep. 1.)
And while Taylor is limited as a passer, he was better for the Bills than what they have now, because their best shot at winning games until they can acquire more weapons is to win the turnover battle.
Compounding all of this is the Bills offensive line, which PFF ranks as the league’s fourth-worst unit. Behind such a line, Taylor’s mobility would have been useful.
The best thing you can say about the quarterback situation now is that GM Brandon Beane did well to hold onto his 2019 first-round pick, because he might need a quarterback.
That all depends on No. 7 overall pick Josh Allen, whose old tweets are almost as embarrassing as his throwing (in)accuracy.
A flaw of McDermott’s is that, as a defensive-minded coach, he seemingly defaults to the offensive model he’s familiar with from his Carolina days. It’s possible that Allen’s resemblance to Cam Newton gave McDermott tunnel vision, even though Josh Rosen (who was available) was predicted to have more career success by virtually every statistical model.
McDermott also seems to have an irrational affinity for quarterback Nathan Peterman, aka the guy who threw more interceptions in a 14-attempt span than Taylor did in 14 games (seriously).
Peterman is a fifth-round pet project whose long-term outlook suggests that he shouldn’t block Allen. In theory, it’s probably best in the long term for the Bills to play Allen as much as possible (and hope he doesn’t DeShone Kizer it up), but if I’m backing the over, I would have preferred McCarron (who injured his collarbone in the preseason and is likely to open the season as the backup), who seemed least likely to get in the defense’s way.
But I’m not on the over, so for Benjamin’s sake, I hope we get all the Josh Allen.
The Bet: Under 5.5 Wins
Buffalo Bills 2018 Schedule
- Games favored: 2
- Avg. spread: +3.2
- Strength of schedule: 25th (1 = Easiest, 32 = Hardest)
Survivor Pool 101
- Use the Bills: Week 14 vs. NYJ
- Use Bills’ opponents: Week 3 @ MIN, Week 4 @ GB, Week 16 @ NE
Fantasy Football Outlook
- Top Pick: RB LeSean McCoy
- Sleeper: WR Kelvin Benjamin
- Potential Bust: McCoy (faces possible suspension)
Best of “I’ll Take That Bet” on ESPN+
“The Bills are our biggest liability in the division race because of the odds, but we took a lot of sharp money on their season wins total.”
– Westgate bookmaker Jeff Sherman to The Action Network’s Michael Leboff
Tremaine Edmunds to Win Defensive Rookie of the Year? (+800)
Known as “The Eraser” at Virginia Tech, Edmunds is a monstrous linebacker with a 4.54-second 40 time at 255 pounds. He’ll have every opportunity to pile up stats as a starting middle linebacker with strong coverage skills.
McDermott actively traded up in the first round to snag him, and this wouldn’t be the first time he has produced a Rookie of the Year middle linebacker after doing so with Luke Kuechly in Carolina. –- Chris Raybon
The Bet: Tremaine Edmunds Defensive Rookie of the Year +800
Add a Dash of Shady at Home to Your DFS Lineups
The red flags surrounding McCoy are known, but his potential for a massive workload will continue to put him in play in daily formats, where you don’t have to worry about your top pick getting Zeke’d for six games.
Just target Shady at Orchard Park. According to the FantasyLabs NFL Trends tool, he has averaged 21.4 DraftKings points per game and a +4.1 Plus/Minus in Buffalo compared to 14.9 and -2.0 on the road since 2015. – Ian Hartitz
More on the 2018 Buffalo Bills
- Bills Have Enough to Prove Bettors, Oddsmakers Wrong
- LeSean McCoy: Can He Overcome a Potentially Anemic Offense?
- Winners and Losers in the First Round of the NFL Draft
- 2018 NFL Draft Prospect: QB Josh Allen, Wyoming
Authors of this article include The Action Network’s own: Chris Raybon, Sean Koerner and Ian Hartitz.
This article has been updated to reflect a drop in the BIlls’ win total since publication.